Delegation pitches familiar proposals for Superior Days
When Douglas County needed to close a $1 million gap in its budget for this year, a $300,000 cut in funding for county highway projects was in the mix to fill the hole created by a crisis in children's protective services.
And next week, more than 150 delegates from northern Wisconsin will fan out across the Capitol in Madison to lobby once again for a solution. It's the fifth time the delegation will press the Legislature for the local option sales tax for roads.
This year, Douglas and Bayfield counties are joining forces to ask the Legislature for a chance to implement a half-percent sales tax for funding for local roads.
"It's a very needed economic development issue," Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said.
If approved by the Legislature, the counties would turn to voters consider a binding referendum that would allow the counties to collect an additional half percent sales tax for up to five years, unless renewed by voters. The counties would receive about half the revenue with the remainder distributed among municipalities based on population and miles of roads.
In Douglas County, its estimated the tax would generate an additional $3.85 million annually, and Bayfield County would generate about $1.1 million annually to put roads there.
Liebaert is optimistic with the change in administration and the empathy expressed by some Republican leaders in the past, the proposal stands a chance of gaining support.
"I think there is really a chance this might pass this year," Liebaert said.
"Superior Days is probably one of the most important events I will do all year because it is our chance to make a real difference," Mayor Jim Paine said. "As many of you know, the environment is going to be very, very different this year than it has been in past years and we have a chance to make real progress down there."
Delegates will ask the Legislature to consider increase Medicaid reimbursement rates this year for behavioral health services, substance abuse treatment, nursing home care and personal care workers.
And this year, the University of Wisconsin-Superior is seeking a $2.68 million increase in its operating budget to fund initiatives such was expanding online courses, program delivery and electronic textbooks; expanding career services, paid internships and on-campus student employment; and to create a college skills course to help students transition to college.
Other issues the delegation will address with agency leaders include improved funding for child protective services; reinstating local control for shoreland zoning and regulatory control to safeguard waters; assistance for development of the North Country Scenic Trail; increased payments to towns with county forest land; and creation of an exposition district in the city of Superior for economic development.
The exposition district would allow the city to create tourism taxes to support economic development efforts
This will be the year, said Bruce Thompson, president of Better City Superior, which developed the plan to support economic development initiatives that complement Duluth's tourism industry.