Governor Scott Walker has proposed that Wisconsin bar cities, villages and school districts from requiring employees to live in their communities. Is that a good idea?
Cities, like Milwaukee, impose this requirement primarily to spur demand for city housing, which raises rents and property values. This is good for homeowners and landlords, and for the city treasury, but not so good for tenants and prospective buyers. There is no doubt that eliminating the requirement would lead to an exodus of municipal employees from the City of Milwaukee to the suburbs, although the School Choice Program reduces the need to move out in search of better schools.
Aside from shoring-up housing prices, the residence requirement also ensures that city employees personally experience the level of public services that they provide. For example, a sanitation worker is less likely to support a strike if his own garbage will not be picked up. Since Milwaukee is about 40% black and 10% Hispanic, the residence requirement provides an ethnically diverse work force without obnoxious quotas. Moreover, whites who are comfortable living in a multi-racial community are more likely to treat minorities fairly than those who are not, so the residence requirement has the additional benefit of keeping hard-core racists out of sensitive city jobs, such as police officer and teacher.
On the other hand, the requirement also reduces the pool of applicants for jobs requiring certain skills and credentials, such as teaching high school physics or math. Barring committed suburbanites from these jobs forces the city to accept second and third-rate applicants, which is contrary to the interests of city residents.
My preference is to let the local authorities decide what is best for their communities on this, as well as other, issues. At one time Republicans favored local control whenever possible, but under their current leadership they now push for statewide rules, perhaps because that is where they now hold power.
Gerald S Glazer