A single sentence buried deep in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal could allow public employees throughout the state to live outside of the area where they work.
Walker recommends eliminating the residency requirement that forces municipal workers to live in the same city or village where they work, he wrote in his government reform initiative of the 2013-15 proposed biennial budget.
While many parts of Wisconsin have already done away with the residency requirement, according to Bob Delaporte, spokesperson for Sen. Alberta Darling, R–River Hills, the law would be applied to all 596 municipalities of the state. That includes Wisconsin’s largest municipality, Milwaukee, which currently prohibits public workers from living outside of the city’s limits.
Union leaders and politicians have responded to Walker’s desire to end the residency requirement with mixed feelings.
Ending the residency requirement is a matter of individual liberty, Delaporte said.
“We’re very encouraged by what the governor has [done in the budget],” he said. “[Darling] views this as a freedom issue, and people should be able to live where they want to live.”
Allowing workers to live outside of the city or town where their job is located will increase the talent pool from which public institutions can hire job applicants, Delaporte added.
Delaporte said Milwaukee Public Schools will directly benefit from the removal of the residency requirement because they’ll have a bigger, more qualified pool of teacher applicants to consider.
“It could be a huge thing for Milwaukee schools,” Delaporte said. “If this is eliminated, then they increase the talent pool that they can hire, and we want them to hire the best teachers possible. Right now they’re limiting themselves.”
Of the top 50 school districts in the country, he noted Chicago and Milwaukee are the only districts that still have a residency requirement, which he said was an outdated policy.
However, after receiving more than 8,000 total job applications last year, there is no shortage of candidates for Milwaukee’s police and fire departments, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in an interview with The Badger Herald.
But Barrett said the bigger issue is this residency requirement law is not relevant to the state budget, as it is a “pure policy decision” that has been “slipped in.”
“It has absolutely nothing to do with his budget,” Barrett said of the lift on the residency requirement brought up in the Shared Revenue and Tax Relief section of the budget. “He has said in the past he will not support any policy in the state budget, and here there’s clearly an item that has no relationship to the state budget whatsoever.”
Barrett said the proposed initiative should be considered and scrutinized by both houses of the Legislature to determine whether to remove the residency requirement that has been a law in Milwaukee since 1938.
Wisconsin State Firefighters Association President Larry Plummer agreed with Barrett that local legislatures should determine on this residency requirement.
There have not been any negative impacts as a result of a city that once had residency law, and then removed them, according to Executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association Jim Palmer.
“It’s a stringent requirement that ties the hands of municipalities that maybe need to have more flexibility so they can attract the best candidates,” Palmer said.