One Year Later: Big Changes to Communities
Big Change #6: State Budget Cuts Mean Fewer Crossing Guards, Sheriff’s Deputies, and Snow Plows
In Fond du Lac, the city has reduced the number of crossing guards who help children safely cross the street on the way to school. In LaCrosse, the city is weighing buying less road salt for the coming winter, and waiting to plow until five inches of snow have accumulated, up from three inches. In Kenosha, the city has plans to scrap Saturday bus service altogether – or double fares.
Significant reductions in support for communities included in last year’s state budget mean that scenarios like these are playing out in communities across Wisconsin. Whether it’s deferred road maintenance in Green Bay or four dozen sheriff’s deputies laid off in Milwaukee County, cuts included in last year’s budget are affecting the safety, stability, and livability of many of our communities.
Last year’s state budget reduced investment in communities by at least $128 million over two years, including:
- a $76.8 million reduction in general support for counties and municipalities;
- a $24.2 million cut for local recycling programs;
- a $17.5 million cut for road maintenance in communities;
- a $9.6 million cut for public transportation.
Not every community has had to make deep reductions in services. Governor Walker has noted that the near-elimination of collective bargaining rights for public employees, included in the controversial budget repair bill early in 2011, allows communities to make up for cuts in state support by requiring local government employees to pay higher costs for their benefits. Some communities, such as the City of Milwaukee, have been able to fill the hole left by state budget cuts by forcing employees to make higher contributions to retirement and health insurance costs. But other communities – including those constrained by previously-existing union contracts or communities in which employees already make significant contributions to fringe benefit costs – have fewer options and must balance their budgets through cuts that affect the quality of life in those communities.
One option that is largely closed to communities is raising property taxes to make up for state budget cuts. The state budget limits property tax levy increases to the value of new construction, unless approved by referendum.
If we want to make sure that Wisconsin remains a great place to live, work, and raise children, we need to have safe and stable communities. Significant reductions in last year’s state budget in investments in local communities mean that we have fewer crossing guards on the job, deputies patrolling the streets, and plows clearing our roads. Let’s turn this trend around by investing more in our communities, not less.