My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:
After lengthy, private discussions with legislative Democrats and local leaders, including the Democratic leaders of Milwaukee, the Republican leaders of the Legislature have released a comprehensive and intricate plan to reshape the state’s shared revenue program for decades to come. While the reasons for the effort are laudable, it perpetuates a political arrangement in which everybody wins except the taxpayers. It is a bill with fundamental flaws that should be rejected.
Shared revenue is a rather ridiculous Wisconsin state scheme where the state collects a bunch of sales and income taxes and then distributes much of it back to local governments with an archaic formula that nobody likes. This column has long advocated the abolishment of shared revenue in exchange for something far simpler, but there is too much power wrapped up in the distribution of shared revenue for its abolishment to be considered. This bill is a good example of that power being wielded.
The primary objectives of the Republicans’ bill, Assembly Bill 245, are threefold. First, it would provide the largest increase in shared revenue in decades in exchange for municipalities spending that money on law enforcement and first responders.
Second, it would allow the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to ask the voters to raise the sales tax to pay for their unfunded pension liabilities in exchange for making all future employees join the well-managed state retirement system. Third, it would provide a huge incentive program for local governments who innovate by consolidating or combining services.
There are some other things in the bill that are good, like barring local health officials from closing businesses for more than 14 days without approval by elected governments, and allowing local governments a say when the state Stewardship Program decides to buy a slew of land and remove it from the tax rolls, but the grand bargain is more money if local governments do what elected state leaders want them to do.
Republican legislators are attempting to force local government leaders to do the things that they should already be doing by incentivizing them with more money to spend. This is a government solution, for government, by government. Experience tells us that the restrictions and covenants will eventually be eroded or circumvented, but the spending will remain forevermore. There is nothing so eternal as a government spending program.