State Views: In Wisconsin, local control powers us all

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Rep. Andy Jorgensen
Monday, August 19, 2013

Maybe you have an overbearing in-law who tells you how to raise the kids. Maybe your co-worker tells you how to do your job. Or maybe you were in the victim of a playground bully, back in the day.

If you've ever been “bossed around,” you know it's no fun—and over time, it can lead to hard feelings.

That's a lesson more state lawmakers would do well to remember.

So far this legislative session, Republicans have approved a state budget that strips local government's authority to set residency requirements for management-level staff. The budget took away local government's right to limit the sale of certain types of food and beverage based on number of calories, portion size or other nutritional criteria. And, because of the budget, local governments no longer can deny the construction of cellphone towers out of concern for the aesthetic beauty of the community.

Worse yet, the Republican budget irresponsibly limits a community's control over its own finances. In the past, a town board might have created a fee to help cover the cost of plowing the roads in a particularly snowy winter. Or it might have charged a fee for trash collection. Now, the new Republican mandate—called a “levy offset”—forces local governments to reduce property taxes by amount equals to any services for which they charge the public. While this might seem like good news for taxpayers, the question remains: How will communities pay for that plowing or garbage pickup?

The hits don't stop with the budget. Earlier this year, the Assembly approved a bill that would allow up to 50 percent of poll workers to come from outside the bounds of the municipality—and gives political parties, not elected clerks, the right to appoint up to 50 percent of those workers.

Another bill would allow bird preserves to be converted to sport shooting ranges without the approval of local government.

The issue here, really, is trust—trust in our local elected officials. The mayors and city council members and village and town supervisors of Wisconsin are accountable to the communities they serve. They see their constituents at grocery stores, post offices, and in churches on daily bases. If folks don't like what they're doing, local elected officials are going to hear about it—and, I think, they're likely to address problems. And if they don't, we should trust that the voters will.

The bottom line is, Madison doesn't always know best. It's time that state lawmakers stop dictating to their colleagues on the local level—and instead partner with them to create jobs, strengthen communities and move Wisconsin forward.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen of Fort Atkinson represents Wisconsin's 43rd Assembly District. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708; phone 888-534-0043; email Rep.Jor-gensen@legis.Wisconsin.gov.

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