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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Issue of the Week: Bye-Bye Local Control

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True Republicans believe that local control is best because the closer the decision-makers are to their constituents, the better.

But the current crop of Wisconsin Republicans has turned that article of faith on its head. They’ve become a party of state mandates on local governments.

The state budget includes a host of local control-gutting provisions ranging from the silly to the serious. And none of them will serve Wisconsin well.

On the lighter side, Gov. Scott Walker signed off on the so-called “Big Gulp” budget provision, which prohibits local governments from enacting public health ordinances based on nutritional standards. First off, why was a pure policy matter included in the state budget instead of working its way through the Legislature as a stand-alone bill? And why are Republicans trying to harm Wisconsinites’ health? And aren’t local decision-makers the best ones to make the call on community standards?

On the more serious side, Walker and legislative Republicans have struck at local control measures in Milwaukee and around the state that will have serious consequences now and in the coming years.

Republicans threw a bone to police and firefighters unions when it weakened residency requirements that have served our communities well. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee Common Council should challenge this provision in any way possible because it so obviously violates the city’s Home Rule authority. It isn’t too much to ask public employees to live in the community they patrol, teach in and otherwise serve. Nor has this hampered the city’s ability to hire employees. But the Republicans saw a way to force the issue at last, without an up-or-down vote and public testimony in committee, and in doing so they totally violated their belief in local control merely to pay off campaign favors.

In a little-known budget item, Republicans struck down communities’ ability to tax billboards as real property. Going forward, billboards are “personal property” and Milwaukee will lose $2 million in tax revenue from the out-of-state corporations that own many of these outdoor signs. Once again, Republicans sought to intervene in local affairs that have nothing to do with the functioning of state government. 

Likewise, redefining the Lake Michigan lakebed has no impact on state government, but helps Walker’s protégé, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who has pushed The Couture development on public land that may or may not be in lakebed. Now, thanks to Abele’s Republican allies, the development can proceed with fewer questions.

The budget’s requirement that the city pay for the cost of relocating utility infrastructure due to the streetcar project isn’t a state matter, either. But legislative Republicans saw fit to meddle in that local issue, too.

Seems nothing is too big or too small for Republicans who pay lip service to local control on the campaign trail but have no trouble embracing Big Government when they’re in charge of the big government and want to reward their friends.