Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Milwaukee residency ruling shows WisGOP as the real party of big gov't

As a former resident and worker for the City of Milwaukee, I took notice of last week’s Supreme Court decision upholding a WisGOP-passed law that banned a requirement from having a municipality require its workers to live in the same city or village. It was a law clearly aimed at removing the residency requirement that the City of Milwaukee has had since the 1930s, and the righties on the Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the law was OK because it gave the same rules for all communities throughout the state.

Personally, I’m not sure residency requirements are all that great an idea, as I’d prefer the municipalities not limit themselves to talent. Ironically, the Milwaukee police and fire fighters unions (who were the main players in trying to get rid of residency) are likely to be the ones I’d MOST want to see have a residency requirement, as those workers are most likely to need to be close to their places of work, due to response times and emergencies. But I definitely don’t agree with the legal theory of the “WMC 5” justices on the Supreme Court went along with, which said that the state should be able to supersede the locals whenever it feels like it.
In the decision, Justice Michael Gableman, wrote on behalf of the majority that the 2013 state law “precludes the city [of Milwaukee] from enforcing its residency requirement,” arguing that “the Legislature has the power to legislate on matters of local affairs when its enactment uniformly affects every city or every village, notwithstanding the home rule amendment.”

Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson dissented, arguing that Wisconsin’s Home Rule Amendment gives Milwaukee greater autonomy over local affairs and the power to self-govern.
Marquette Law Professor and former Supreme Court candidate Ed Fallone had a few thoughts on this decision, and he pointed to a concurring opinion from the Court’s newest member where she admitted that this law really was about changing things for Milwaukee cops and fire fighters.
The purpose of the Home Rule provision is to prevent state-level government from dictating rules to local governments on matters of local concern. The state has no interest in who works for Milwaukee or in whether those persons must live in Milwaukee. Only by elevating the question to the macro level of whether residency rules should ever be permitted can one claim that the subject is a matter of concern in Madison or Stevens Point. Indeed, at such a macro level, everything is a matter of statewide concern.

In other words, if the legislature can avoid the Home Rule provision by casting the issue in terms of whether a particular policy is good or bad, then the Home Rule provision will never apply to anything. Either the legislature should seize complete legislative control over a subject and impose uniform state-wide rules (i.e., take over the process of hiring all municipal employees and impose uniform rules for every city) or it should leave each municipality free to adopt its own rules. The “rule” in Home Rule means the sovereign power of local governments to govern themselves.

In this regard, Justice Rebecca Bradley is undoubtedly correct when she states “To conclude as the majority does, that analysis of the home rule amendment stops if the legislative enactment at issue addresses an issue primarily of statewide concern and that the uniformity requirement applies only to legislation concerning issues primarily of local concern, simply does not comport with the text of the amendment” (para. 56).
But expanding the reach of state government is par for the course for this WisGOP crew, as they have decided to erode local control well over 100 times in the last 5 years. This is especially true if the WisGOPs’ action lets them stick it to some blue-voting area of the state, and if “those damned locals” get in the way of the ALEC/WisGOP agenda at the Capitol. Examples include overriding Dane County’s plans for development by allowing towns to opt out of zoning, or in prohibiting UW-Madison or the City of Milwaukee from having their own photo IDs be adequate for voting. Or you have this Supreme Court case, where residency was required residency for Milwaukee city employees, and the police and fire fighter’s unions didn’t want to have to follow that law.

The big lie that WisGOP tells is that they passed these bills out of a desire to have “uniformity” throughout the state. Instead, much like what was shown in the court case involving voter ID, these new laws are targeted towards specific communities and constituencies, and are nothing more than political paybacks and punishments. Don’t forget that the Milwaukee Police and Fire Fighters unions along with the State Troopers union have backed Gov Scott Walker and Wisconsin GOP legislators, and it is no coincidence that police and fire fighter unions were among the few public employee groups that were not touched by Act 10.

Of course, the WisGOPs couldn’t care less about what happens to Wisconsin’s largest city as a result of this power-grab, or what kind of effects ripple through the economy as a result. As the 15 members of Milwaukee’s Common Council noted in a joint statement, residency requirements were not a heavy barrier to getting qualified employees, and getting rid of those requirement will cause further chaos in a community that had plenty of problems before this decision came down.
Not only has the Wisconsin Supreme Court overlooked more than 75 years of legal standing (residency requirement), the decision undermines our efforts to create safe and stable neighborhoods with middle class families and family-supporting jobs.

It's interesting to note that one of the justifications for lifting the residency requirement was to attract better quality applicants for city jobs. There's absolutely no evidence that we haven't been attracting quality applicants for city jobs, as we consistently have waiting lists for every public safety job and nearly every civil service job in the City of Milwaukee. From 2008-2010, the city received 17,563 job applications for general city positions, and 86% of applicants were already Milwaukee residents. In our most recent recruitments, the city received 5,711 applications for the position of firefighter and 3,569 applications for the position of police officer. Our residency requirement has not impeded our ability to retain quality city employees.

The Legislature, the Governor, and the Supreme Court justices should realize the challenge of running a city where 29% of residents live below the poverty line, and where city employees are an important component of the existing middle class.
Now the WisGOP Legislature and the right-wing owned State Supreme Court have thrown up another barrier by interceding in the City of Milwaukee’s agreements with its workers, and deciding they know what’s best for how the city should run its affairs. And of course, the WisGOPs are doing this while drastically reducing the city’s shared revenues from the state, but police expenditures keep going up. You may recall this graph from an article by Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy, which shows that the City gets less now from the state than it did a decade ago, before inflation is even taken into account.

Also note that the WisGOP Legislature has refused to allow the City of Milwaukee and/or Milwaukee County to have any additional ability to generate its own revenues to make up the difference for that lower amount of shared revenues (despite being the largest draw of tourism dollars in the state).

It’s no wonder Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expressed frustration after the residency ecision at how his city has been singled out and micro-managed by a GOP group at the Capitol, and Barrett said he was tired of the political game-playing and field-slanting that WisGOP has specialized in.
Obviously, I’m angry about this decision because of the impact that it has on this community. This is not the Wisconsin that we have lived in before, and the people of this state have to recognize the dangers when you have one political party who controls every lever of power. When that happens, you don’t have checks and you don’t have balances….

“What happened here was a special interest came in who has supported many legislators, the Governor, and many Supreme Court justices in the past, and they wanted their way. Local decision-making, local control and local home rule are now just principles that the Republicans pay lip-service to. Aligning with special interests and paying back political favors are now the real values of Wisconsin’s political power elite.

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