Wisconsin Cities Can Tell Workers Where to Live

     MILWAUKEE (CN) – Wisconsin cities can again require their employees to live within their borders, the appeals court ruled on Tuesday.
     Writing for the state appellate panel Presiding Judge Patricia Curley said that a Republican-backed state statute “gutting” Milwaukee’s residency requirement was not an issue of statewide concern, as the Milwaukee Police Association successfully argued in circuit court.
     “Neither the Police Association nor the trial court point to any facts supporting this claim; the Police Association merely argues on appeal that the legislature can do what it wants,” Curley writes. “We disagree.”
     The lawsuit came about after Milwaukee officials directed city employees to disregard a provision of the 2013-15 state budget that abolished residency requirements, a position the city eventually backed off after the suit was commenced.
     The state law allowed cities to require that emergency and public safety personnel, such as firefighters and police officers, live within 15 miles of their city of employment.
     Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Paul Van Grunsven sided with the union, declaring on Jan. 27, 2014, that the state law applied uniformly to all municipalities and was thus valid.
     Further, he ruled, it implicated a statewide concern of protecting employees from “unfairly restrictive employment conditions” and regulating public safety services.
     But Curley said the fact that the law uniformly applies to all cities does not mean that it uniformly affects them, which is a requirement before the state can supersede local rule.
     “There is no dispute that, while the statute does not overtly single out any particular municipality, it will have an outsize impact on the City of Milwaukee,” she writes.
     According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis that focused almost exclusively on Milwaukee, the state law would likely result in an exodus of city employees, who tend to make more and live in homes with higher property values than other residents, the opinion states.
     Another analysis estimated this exodus would cause “a reduction in the tax base of $622 million in residential land values and $27 million in retail property values,” the report states.
     Based on these figures, the argument that the law was intended to affect all municipalities uniformly does not add up, Curley wrote.
     “Indeed, the notion that a statute purporting to gut the tax bases and compromise neighborhood integrity of all municipalities would pass both houses of the legislature defies logic,” the opinion states.
     Further, there is no indication in the record that the law was passed to ensure the public well-being.
     “Instead, the sole reason we can delineate for the statute’s existence is the gutting of Milwaukee’s long-standing residency requirement,” Curley wrote. “We cannot conclude that such a measure involves the health, safety, or welfare of the people of Wisconsin in any demonstrable way.”
     Judge Joan Kessler concurred and wrote separately, stating she “agreed with the entirety” of the majority opinion but wanted to go on record about additional effects the law would have on Milwaukee in particular.
     She was joined in her concurrence by Judge Kitty Brennan.
     In particular, Kessler pointed to an affidavit provided by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett which “indicates that fifty percent of Milwaukee’s total operating costs go towards salaries for police officers and firefighters” (emphasis in original).
     If the predicted 60 percent exodus of Milwaukee city employees occurs, the city would be paying more than $229 million to workers who live outside the city, Kessler wrote.
     “There is no evidence in the record that any other Wisconsin municipality would likely be similarly affected,” she concluded.
     Local news outlets report that the police union intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

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