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Delegates promote focused agenda

When more than 130 delegates travel to Madison next week, they'll focus on only a small number of issues compared to recent years. "The issues are really about self-sufficiency," said James Anderson, economic development educator with the Univers...

When more than 130 delegates travel to Madison next week, they’ll focus on only a small number of issues compared to recent years.

"The issues are really about self-sufficiency," said James Anderson, economic development educator with the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Douglas County.

Unlike years past, the two-day lobbying effort includes fewer, more focused agency meetings, in addition to only three main issues - legislation that would allow creation of a local option sales tax for transportation and legislation that would allow smaller communities like Superior create an exposition district to create tourism taxes to enhance economic development efforts, and support for higher education in northern Wisconsin.

The goal of the latter issue is not to seek money, but to share the stories about why UW-Superior and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College are important to the north, according to Daniel Fanning of UWS and Jessica Hehir of WITC.

"It’s not a budget year so it’s not really a time to do a financial ask, Anderson said. "There isn’t a mechanism for that. The issues format for this year really reflects that."

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Local option for roads

With declining state revenue for roads and constraints on local budgets, Douglas County started to lobby for an opportunity for counties to create an optional half percent sales tax to be designated for road projects.

Those efforts, which started two years ago, have resulted in the creation of Assembly Bill 210, written by Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson.

"It’s co-sponsored by a slew of people and they happen to have both an R and a D behind their name," Anderson said. "So it’s really cool because it has a lot of bipartisan support."

In December, the bill gained unanimous support from the Assembly Committee on Transportation.

"If anyone pays attention to politics at the state or federal level, very rarely does that happen," Anderson said.

Assembly Bill 210 would allow counties to charge an additional half percent sales tax if approved by voters during a referendum. If the citizens approve the local option sales tax, and all revenue collected for the tax would be distributed among the county and any cities, towns and villages within the county for the purpose of maintaining and replacing roads. The sales tax would sunset after four years unless voters approve continuing it.

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With current funding and bonding, it would take 30 years for Douglas and Bayfield counties to rebuild their roads; it’s hoped the local option sales tax would get that cycle to where it should be - closer 20 years, Anderson said.

 

Exposition district

The legislation for an exposition district is not as far along as legislation for a local option sales tax.

However, it is a vital issue for workforce development and growing Superior, said Bruce Thompson of Better City Superior.

"Our message down there will be ‘Grow Superior, Grow Wisconsin,’" Thompson said.

Thompson said no one has to look any further than Duluth to see the opportunity an exposition district could have for Superior to attract millennials to the city. There, the city is able to collect tourism taxes that are being used to reinvest in Duluth.

Superior is funded differently than Duluth, and Thompson said the effect is detrimental to Superior if the city isn’t able to compliment what is happening in Duluth.

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"We’re strategically looking at what area do we want to focus on now," Thompson said. "We want to make it more exciting so more young people will want to live in the northern tier."

An exposition district isn’t new in Wisconsin; Milwaukee has had one for 20 years, which was revised recently to accommodate development of a new Bucks arena.

Thompson said the goal of legislation is to right-size that concept for smaller communities across Wisconsin, and believes it would be successful in a regional market like the Twin Ports. He said by being able to create tourism taxes, it would create bonding capacity without creating a municipal liability to enhance development. Being able to bond would allow Superior to lure in the kind of development that would draw young people to the community through public-private partnerships.

Superior has been successful with those types of partnerships in the past, Thompson said, citing Barker’s Island as an example.

"We are asking permission to be successful," Thompson said. "We know from our research that this is working in other parts of the country."

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