Mequon has a Town Center, but Mequon is not really a town. And that is a problem.
The legislature is debating the transportation budget. The budget will establish the state’s transportation spending for the next two years. Over the past few years, the legislature has received criticism for arguably not appropriating enough money for roads.
Today, in response to that criticism, 10 State Senators (including Senators Darling and Stroebel) proposed a $130 million one-time transportation aid package for “local government.” But, they define “local government” strangely. Their proposal is only for towns and counties. Cities and villages, like Mequon and Thiensville, are not towns. They would get nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Mequon already over-subsidizes the county, and in turn towns.
Mequon has only 27% of Ozaukee’s population but pays 40% of the county’s taxes. That is concerning enough. But the county does not use that money equitably among communities. Instead, the county pays part of the way for towns (like the Town of Cedarburg and the Town of Grafton). Towns do not have to provide all of the services cities and villages are required to provide. The county does it for them.
A double whammy – Mequon subsidizes towns twice. We subsidize towns’ tax collections to the county, and then the county uses Mequon’s overpayment of taxes to subsidize towns’ services.
So, why are Mequon’s senators giving another subsidy to towns? I have theories, but I will let them explain themselves.
If the state is going to help local governments, perhaps it could do it based on the amounts paid. Or population. Or some other across-the-board method.
Or, perhaps, our state representatives should be more concerned about the roads that are the state’s responsibility. My friends in city government might not like that idea – they would like the extra money. And some communities have done such a poor job maintaining their roads that they are way behind, so now they are scrambling for more money
For example (and it is only one example), the state is responsible for I-43. The I-43 corridor between Silver Spring Drive and Grafton was built in the mid-1950s and mid-1960s, and is a main artery for Wisconsin commerce and tourism. On average, more than 75,000 vehicles travel this section of I-43 daily, making it the highest volume 4-lane freeway corridor in Wisconsin. By 2040, traffic on parts of the corridor is expected to increase 32%. This means travel times will become increasingly unreliable, impacting commuters and businesses alike. Clearly, I-43’s age, increasing deterioration and growing congestion are putting motorists at risk and limiting economic development. Crash rates are higher than the statewide average for similar urban freeway segments. Continuing to simply resurface this roadway will result in throw-away costs, perpetual orange barrels in the corridor and motorist inconvenience, while doing nothing to solve the safety, congestion and structural issues.
The I-43 ramp at Highland Road is an urgent need that has widespread support in our community. It will reduce street traffic, making the need for road expansions in communities less pressing, and aid in economic development. The state should fulfill its commitment for the ramp before doling out additional dollars to make towns happy.
Now is the time to move forward with the I-43 reconstruction project. Every year the project is delayed, an estimated $9 million is added to the project’s cost due to inflation, and motorists continue to bear a congestion tax of about $8 million a year.
This is not the only state road issue that should be resolved. The state should get its own house in order before handing out more local money.
Senators Darling and Stroebel, the reconstruction of I-43 would be good for our town . . . errr . . . city.
The Joint Finance Committee will be voting on the transportation budget tomorrow. Let Senators Darling and Stroebel and other state officials know what you think.