Public Policy Forum Blog

Some Local Government Issues to Watch as the White House Changes Hands

As the dust settles from an historic 2016 election, my mind turns to how the shift in control of the White House may impact some critical fiscal and policy issues facing our largest local governments. While it's obviously far too early to tell, here are a few issues that bear careful watching:

  • Milwaukee Streetcar. The City of Milwaukee is counting on federal grants to help finance extensions beyond the initial 2.2-mile route, which may be critical to the streetcar's long-term viability. The anticipated source of funding is the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which was initiated by President Obama in 2009. The program's future may now be in question given traditional Republican opposition to fixed rail transit, though President-elect Trump hails from a city that is reliant on mass transit and he indicated support for infrastructure investment in his election night acceptance speech.
  • City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County Roads and Bridges. As we pointed out in A Fork in the Road?, our September report on local road and bridge needs, both the City and County will be highly dependent on federal funds to address a growing list of major street, trunk highway, and bridge reconstruction projects. Again, it is difficult to prognosticate how this situation will be impacted by a Trump presidency. On the one hand, as noted above, the President-elect is touting the need "to rebuild our highways (and) bridges;" on the other, he has voiced opposition to new transportation taxes and tolls, calling into question how these investments would be paid for and whether any presidential infrastructure initiative would trickle down to the local level.
  • Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). As the Forum has discussed at length in Making Ends Meet, our assessment of the City of Milwaukee's fiscal condition, as well as our recent 2017 City of Milwaukee budget brief, one of the fundamental financial challenges facing City leaders is the need to accommodate growth in MPD's fixed costs within the City's highly constrained revenue streams. President-elect Trump emphasized "law and order" during his campaign – might that translate into new or enhanced sources of grant funding for large urban police departments?
  • Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD). As the Forum explained in our March 2015 fiscal analysis of mental health redesign in Milwaukee County, BHD's Mental Health Complex is highly dependent on federal Medicaid funds and has benefited from a reduction in uninsured patients as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). President-elect Trump's vow to "repeal and replace" the ACA could have significant impacts on BHD's finances, though it obviously cannot be determined at this time what the eventual impacts will be.

Obviously, there are several other local policy and funding issues that could be affected (positively or negatively) by last night's elections, and it will take some time for all of this to play out. In addition, the President will need to work with Congress on all of these matters, and the results of those deliberations are similarly unpredictable. We'll use this space in the weeks and months ahead to stay on top of the issues raised above and other Washington-related policy impacts that emerge.

Rob Henken