Let’s start with what this Municipal Services program is, and why we heard about this today. Here’s the description, straight from the Wisconsin statutes.
(1) The state and the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority shall make reasonable payments at established rates for water, sewer and electrical services and all other services directly provided by a municipality to state facilities and facilities of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority described in s. 70.11 (38), including garbage and trash disposal and collection, which are financed in whole or in part by special charges or fees. Such payments for services provided to state facilities shall be made from the appropriations to state agencies for the operation of the facilities. Each state agency making such payments shall annually report the payments to the department….Basically the state makes payments to the local governments for everyday services that are done at their facilities that are similar to items that often go on the property tax for regular home and business owners. It’s basically contracting to have the city/village/towns do these services instead of have the state agency do it themselves (and hire people and pay for all of it).
(6) No later than November 15 annually, the department shall report to the cochairpersons of the committee the results of its negotiations and the total payments proposed to be made in the subsequent calendar year. In computing the proposed payments to a municipality, the department shall base its calculations on the values of state facilities and facilities of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority described in s. 70.11 (38), as determined by the department for January 1 of the year preceding the year of the report, and the values of improvements to property in the municipality as determined under s. 70.57 (1) for January 1 of the year preceding the year of the report, and shall also base its calculations on revenues and expenditures of the municipality as reported under [property taxes and other municipal finance] for the year preceding the year of the report.
Not a huge deal on the surface, as it’s a relatively typical cooperation agreement across various levels and types of governments. But as someone who has had a prior job dealing with these kind of issues, this part of the report to the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance raised my eyebrows.
The number of towns, villages and cities eligible for payment is 326. The recommended payments are 37.95% of total entitlements. The reduction is necessary to contain the program within its $18,584,200 appropriation. The reduction of payments on a pro-rata basis is a standard action required by 70.119 whenever the appropriation is insufficient.Then I went back through the Joint Finance report page, and looked at the previous 3 years of this Municipal Services Payment report. That’s where things got intriguing, because back in November 2013, the state was giving 44.62% of entitlements to the locals, nearly 6.7% more than what they will get for this year.
The reason this percentage has dropped is because while property values of state buildings and the related value of these city services have gone up, Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP haven’t added a dime to the amount of money they set aside for these payments. In fact, Walker and WisGOP cut this amount by 10% in their first budget in 2011 and haven’t added anything since, despite the Obama Recovery and low interest rates leading to economic recovery and higher property values in the interceding 5 ½ years.
In fact, if the state covered these municipal services payments at the same rate as they did in 2013, local governments would be getting nearly $3.27 million dollars in additional state aid.
That’s money that could have gone toward reducing property taxes, or maintaining services like snow plowing and street repair, instead of having to turn to the numerous wheel taxes that have been approved throughout the state in the last 2 years (Milwaukee County being the most notable with their $30 fee being approved last week, but they are far from the only one).
In fact, some of the state’s largest communities have lost sizable amounts of revenue due to these reductions over the last 3 years, which makes me wonder how long they will continue to be such friendly neighbors to the state agencies they help out. Not surprisingly, many of these notable reductions are in cities with UW campuses, and any reductions are especially tough for smaller college towns or little towns with prisons similar state facilities, because of a lack of otherwise taxable property. The notable exceptions are the Cities of Madison and Milwaukee, which have had serious building and improvements for both the university and state offices in recent years, raising their total property values.
Change in Muni Aid Payments, 2013-2016
City of Stevens Point -$154,907 (-28.3%)
City of Green Bay -$89,414 (-16.3%)
City of Chippewa Falls -$45,894 (-26.2%)
City of Whitewater -$45,937 (-12.9%)
City of Platteville -$45,568 (-18.9%)
City of West Bend -$34,016 (-22.0%)
Kenosha Co Town of Somers (Parkside) -$31,638 (-19.8%)
City of Waukesha -$31,251 (-13.2%)
City of Mauston -$34,576 (-32.3%)
City of Boscobel -$11,419 (-49.8%)
City of Stanley -$6,897 (-18.0%)
City of Madison +$375,797 (+4.5%)
City of Milwaukee +208,543 (+11.0%)
Seems like an easy call to give a few extra bucks to these local communities to stay in their good graces, and to restore the percentage of costs we had 3 years ago. But don’t bet on it for this upcoming budget. We have to give Diane Hendricks another tax cut that she can funnel back into the campaigns of right-wing politicians, and we need to throw more money back to Scott Jensen and the voucher lobby for their role in keeping the GOP majorities at their high levels. Oh, and forget about having a revenue boost to pay for it- we are on pace to be $350 million short this year the way we are going, and there are a whole lot more needs to pay for over the next 2 years on top of what we already spend.
These Municipal Service reductions are also part of the “death by 1,000 slices” strategy that Walker and WisGOP have put into the state budget in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. This neglect doesn’t look like much at the time they are put in place, but cause serious cumulative damage over time, with Walker and WisGOP hoping they can get out of town before it crashes down hard.
I’m sure this type of looming mess and higher taxes is what you small-town types voted for when you decided to return all of your GOP “representatives” to the Legislature last week, right? Well, you're gonna get it, SUCKERS.