Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson wants to give himself a $20,000 raise next year and raise the pay of Common Council members and other elected officials by a whopping 15% after pushing for a 2% sales tax and huge increases in shared revenue to remedy the city's ongoing budget problems.
Under Johnson's proposal, his annual salary would jump from $147,335.76 to $169,436.12. Common Council members would see an increase from $73,222.24 to $84,205.58 and the Common Council President's salary would be bumped from $82,749.16 to $94,310.25.
In an email to Common Council members Wednesday, Milwaukee Employment Relations Director Harper Donahue IV outlined the increases in the "Executive Pay Plan."
I am acutely aware of many of the perplexities you may be wrestling with in your need to balance fair compensation with requirements associated with being a responsible steward of limited resources," he wrote, "and I want to provide any necessary information to assist you with your related decision-making."
Common Council members would need to approve Johnson's proposed pay raises.
In his annual budget speech last month, Johnson highlighted a 2% raise for city employees and 3% pay increase for those with five or more years of service.
"Employees, I value your service; I value your dedication; and, I value your patience," he said. "The demands we placed on you will ease. And, my budget includes a modest, across the board pay increase for general city employees."
That increase pales in comparison with the 15% pay raise Johnson is seeking for himself and other elected officials and the 10% salary increases for city employees in leadership positions. As part of Johnson's Executive Pay Plan, "pay for incumbents of these positions shall be at the rate of pay 10% above the rate of pay prior to the promotion, or the minimum of the new pay range, whichever is greatest."
Salaries for Milwaukee's Health Commissioner, Department of Public Works Commissioner, Administration Director, Chief of Police, and Fire Chief will, for example, increase to a range of pay between $164,261 and $229,958.
"Elected officials are in a unique position because their compensation can only be adjusted before elections and cannot change during their term," said Johnson spokesman Jeff Fleming. "The last time elected official salaries were adjusted was in 2008, and, if they do not change before the newly elected officials take office next April, the next time the salaries can change will be 2028. If elected officials’ salaries had kept pace with inflation since 2008, they would now be about 43% higher."
Earlier this year, Johnson lobbied the Wisconsin Legislature for big increases in shared revenue and the ability to levy a new city sales tax. Under state law, the Legislature must consent to municipalities and counties creating or increasing such taxes. Originally, the Legislature's plan for increasing shared revenue required Milwaukee to hold a referendum on whether to impose a 2% sales tax but relented under pressure from Democrats, including Johnson.
"I want local elected officials to make decisions about purely local matters," he testified to the State Senate's Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection Committee. "Common Council members are close to the communities they represent and can make informed and timely decisions on behalf of their constituents to move Milwaukee forward.
"A referendum, though, adds a significant element of uncertainty, and next year none of us want to revisit all the work, the hard work, that we’ve been doing to plan that has brought us to this point now."
Republicans removed the referendum requirement before the new shared revenue agreement was signed into law as Act 12 in June. The following month, the Milwaukee Common Council approved the new sales tax and Johnson signed the ordinance creating it. It will take effect next year.
"That’s not to say we are now flush with cash," Johnson stressed during his budget speech last month. "The revenue derived from the city’s coming sales tax is dedicated to paying for new police officers, new firefighters, and closing out the city’s pension system."
Johnson did not mention his plan for increasing his own pay during the speech and has not mentioned it publicly. His Office insists that such a move is appropriate.
"Before elected official and executive compensation changes were considered, substantial research was conducted," Fleming said. "The administration is comfortable that Milwaukee will be in line with other cities’ pay."