Janesville is getting ripped off. City officials and local legislators have been saying it for years, but the state’s shared revenue formula stays the same year after year.
Maybe more Janesville residents will begin demanding change at the Capitol thanks to a new online tool (gazettextra.com/datatool) created by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan research organization.
Like nothing we’ve seen in recent years, this tool illuminates the problem. With only a few mouse clicks, the tool shows how poorly Janesville is faring compared to its peers. Through charts and bar graphs, it also shows which municipalities are jilting Janesville. Beloit makes out sensationally under this scheme, according to a comparison we conducted of 10 similar-sized cities. Janesville ranks ninth, with only Waukesha doing worse.
Let’s delve deeper into an example of how Janesville comes out a loser: Appleton’s population is 74,598, and Janesville’s 63,215. Appleton’s equalized property value is $5.4 billion and Janesville’s $4.9 billion. The two cities are similar in size.
Yet, Appleton received $10.88 million in shared revenues in 2017 (the last year tracked by the Wisconsin Policy Forum), while Janesville received only $5.19 million. That translates to $146 per capita for Appleton and $82 per capita for Janesville.
The next time you hit a pothole and wonder who’s to blame, consider that Appleton spent $108 per capita on street maintenance in 2017, while Janesville spent only $63 per capita. Out of the 10 cities we examined, Appleton ranks third and Janesville ninth.
That Janesville ranks near last in both shared revenue and street maintenance is no coincidence, according to Janesville Finance Director Max Gagin.
“The city of Janesville’s low shared revenue per capita is certainly a contributing factor to its low street maintenance spending per capita,” he said.
The city in 2016 doubled the number of street miles it repairs each year, but the city had to borrow money to pay for the improvements, Gagin said.
Speaking of debt, Janesville has a much larger debt burden ($1,454 per capita) than Appleton ($678 per capita).
Are you angry yet, Janesville residents? If so, don’t expect many people at the Capitol to care.
There’s apparently no interest in ending this scheme, according to Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, and Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville. As Ringhand explained the situation, the state froze the shared revenue formula years ago, so Janesville’s economic situation in the early 2000s remains the basis for how the state funds municipalities.
Today, this frozen formula is conspiring against Janesville. It needs to go, but who will stop it?
We want Kolste, Ringhand and other local legislators to take on this issue with a renewed sense of urgency. They should join forces with representatives from communities also not getting their fair share of shared revenues. Introducing legislation to fix the formula would be a good start.
Hopefully, word will spread about the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s new online tool. Its charts and graphs draw from taxation and spending data for 601 Wisconsin municipalities. The tool is intuitive and the results easy to understand. Cities such as Appleton can no longer rely on people’s ignorance to perpetuate this shared-revenue scheme. We’re wise to it, now.