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Source: Wisconsin Eye

Three local government leaders who just finished their 2010 budgets discussed the funding crisis their communities face, if future governors and legislators can’t agree on a comprehensive reworking of how to pay for state and local services. Appleton Mayor Tim Hannah, Dane County Supervisor Dennis O’Laughlin and Jerry Derr, who for 31 years has been chair of the 3,500-resident Town of Bristol in Dane County, also discussed their expectations of candidates for governor next year.

Mayor Hannah and Supervisor O'Laughlin are LGI Board members.

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Q1: What difficulties did you have in putting together the 2010 budget? What services had to be cut or how much more are taxpayers going to pay?

Tim Hanna response: minute mark 1:53

Comments focus on efficiencies, targeted layoffs, shared revenue as part of our progressive heritage, not a "subsidy to local government" as some in the legislature view it. 2010 budget was tough, but 2011 will be tougher.

Gerry Derr response: minute mark 5:30

Comments re: amount of roads in subdivisions in Town of Bristol and increasing costs of maintenance, cuts in shared revenue, costs of borrowing and levy limits.

Dennis O'Laughlin response: minute mark 9:15

Comments re: Dane County budget and the amount of tax increases in budget, inability of the County Board to cut spending, next year will be worse. Budget needs to be re-done from the bottom-up.

Q2: The next Governor will have to deal with a structural state budget deficit of $2 billion, if the state further reduced state revenue sharing, will you seek new sources of revenue to cover the difference? Is it time to completely re-work the relationship between state and local government?

Gerry Derr response: minute mark 14:25

We haven't seen the lag in assessments from the decline in property values yet, this will hit next year. We have to look at basic service provision and re-work the way local government is funded.

Tim Hanna response: minute mark 16:00

Appleton's values have held steady, so not expecting much impact next year from that. Appleton's concerns are union contracts. We absolutely need to look at the relationship between state and local government. We have needed that for thelast decade. The Kettl Commission had a lot of good ideas, but when it comes to translating those ideas to legislation, good ideas stall out. We need comprehensive reform which will take leadership from the next Governor. Reform is not about raising taxes or finding new sources of revenue, its about being smarter about how we fund different services at different levels of government.

Dennis O'Laughlin response: minute mark 19:40

Dennis was asked to talk about his work on the Wisconsin Way. Wisconsin Way is creating the environment to talk about these issues - how are we going to fund the needs of our citizens in this state.

Q3:The debate overany potential increase inthe sales tax is in the context of a big increase in taxes in this last budget. Doesn't that make it harder for you guys to make your point that we need to revisit the whole tax structure?

Tim Hanna response: minute mark 21:45

You just made the point for restructuring the tax structure. There was not consideration of the total structure of taxes being paid. The other thing is the discussion was only on the revenue side and not on the services side. There is a relationship between revenue and expenses.

Dennis O'Laughlin response: minute mark 23:08

This longer term comprehensive perspective was not part of the discussion in this budget. Population in Wisconsin is aging faster than our neighbors - what will that mean for services in the future? We don't have the money to provide those services. What have we done to promote growth in this state? There isn't the relationship between the business community and the state to move forward.

Gerry Derr response: minute mark 23:45

Many of these are problems we had before this economic downturn. We want to bring business into this state to help our growth, but raising corporate income taxes will not do this.

Q4: Should merging local governments in Wisconsin be part of the dialog?

Dennis O'Laughlin response: minute mark 24:45

Not local government merger, but local services mergers can achieve some savings.

Gerry Derr response: minute mark 25:18

Under the right circumstances it can make sense. The City and Town of Verona probably made sense, many of the Towns in the Madison area will go out of business in the coming years. Merging of local government, however is not an answer, but service provision certainly is.

Tim Hanna response: minute mark 26:45

We are coming to the end of an 18 month study with the Town of Grand Chute - the largest Town in Wisconsin - about consolidating our police services and it is not going to happen. There is not enough savings to be realized, economies of scale are minimal, Town is fearful of losing identity. But, if there were incentives from the state, it would happen. This has been talked about by the local government associations. Our failure is that we have not come up with a solid proposal for incentives. One of the benefits that came out of this study was that one of the City's deputy chiefs serves as the Towns interim Chief. He brought with him our policies and procedures, which have serve to bring the way the two operations work closer together, which benefits the citizens of the Fox Valley.

Q5: The two leading candidates for Governor at this time come from two of the largest local government units in the state. In terms of the long-term reworking of the fiscal relationship between state and local government, is it a good thing that a Mayor and a County Exec are the leading candidates for Governor at this point? Are you more hopeful because of this?

Gerry Derr response: minute mark 29:35

They clearly have a good grasp of that. Milwaukee and Milwaukee have problems so much greater than what we are facing.

Dennis O'Laughlin response: minute mark 30:23

I am more concerned about what they are going to do to address the problem - not more of the political bickering that we have heard for so many years. I still have not heard from them what are we going to do about the real problems in this state. That's what I want to hear. And I don't know if all the candidates are in the game yet.

Tim Hanna response: minute mark 31:36

I think it is good that both of the leading candidates have had to have balanced a local budget and understand the balance that we all face between revenue and expenses. My caution is the Milwaukee connection they both have - they have to understand that while Milwaukee is very important to this state, this state is unlike any other in this country, in that we are a medium size state made up of regional economies. Unlike other states that have one or two major metropolitan areas that drive the state economy, Milwaukee cannot drive Wisconsin's economy. We have a number of diverse regional economies in this state that needs care and feeding to carry this state. Directing an inordinate amount of resources to Milwaukee will not solve our problems.

Q6: We are approaching or in the middle of a crisis. If the crisis in how your governments provide local services in not met in a comprehensive way, what local services will be sacrificed in the next two years?

Gerry Derr response: minute mark 34:40

We will see continued deterioration of infrastructure and basic services. We need a vision for this state and some leadership.

Dennis O'Laughlin response: minute mark 35:45

Health & Human Services, Public Safety, Roads - we are not going to have the funds we need to support the quality of life we expect in Dane County.

Tim Hanna response: minute mark 36:28

One of the state's assets is quality of life. This is something we can package and sell and attract business and people. One of the first things to go are quality of life services. This is our heritage here. This will hurt us in helping to grow our way out of our problem.


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