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Northwoods Political Digest

December 20, 2019

Report: State support for communities has dropped significantly

The amount of support the state provides to local communities has declined sharply over time, according to a new report released by the Wisconsin Budget Project. 

As a result, local governments are forced to consider revenue sources that fall most heavily on people who can least afford it, the report asserts. The largest and most flexible source of state support to local governments, referred to as “shared revenue,” is used by county and municipal governments to pay for a variety of critical services. 

The report found that the amount of shared revenue that the state provides to county and municipal governments has dropped significantly in recent decades, with a decrease of 47% between 1996 and 2020, after adjusting for inflation. In dollar amounts, shared revenue fell from nearly $1.6 billion to $830 million, a drop of $760 million over the period.

In 1996, the state spent 11.5 cents out of every dollar in the budget on shared revenue, an amount that dropped to 4.5 cents out of every dollar in 2020. 

In 1996, shared revenue funded 26% of county budgets and 7% of municipal budgets. By 2019, those percentages had shrunk to 12% for county budgets and 3% of municipal budgets.

“Local governments are the backbone of successful communities,” said Wisconsin Budget Project analyst Tamarine Cornelius. “For our economy to work for everyone, Wisconsin needs to invest in strong communities across the entire state.”

Faced with a steep decline in state support for communities, local governments have turned toward tax and fee sources that fall most heavily on people with low incomes, Cornelius said. A record number of communities have passed local vehicle registration fees, which require car owners to pay the same fee regardless of the value of their car.

“At the same time that lawmakers were reducing state support for communities, they were also passing billions in new tax cuts, many of which created or expanded tax loopholes for the rich and powerful,” said Cornelius. “Wisconsin’s tax system is already stacked against people with low incomes. When local governments are forced to consider taxes and fees that fall most heavily on people with low incomes and on people of color, we further skew our tax system.”

Lawmaker: Foxconn falls short again

State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison), the ranking Democratic Assembly member on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, says a new Legislative Audit Bureau report further underscores her doubts about the state’s Foxconn project.

“Since the very beginning of the backroom Foxconn deal, I have held serious reservations and voiced my concerns at the lack of accountability in place and the company’s inability to deliver on promises made to the state of Wisconsin,” Sargent said. “Now, over two years later, we continue to see Foxconn’s failures to meet contractual requirements while still taking advantage of our state and taxpayers.”

Sargent said the new audit report again highlighted the continued inadequacies that Foxconn and their partnership with WEDC present. 

“Since the beginning of this ‘deal,’ Foxconn has repeatedly let down Wisconsinites by its inability to show taxpayers what we as a state are getting for these so called ‘investments,’” she said. “(A)gain and again audits by the non-partisan LAB have revealed substantial and concerning issues, including the fact that Foxconn continues to award tax credits to employees not performing services in or for Wisconsin, remaining non-compliant with Wisconsin state statutes.”

What’s more, Sargent said, under former secretary Mark Hogan, WEDC did not comply with its contract when it calculated the amount of wages Foxconn paid in 2018 that were eligible for program tax credits, among other failed assessments and continued non-compliance with state statutes.

“The ongoing failures by Foxconn to fulfill their contract obligations and provide promised jobs and economic benefit for our state is sadly news that has left many of us unsurprised,” she said. “However, with a newly appointed WEDC secretary and the leadership of Gov. Tony Evers, I am pleased to see Wisconsin working to hold Foxconn accountable and to ensure that they follow through on the promises made to our state, by not awarding further tax credits until they comply.”

Vining wants to make Wisconsin more accessible

State Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa), Rep. Jimmy Anderson (D-Fitchburg), Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee), and state Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) have introduced what they call a “Universal Changing Stations” bill that would install adult sized changing stations in certain buildings and create a tax credit for small businesses to install those stations.

“At one of our very first in-district meetings with constituents, a mother shared her concerns about lack of changing tables in public places for adults with disabilities,” Vining said. “She shared that her son has been unable to go to basketball games, museums, and airports because, at age 19, he has to be changed on the floor of public restrooms or in the back of their van. We have a population of people in need who are going unseen and are unable to participate in society.” 

Since the buildings don’t work for the people, the people aren’t going to the buildings, Vining said.

“These tables and stations are a growing reality in Wisconsin,” she said. “Businesses want to do the right thing. We’ve already seen community partners stepping up. This bill will allow state government to partner with the business community to ensure equal access for all Wisconsinites.”

Vining said various popular public visitor spots already have adult sized changing tables, including Discovery World, the Fiserv Forum, the Milwaukee County Zoo, and Summerfest, while Mitchell International Airport and State Fair Park have announced they would be adding adult sized changing tables within the year.

“If we want families to live, work, visit, and stay in Wisconsin, we have to make sure that our state is accessible to everyone,” she said. “Everyone deserves the same access to public spaces, and bathroom use should not prevent someone from enjoying and participating in our communities and our society. I am excited to help make Wisconsin a more accessible state.”

Zamarripa denounces GOP sanctuary cities bill

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) says a new bill to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities in Wisconsin is discriminatory.

“This bill is anti-immigrant and anti-Latino, plain and simple,” Zamarripa said. “Rather than addressing the real needs of our immigrant community, Republicans are pushing bad public policy that will harm the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they protect.”

Zamarripa said that, with the bill, victims of crimes would be afraid to reach out to the police, which will leave victims vulnerable and help criminals avoid the consequences of their crime. She said the bill would make many feel unsafe and targeted in their own communities.

“This legislation is being pushed as an anti-immigrant talking point,” she said. “Republicans want people to fear immigrants, who actually commit fewer crimes than American citizens. They are using hate for political gain. We should focus on solutions that support law enforcement and build safer communities for all Wisconsinites. We should not use legislation to stoke fear and hate.”

Barnes calls for collective action to combat climate change 

After attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is calling for collective action to address what he believes is a climate crisis and the detrimental impact it is having on Wisconsin.

“It’s unfortunate that our federal government chooses to be so reckless and negligent about an issue that’s threatening the health and livelihood of us all,” Barnes said. “We have a lot to lose in Wisconsin and we’re missing out on economic opportunity if we don’t begin transitioning to a cleaner economy. That’s why it’s more important now than ever for state and local leaders, along with businesses, to step up and tackle the climate crisis with ambition and urgency.”

Barnes, who says he purchased carbon offsets for his travel using personal funds, attended COP25 as part of a delegation of more than 70 American leaders. There, he met with U.S. businesses to begin the dialogue on how business and government can work together to meet clean energy goals, met with foreign dignitaries to explore opportunities for cooperation, and spoke out about the actions he and Gov. Tony Evers are taking to address the climate crisis.

The lieutenant governor also joined the U.S. Climate Alliance in releasing their annual report, which highlights that Alliance states are within the reach of the Paris goals and on track to reduce emissions 20-27% below 2005 levels by 2025. 

Evers joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement, shortly after taking office earlier this year.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change remain a high priority of the administration, Barnes said. He will be hosting the first meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change later this week.

Barnes said that task force is comprised of individuals from throughout the state representing various industries including agriculture, small business, utilities, and Indigenous communities. They are charged with providing policy recommendations to Gov. Evers in August of 2020.

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