Wisconsin state shared revenue recipients, we have a problem.
Few state legislators, especially those who represent areas currently on the “winning side of the frozen formula,” seem willing to verbalize that. Gov. Tony Evers, for his part, hasn’t admitted in so many words that the state’s current way of calculating shared revenue is broken, but he did appear to put forth a proposal to help rebalance the equation in the form of referendum-approved city and county sales tax increases of a half-percent each.
The proposal, included in Evers’ budget, is almost certainly dead on arrival at the Joint Finance Committee and, if not there, with any vote of the GOP-controlled Assembly. Yet this is not a partisan issue. If anything, Evers has given the GOP a chance to dodge the difficult conversation of restarting the state’s shared revenue formula and creating “winners and losers” in their respective districts.
So perhaps legislators opposed to “raising taxes” could look at this proposal instead as a way of “enabling communities” to fix their own financial problems.
I know, a tax is a tax. But in comparison, for example, to the fiasco that Janesville’s discussion of a proposed transportation utility has become, a half percent sales tax hike is easy to understand and minimally abrasive for most purchases. It would make the $5.50 tax on a $100 taxable purchase in Janesville $6 ($6.50 if the county were to enact an increase as well).
It should be noted that just as we are wrestling with a minimum wage that has not increased since 2009 and a gas tax that stopped indexing to inflation in 2007, the state’s 5% sales tax has not been increased since 1982. Rock County adopted a half percent sales tax in 2007. It would seem that an increase after 40 years is hardly out of line at the state level, but since legislators won’t do their job, Evers’ proposal allows them to pass the buck to counties and local municipalities.
Speaking with a Forward Janesville official on my radio program a couple weeks ago, the estimated increase in revenue for Janesville could be more than $10 million. That would more than solve the very real problem of road funding in the city, with funds to spare.
No one wants to pay more in taxes. I get that fact. But the reality is, this is an opportunity for residents to decide through a referendum whether the increased funding is needed. However, the only way that Janesville or Beloit residents would have a chance to have their voices heard is to have their legislative representatives give them a chance.
State Assembly Representatives and Senators, this is not a vote about you raising taxes. It’s your chance to give those Wisconsinites whom you represent to have a voice about doing so. It’s up to city and county officials to give thoughtful, transparent plans as to how such additional revenue could best benefit the residents, and it’s about the residents ability to have the freedom to decide.
This is one time I am not pleading with legislators to “do something” to meet needs of the residents of their state. In this instance, I am simply suggesting that they move out of the way and allow the sales tax increase provision to stand and let the people in counties and communities decide if they want to enact it.