Thursday, February 21, 2013

Let my people go

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.
But 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.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

You neglect a third rationale for residency requirements when they were put into place, which was that government workers should be as close to the people they serve as possible and live in the conditions they make. The concern was that people working in City A but living in City B wouldn't really put in the effort for City A since they didn't have to deal with the consequences of their poor performance.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the first comment, I understand what you're saying, but the fact is that the primary motivation of those working for the city should be to do a good job because that's, well, their job. It's what they are getting paid for. If I'm not doing my job well, then I should be let go regardless of where I'm living.
This is much different that requiring someone who works for a private company to use that private company's products, or to prevent them from using a competitor's products. I could work for NBC and do an absolutely fantastic job and be fully invested in my work and want NBC to be successful and STILL never watch the channel. The one shouldn't have anything to do with the other, and if it does, then the city has the wrong people working for it.

Anonymous said...

There is no shortage, indeed there is a surplus of qialified applicants for fire and police jobs. Existing employees may move, they just need to leave their very well paid & tax payer paid job.
What is more problematic is the governor cowardly exempeted these employees from Act 10, essentially creating 2 classes of Govt. employees. Now they can collectively bargain while the City loses a bargaining chip. This will hurt Milwaukee and its property values. It's a special favor again to an oh so special constituency

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Tom said...

Re Anon 1 - should we prohibit teachers from sending their kids to private school or open enrolling them out of their school district then?

There are some legitimate concerns for emergency personnel who should live fairly close to where they need to muster or otherwise serve, but that purpose would be better served by a rule requiring living within X miles or Y minutes of a certain location. It's not well served at all by a rule that lets somebody live in Bayview, but not Menomonee Falls, who works in the extreme northwestern part of Milwaukee.

Anonymous said...

Tom--Should we prohibit teachers from sending their kids to private school or open enrolling them out of their school district then?

That is a completely separate item. The residency requirement is one of the criteria necessary for employment in Milwaukee. I keep recalling how conservatives insist that employers have the "right" to make these stipulations. If a person doesn't want to work for the city of Milwaukee, don't! He/she is making a choice, correct?

Dad29 said...

government workers should be as close to the people they serve as possible and live in the conditions they make. The concern was that people working in City A but living in City B wouldn't really put in the effort for City A since they didn't have to deal with the consequences of their poor performance

Union mentality on parade

Tom said...

"The concern was that people working in City A but living in City B wouldn't really put in the effort for City A since they didn't have to deal with the consequences of their poor performance."

The concern was that people working in school district A but sending their children to school district B wouldn't really put in the effort for school district A since they didn't have to deal with the consequences of their poor performance.

Does that make it more clear to you?

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Anonymous said...

I see Senile29 left his mark.

"The concern was that people working in school district A but sending their children to school district B wouldn't really put in the effort for school district A since they didn't have to deal with the consequences of their poor performance."

Act 10 takes care of this concern, the teacher can be fired if he/she fails to perform well in the classroom.

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