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Public Policy Forum Blog Post "Milwaukee Talkie"

Maybe we don't need a new Kettl Commission as much as we need to listen to the old one, and its many predecessors.

A few years ago, I charted the history of task forces, study committees and commissions appointed to find ways to make Wisconsin state and local governments and schools work better, and to reduce the friction that often enters into the picture.

I started with the the Interim Urban Problems Committee, which reported to the Legislature and Gov. Gaylord A. Nelson a half century ago.

"The problems arising from the rapid expansion of urban areas in the state are so numerous and complex that further study is essential," the committee concluded, and while some of its recommendations on incorporation and annexation made it into law, it's call for ongoing study did not.

State government managed to largely avoid the issue until 1971, when Gov. Patrick J. Lucey appointed the Citizens Study Committee on Metropolitan Problems.

That committee, headed by Gilbert W. Church of Glendale, took a look at local government in Wisconsin and found a system "designed for an agrarian society of a hundred or more years ago," an "urban community" plagued by "a patchwork of political boundaries which become increasingly aimless and arbitrary as they outlive their historical origins."

The not-so-surprising result? Higher costs of government.

Not much happened to streamline government, though.

By 1975, Gov. Lucey had another go at the issue: the Commission on State-Local Relations and Financing Policy, chaired by Harry L. Wallace of Wauwatosa and dubbed the Wallace Commission.

It made a series of recommendations along policy themes that included greater flexibility for local governments, easing reliance on the property tax, greater fiscal equity and encouraging consolidation.

Again, some of the Wallace Commission’s recommendations became state policy and many did not — notably the recommendation for encouraging areawide government.

In 1987, a brand new Wisconsin governor, Tommy G. Thompson, was concerned that property taxes in Wisconsin were 25% above the national average.

He appointed the Local Property Tax Relief Commission, chaired by then-Dane County Executive Jonathan Barry, who had opposed Thompson in the 1986 Republican primary for governor.

The Barry Commission recommended increased state aid funded by the sales tax, an idea that didn't go awfully far.

In 1993, Gov. Thompson tried again, with the SAVE Commission, which made recommendations on land use and regional problem solving as well as pushing for state government efficiency.

All of which was a prelude to the Kettl Commission and the Sheehy Task Force, headed by Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce.

After the dust had all cleared, brought a lot of the principals of the aforementioned studies together.

Jim Burgess, who chaired the SAVE Commission, suggested that not much would happen until we were at the point of a crisis, and we weren't there yet.

Are we there now?

My lengthier summary of the above, though showing its age (aren't we all?) is here:

Rich Eggleston

April 7, 2008 1:43 PM

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