State Redistricting Changes Cost Local Government

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 10:40 PM by
The Wisconsin State Senate Tuesday passed a legislative redistricting plan, a new map of legislative districts in Wisconsin that must be completed following each decennial federal census.  Like many votes on legislative redistricting, the plan was passed on party-line votes and in many ways strengthens the political position of the majority party while weakening that of the minority party.  However, in addition to changing the current political boundaries, the plan also makes changes to the long-standing redistricting process, costing municipalities across the state as they are forced to re-do portions of their own redistricting plans.
Under current law, counties and municipalities are under set timelines to examine their political boundaries in light of decennial census data.  Each population unit, or ward, must be as similarly sized as possible, which can mean significant changes as populations grow and shift.  City council and county supervisor districts can also be altered.  Under current law, once local governments complete their work, the state uses locally set wards as building blocks to create their legislative districts.
Legislative leaders decided to call both houses into session this week to pass the state redistricting plan on a much faster timeline than is typical.  As a result, state mapmakers were unable to rely on new locally drawn wards for building blocks and instead, relied on other available boundaries.  In some cases, these new boundaries conflict with the new boundaries created by local governments.  In such cases, local governments will have to redraw their boundaries. 
A number of recent press accounts have begun to highlight the additional costs that will be incurred by local governments due to the new redistricting plan:
  • In Sheboygan, the new redistricting plan is expected to cost local government $57,000 in the next election and an additional $27,000 in each election thereafter.   
  • In northeast Wisconsin, additional costs and work time will likely be incurred to redraw maps that local governments there have been working on the past six months. 
  • According to a letter from Milwaukee officials, the city will need to spend an additional $10,000 in new costs due to the state redistricting plan.
The State Assembly was in session today (July 20th) to take up the redistricting plan.  A lawsuit has already been filed in federal court to challenge the redistricting plan, though it is unclear how successful a court challenge will be.  Assuming the redistricting plans go through, local governments throughout the state will likely incur additional costs as they are forced to go back to the drawing board.
Ben Nerad   
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