Mayor Tim Swadley went to the state Capitol May 22 to lobby state lawmakers on behalf of the City of Stoughton.
He planned to join other area elected officials and municipal administrators as part of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities’ Municipal Lobby Day. In a phone call before the trip, Swadley told the Hub the group planned to advocate for items in the state budget like transportation funding, loosening state levy limits and fighting the so-called “dark store” loophole.
While the local representatives – Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) and Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) – are both “very supportive” of issues important to Stoughton, the mayor said, he admits it’s an uphill climb to get state legislators to compromise on any of the initiatives he’ll highlight.
Gov. Tony Evers included several items in his budget Swadley supports, though the Joint Finance Committee has since pulled many of them out.
The budget may be amended by both houses of the Legislature before ending up back on the governor’s desk. Once there, Evers may use his line-item veto to remove or amend portions of the budget, though he may not increase the overall dollar amount.
State Rep. Don Vruwink (D-Milton) told a listening session in April the Republican leadership has made it known that if Evers vetoes the budget, it will only send back smaller and smaller versions.
On transportation, Swadley said he planned to tell lawmakers that his group will get behind any compromise that will increase funding for roads and bridges statewide.
“We don’t care how you fund it, we just need to increase revenue,” Swadley said. “Gas tax, tolls, wheel tax, whatever you guys need to do, we’ll support it.”
He said he also planned to advocate for the state to redo the U.S. Hwy. 51 corridor between Stoughton and McFarland, which he said has been “on the back burner for a few years.” That effort would help commuters who want to travel between communities, as well as possibly enticing businesses to locate in the area. The mayor said it’s valuable to offer real, local examples for state legislators to point to when fighting for funding.
Evers has proposed allowing municipalities to raise their levies by 2 percent each year, rather than limiting them to the amount of net new construction in the previous year.
The Joint Finance Committee has since taken the proposal out of the budget, and Swadley said he’d like to see it put back. Since 2011, municipalities have been limited to raising the amount collected in taxes to the value of what’s been built in the community over the previous year plus certain kinds of debt.
The goal was to incentivize municipalities to grow, Swadley said, but it ended up restricting the services municipalities could offer.
“Even the communities that have grown 2-3 percent are still experiencing shortfalls in their budgets because it doesn’t cover the increased cost for staff and equipment (to service that growth),” Swadley said.
Stoughton has been growing between 1.6 and 1.7 percent the last few years, Swadley said, which is below the Dane County average but slightly above the statewide mark. Evers’ proposed change would free up an additional $30,000-$40,000 annually, the mayor estimated, which might allow the city to increase wages for staff or possibly fund a new position.
Finance director Jamin Friedl told the Finance committee May 14 that of the roughly $10.2 million city budget, about $7 million goes to pay wages and salaries. A 2 percent raise for cost of living increases is about $140,000 each year, and health care costs rise roughly 5 percent yearly, an additional $55,000.
“Every little bit helps,” Swadley said. “I don’t anticipate single-handedly being able to change anybody’s mind, but I’ll give it the old college try.”