When I was a kid, I heard a lot about the grave and intrinsic evil of residency requirements for municipal employees. Dad was a firefighter for the City of Greenfield which at the time (but no longer) required its fire and police employees to live in the city. He's basking in the Florida sunshine these days, but must be pleased (I haven't had a chance to ask) with Governor Walker's proposal to slay his old enemy for all times and all places.
Ironically, my parents wanted to move a few blocks from our house on Forest Home Avenue to Milwaukee.
Today, residency requirements are largely, if not exclusively, about the
desire of the City of Milwaukee to keep municipal employees on its tax
rolls. There seem to be two arguments for
residency. The first is that those who "benefit" from working for the
city to pay city taxes. The second - and, I think, the real - reason for
dictating where municipal employees can make their homes is that, if
Milwaukee did not create a captive middle class, it would have no middle
class at all.
We can argue about whether and why that's true.
But I'd argue that residency requirements actually help to destroy the
middle class in a city like Milwaukee.
The problem is that it
hastens a city toward reaching a tipping point in which an effective
political majority takes more from the government than it contributes
toward it. This leads to high taxes and a collective unwillingness to
challenge entrenched constituencies that benefit from the status quo.
Failing institutions - think MPS - become very difficult to reform and
middle class families who don't work for the city throw in the towel and head for the suburbs. This cycle, at its extreme, brings you Detroit.
With the exception of a place like Madison or Washington which thrive
on tax dollars earned elsewhere, you can't build a thriving city on government. However large you want government to be, there must be a private economy and middle class community to support it.
To be sure, these aren't the only reasons for suburbanization and it is not to say that there aren't a lot of people in Milwaukee with a different vision for the city. Milwaukee, thank God, is not Detroit or even close to it.
eliminating residency is, I think, more likely to be part of the
solution than part of the problem. A city that cannot hold its middle
class captive must make it want to stay. That city will be a much stronger place.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.