The underside of the Wisconsin Capitol Dome

Wisconsin’s state lawmakers seek to undermine local community power.

In recent years, the Wisconsin legislature has passed more than 60 measures that represent unfunded mandates for local governments or restrict the authority of local governments.

Many state lawmakers embrace the idea of local control, saying that they believe governing should take place at the local level when possible. But instead of expanding local control, the Wisconsin legislature has limited the ability of local governments to make decisions in a wide variety of areas.

The Wisconsin legislature added 64 new limitations or unfunded mandates for local governments in the last four years, according to this memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. New limits added by lawmakers include:

  • Constraints on the ability of counties, municipalities, technical college districts, and school districts to set property tax levels;
  • Restrictions on local ordinances that protect tenants and limit landlord authority;
  • A limit on the ability of local governments to impose residency requirements on employees; and
  • The repeal of regional transit authorities. These authorities helped coordinate mass transit service among different localities.

Not all of these limitations are new. A few of the restrictions on local government that are described in the memo are essentially updated versions of previously existing limits. For example, legislative caps on school district spending date back to the 1990s. But the vast majority of the measures described in the memo represent new ways to limit the authority of local government. This Capital Times article from earlier this year describes additional ways legislators have turned their backs on local control.

Given the high number of limits on local control the legislature has passed in the last four years, it’s clear that many lawmakers favor tilting the balance of power away from local governments and towards the state.

by Tamarine Cornelius

Photo by cimexus released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.