A return to local control – isthmus madison, wisconsin

At the state level, however, gridlock can be a little more benevolent. Wisconsin’s government doesn’t shut down if a budget agreement can’t be reached. The state simply continues to operate under the old budget because government shutdowns are ridiculous. And now, with the end of eight long years of one-party Republican rule, it will be much harder for the state to steamroll local governments and their citizens.

For nearly a decade, the Legislature rocketed through one far-right piece of legislation after another. Those bills then hit the desk of Gov. Scott Walker, who happily signed almost every bill into law.

Some of the biggest losers in these bills were city and county governments, as the state regularly overruled local governments — particularly Madison, Milwaukee and rural counties in the northern part of the state that dared to care a little too much about protecting natural resources.

From 2011 to April 2018, Republicans passed 180 different measures that either limited local control or acted as an unfunded mandate on local governments. These measures ranged from restricting employment protections to the outright banning of regional transit authorities. Do you know what Dane County could do with a regional transit authority? Just imagine all the communities in the area working together on funding and planning public transportation. We could get more bus routes from the suburbs to Madison, reducing the cars on the Beltline and on the isthmus.

Outside of the immediately visible impacts, these attacks on local control were incredibly demoralizing. Community coalitions, city or county committees, and other partners often worked for years to get a new ordinance just right. These were rarely decisions made lightly or without copious amounts of data. Yet, after finally passing local policy, years of work could get erased in a hastily introduced budget amendment. Actions like that discourage civic participation.

It’s not as if the attacks on local control were a one-and-done deal either. Laws that gave more power to landlords and weakened tenant rights went into effect in 2011. And 2012. And 2014. And 2016. And 2018. For groups like the Tenant Resource Center, these constant changes in state law required frequent revisions to their educational materials and a near-perpetual retraining of staff. It is an exhausting and demoralizing cycle — mobilize to fight bill; watch those efforts fail; work through the fallout of the bill. Repeat.

That’s why a little gridlock can be a beautiful thing. With Gov. Tony Evers holding a veto pen, it will be harder for the Legislature’s attacks on local control to become law. For the next four years, local governments and community coalitions are in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating policy. With state government slowed, progress and innovation will instead come from city councils, county boards and school boards.

Local policymakers will play a big role in shaping these changes, which makes the spring elections exciting. With the primary on Feb. 19 and the general election on April 2, communities throughout Wisconsin will elect new leaders. Here in Madison, there is a full slate: contested races include the mayor’s office, three school board seats, and 11 of the 20 Common Council seats. Excitingly, almost all of the council races are for open seats, meaning they are truly competitive races. Local government has an opportunity to again create real change and, with these elections, citizens have an opportunity to change local government.