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By Dave Umhoefer May 19, 2013

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says state report projects half of public employees would live outside city if residency rule is lifted

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is marshalling a big number as he continues his uphill battle to save a requirement that city employees reside in Milwaukee.

Fifty. As in 50 percent.

A frustrated Barrett met May 10, 2013, with Journal Sentinel reporters and editors, a day after an altered version of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to wipe out all local residency rules for public employees won Joint Finance Committee approval. Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and the committee action suggests it will pass.

Barrett repeated his concern that many of the city’s 7,200 city employees would move if residency is lifted, leading to a drop in property values.

And he said there’s hard evidence of just how many.

When asked "How many people do you think will actually leave in 10 years?" Barrett pointed to what he called a "projection" by the nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The mayor quoted the state projection as "approximately half of public employees" living outside city limits will leave within 10 years. Barrett didn’t specify whether the state prediction was limited to Milwaukee or all municipalities that would have to dump residency rules, but the context of the question was clearly Milwaukee.

When we asked Barrett spokeswoman Jodie Tabak for backup, she cited a May 9, 2013, fiscal bureau memo that examined the issue and laid out possible alternatives to Walker’s proposal.

That memo at one point examined the possible economic impact of lifting residency for Milwaukee city employees.

It did so by looking briefly at two large Midwestern cities with vastly different economies that lifted residency rules in 1999: Detroit and Minneapolis. (In both cases state lawmakers mandated the end to the municipal rules -- as Wisconsin lawmakers now seek to do.)

Fifty-three percent of Detroit’s police force now lives outside the city, according to the fiscal bureau memo. That figure was reported by PolitiFact Wisconsin in 2011, when Republicans considered ending residency but pulled back. We rated as Mostly Truea Barrett claim that 53 percent of Detroit’s police force moved out when residency there was lifted.

The fiscal bureau memo also focused on Minneapolis.

"Recent estimates indicate that the percentage of city employees residing in the City has declined from nearly 70% when the requirement was in place to only 30% now," the memo said. (The Minneapolis residency requirement was only in place for six years, so not all employees were subject to it by 1999 when the rule was lifted.)

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Tabak said Barrett was referring to the Detroit and Minneapolis numbers when he made his claim.

Barrett, though, said the fiscal bureau report contained a "projection" of what would happen here.

Here’s the state memo’s only stab at that:

"While the actual level of out-migration of public employees from the City of Milwaukee can only be speculated on at this point, two recent examples of other major Midwestern, U.S. cities that lifted their residency requirement may provide some insight," it said.

Essentially, the memo said the Detroit and Minneapolis experiences could be suggestive, but it offered no prediction on Milwaukee’s "actual level."

Tabak noted that the memo says: "Given that public employees, their unions, and associations want relief from the residency requirements in Milwaukee, it would seem somewhat evident that providing that relief could lead to some number of those public employees migrating out of the City."

But that doesn’t tell us much, at least not in terms of a percentage.

Before we wrap up, we should note that we found another example of a city that saw state lawmakers end residency requirements more than a decade ago: Baltimore, in 1995.

As of 2012, 47% of Baltimore’s city workers lived outside the city, according to data on Open Baltimore. Among police employees, that spikes to 77 percent.

So, in the three cities, large chunks of the workforce -- or at least the police force -- have chosen to live outside city limits a decade or more after the repeal of residency. Right around half of workers in fact; more in the case of Baltimore cops.

But those figures look backward, at other cities. Barrett’s claim went further, saying a state memo forecasts a similar effect here -- approximately half, he said.

There’s an element of truth in his statement, in that the state memo said the experience elsewhere "may provide some insight" into Milwaukee’s fate. And the experience in other cities may well play out here over time.

But the state report stops well short of predicting Milwaukee’s experience. The mayor overreached in claiming an independent state report put a number on that.

We rate Barrett’s claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Mayor Tom Barrett, interview, Journal Sentinel Editorial Board, May 10, 2013

Phone interview with Jodie Tabak, spokeswoman, Mayor Barrett, May 15, 2013

Email and phone interview with Ryan O’Doherty, Director of Policy & Communications, Office of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. May 15, 2013

Email and phone interview with Daniel Ball, press assistant, Office of Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson, May 15, 2013

Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Memo to Joint Finance Committee, Local Government Employee Residency Requirements, May 9, 2013

Open Baltimore, table, Baltimore City Employee Residency by Agency, accessed May 15, 2013

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Truth-O-Meter item on residency, March 22, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Fiscal Bureau report offers alternatives to ending residency," May 3, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tom Barrett blasts state lawmakers over vote to end residency rules," May 10, 2013

The Baltimore Sun, "Fewer city employees living in Baltimore, new data show,"July 20, 2012

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More by Dave Umhoefer

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says state report projects half of public employees would live outside city if residency rule is lifted

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