Legislature erodes local control
The city of Madison is suggesting property owners buy a $70 per year insurance policy to help pay for sanitary sewer line repairs on private property.
In the past, city engineering crews repaired the portion of a sanitary sewer located in the public right-of-way at the request of the property owner. But state government decided to prevent local government from performing any construction work for which a private person is financially responsible.
Never mind if local officials had been providing the repair program for years. The Legislature and governor apparently considered it bad public policy. It's a good deal for contractors and the insurance company selected by city officials.
It's the latest example of growing loss of local control.
The ban on local government employees doing any work on private property didn't attract much attention at passage. But the sewer letter from city officials to home owners has people shaking their heads.
Other local-issue legislation by the Republican-controlled state government drew more attention. A prime example was curbing residency requirements for local employees by their government employers.
One topic, which has angered local officials, was budget bill language that ended local control over the installation of cell phone towers. The new law was opposed by Democratic cities and Republican suburbs.
Legislation was also enacted to restrict the power of local government to regulate landlords and real-estate brokers. Another tells local government how to assess the property value of billboards.
Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, is angered at the legislative action. Thompson said lobbyists for special interests find a receptive legislator willing to do their bidding. Often it comes as a little noticed and little debated amendment to omnibus budget legislation. In turn, the lobbyists are "much more likely to make a campaign contribution to their favorite legislator."
"Politely called 'pay to play,' I think it is closer to legalized bribery," Thompson wrote in the organization's latest magazine.
"Opinion surveys consistently show voters trust local officials far more than they trust state or federal officials. Voters are persuaded government closest to the people makes the best decisions. That is 'the heart and soul of local control'," wrote Thompson.
Republicans contend they are for local control of government, but League officials say the legislators' voting record runs counter to their posturing. It could be one of the reactions to the expected continuing control of the Legislature by Republicans.
Following the 2010 census, Republicans redrew legislative district boundaries in a way that seems to guarantee their control for a decade.
Thompson said campaign contributions aren't the only problem as local controls are limited. Another is the ego of the people serving in the Legislature. He cited the case of a former village board president who got elected to the Legislature. Thompson asked her why she is now for limiting local officials.
She replied that when she was the village president, local officials were doing things the right way. "The bunch in village hall now doesn't know what it is doing. That's why I have to step in," she told Thompson.
Matt Pommer, a retired reporter for The Capital Times, writes a column distributed by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.