Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week
With two weeks until the election, most people have made their choices at the top of the ballot. Unfortunately, with the big races, like for governor and senator, rightfully dominating the news and advertising space, the races and issues further down the ballot are often overlooked. For most Wisconsinites, they will also be voting on a series of binding and non-binding referenda. Some of these referenda have sweeping consequences and should be carefully considered. I highly encourage every voter to go to myvote.wi.gov to see what is on their ballot as it will be different based on location.
To pick one of my favorite communities, voters in West Bend have three referenda on their ballots. Two of them are binding and will increase taxes. One of them is nonbinding. Let us take a look. The non-binding referendum is called, “Washington County Election Uniformity Referendum.” This referendum simply asks the voters whether or not the Legislature should begin the process to amend the state constitution to make the state’s election process as uniform as practicable. Under current law, each local election official has wide latitude on how to conduct elections. This results in great variability in terms of ballot access and process depending on where someone lives. I would vote “yes” on this referendum to encourage the legislature to begin the process of ensuring fair and equal ballot access throughout the state. The Legislature can ignore the results either way, but the voters of Washington County should make their wishes known.
The first binding referendum is called, “Washington County Anti-Crime Plan Referendum.” Arguing that Washington County is facing an increase in crime, and, in particular, more criminals are coming into the county from Milwaukee County, the County Board wants to increase the Sheriff Department’s budget by about 10% forevermore. To do this, the county wants to increase property taxes by $3.6 million in addition to the maximum allowable property tax increase every year hereafter.
Crime in the state — particularly violent crime — has been increasing due to a variety of factors including Gov. Tony Evers’ Parole Commission releasing violent felons early, soft-on-crime judges and district attorneys, and the defunding of police in some of Wisconsin’s largest cities. Washington County is not immune to these larger societal winds, but those winds will not be blocked by an extra $3.6 million in funding for the Sheriff’s Department.
Given that the county is not committing to better outcomes with more money (focus on outcomes, not inputs); the county is already well-funded; the county budget is fungible; and the County Board could easily prioritize law enforcement in the existing funding level, I would vote against this referendum.
The second binding referendum is entitled, “Moraine Park Technical College General Obligation Bonds Referendum.” This referendum asks the voters to allow MPTC to borrow $55 million for four projects. These projects are to add and improve an advanced manufacturing and trades facilities to the Fond du Lac campus; expand the West Bend campus for manufacturing, automation, and a robotics lab; purchase land and build a fire training facility to certify fire fighters; and add and improve facilities for a health and human services education at the Fond du Lac campus.
Hell may be getting frosty, but this is a tax increasing referendum I would seriously consider supporting. MPTC has a strong direct and local impact to the community and economy. It provides a quality, practical education that puts people directly into good paying jobs in our local businesses. Due to the increasingly questionable value of many university programs, technical colleges provide an economical path for students to pursue higher education or a skilled trade. The dollars spent at MPTC have a high rate of return for the community. While I quibble with some of the specifics of the named projects (the fire training facility seems like overkill when there are at least five such facilities in the MPTC district area), the preponderance of the spending is well-aimed at the needs of the local economy.
The question is still whether the community can afford it. At a time of high inflation, recession, and looming unemployment, sometimes we must decline even the good ideas. Families throughout the state are making those hard choices and delaying even necessary things because they just cannot afford it right now. Unfortunately, we appear to be at the beginning — not the end — of a tough time for our economy and we will face some tough choices on what to fund. This is something to consider with any request to increase taxing and spending.
Self-governance requires all of us to be informed and make good choices. Please take the time to look up what will be on your ballot and do the homework that good citizenship demands.