Levy limits could cause political shift: Official
JANESVILLE State-imposed levy limits are moving Wisconsin from a representative democracy to a direct democracy, said the executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.
“I fully expect that more and more cities will be facing limit decisions,” Dan Thompson said.
“What people don’t quite seem to understand about the levy limits is that the cities are not under levy limits. The city councils are.
“The voters can agree to tax themselves.”
According to state law, a municipality can increase its levy over the prior year’s levy only by the percentage increase in equalized value from net new construction.
If no new construction occurred, the levy limit is zero, for example.
The levy limit does not apply to money spent to pay off debt.
Residents, however, can approve additional spending beyond a levy limit through referendum.
Voters in 14 cities, villages and towns have approved spending more than levy limits since they were imposed in 2006.
The Department of Revenue won’t know the final tally of November 2012 referendums until clerks submit annual levy limit worksheets.
The numbers tell only the number of referendums that passed, not those that failed, Thompson said.
Levy limits don’t diminish the power of a community, he said. Rather, they change who makes decisions.
For example, councils and boards might opt to reduce services rather than seek more money through referendum. Members might close the library three days a week to save money.
Voters, however, could push for a referendum, he said.
America is a representative democracy, but levy limits have shifted the power to the people.
As levy limits further restrict communities, “that will be very interesting politics,” Thompson said.
In many communities, voters might prefer to pay more rather than have services they support cut back, he said.
“That’s going to put a much higher burden on the citizen to get informed, to decide what the advantages and disadvantages are and make the decisions,” Thompson said.