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La Crosse, Onalaska mayors talk about “transformational” shared revenue bill that passed Legislature

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A bipartisan, shared revenue deal passed in Madison on Wednesday.

Onalaska Mayor Kim Smith called it historic, La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds said the plan was generational and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers called it transformational.

“What we’ve had over the many years has been unsustainable,” Reynolds said on La Crosse Talk PM this week. “And, because of rising costs and the fact that revenue from the state has remained stagnant, we’ve had to cut services over and over and over again at some point, there’s just nowhere else to go.”

Mayor Mitch Reynolds on La Crosse Talk PM discussing the shared revenue plan that was initially agreed upon last week.

But how did we get here, where local governments had to beg the Wisconsin Legislature to change a funding model that actually saw state aid to municipalities decrease over the past 30 years?

Reynolds explained this week on La Crosse Talk PM, that local governments, across the state, couldn’t fund emergency services. So, while in La Crosse police or fire show up in minutes, that’s not the case elsewhere.

“There are places in Wisconsin where nobody comes, where nobody comes because they don’t have EMS,” Reynolds said. “They can’t staff fire. Whatever the situation is, they don’t have the funds to pay for it.

“And so that was the alarm bell, right there, is that, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got 37 municipalities in the state,’ and that wasn’t all of them. There (were) some the year before as well. I think that number really caught people unaware.”

That 37 Reynolds alluded to were places in Wisconsin that had to go to referendum to ask taxpayers to help pay for emergency services. Holmen was one of those 37.

“We end up, year after year,” Smith said on WIZM, “ having to either find justified legal fees that we can add or cut services because we can’t continue to provide the same level of service for less money year after year, after year. And that’s what keeps happening.”

Onalaska Mayor Kim Smith last week on La Crosse Talk PM commenting on the initial news that a deal was in place.

La Crosse will see a funding increase of the smallest amount, at 20 percent, while the city of Onalaska’s funding will increase by 90 percent. See how much funding other local municipalities will see here.

“The governor’s plan would’ve boosted our shared revenue to a point where we would be out of our deficit hole,” Reynolds said. “I mean, we’re still gonna be in a deficit hole, but now there’s a path forward. I feel better about that, but it’s only because there’s a few of us who said outright, ‘Ten percent is OK. We’ll take it. Fifteen percent is better because that’s what the Senate wanted. Twenty percent. Make it 20% because that will get us, for some of us, we’ll get it outta the hole that we’re in.”

Smaller towns in the area, like Hamilton and Medary, will see an increase over 200%.

The big question on the plan, however, was asked of state Rep. Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska) last week on La Crosse Talk PM, and that was, “Who wins, Democrats or Republicans?”

“The answer is ‘Yes,’” Doyle joked. “I think that both did. Look, how hard is it, when you have a $7 billion surplus to make everybody happy?”

State Rep. Steve Doyle on La Crosse Talk PM discusses shared revenue plan.

The bipartisan bill saw 12 Republicans vote against it and 19 Democrats vote for it.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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