Pardon us, John Gard, but don’t you have your own budget problems?
Assembly Speaker Gard, R-Peshtigo, was the point person last month when Republican legislators proposed a freeze on local property taxes. The state is cutting aid to local governments, and GOP lawmakers don’t want those governments passing on the cost through higher property taxes.
For the most part, we don’t either, but we don’t think it is Gard’s or the Legislature’s business to tell local governments how to handle their affairs.
After all, local governments are largely in this fix because of ineptitude in Madison. The state faces a $3.2 billion deficit in the next two years, and Gard and his cronies created much of that gap with shoddy decision-making the last few years.
Lawmakers are cutting costs everywhere in an attempt to balance the books. One of the casualties is aid to local schools and municipalities. The state is backing off on its commitment to fund two-thirds of education, and aid to cities, towns, villages and counties is being whittled, too.
If local governments decided to make up for every penny lost from the state, property taxes would increase 9.4 percent in December. That is not acceptable, and local governments know that. In Janesville, the city and the school district have been paring costs for months.
That’s not to say that every unit of local government in the state will be as responsible, but we think most will.
Beyond that, local officials know local needs and circumstances best. They talk with their constituents, and they face the consequences of their decisions daily. They are elected to make the tough choices, and they should be allowed to do just that. Some local officials have made convincing arguments that the freeze would lead to cuts in essential services.
If people don’t like the local decisions, they have a direct recourse: elect somebody else to make better choices.
We certainly don’t support big tax increases, and we implore local governments to explore every avenue for efficiencies and savings. This is a good time, for example, to reconsider consolidating services, a concept that was briefly debated and mostly tossed aside during budget discussions a year ago.
The bottom line, though, is that these are local decisions. For the most part, local officials have made sound decisions in the past, as opposed to Gard and his cohorts, who are clearly trying to deflect attention and blame and position themselves as saviors of the common taxpayers.
The Republicans’ budget plan is expected to emerge from the Joint Finance Committee any time, and it probably will include the freeze. We encourage the Legislature to reject the provision. If it does not, Gov. Jim Doyle has said he might veto the freeze. It needs to be stopped somewhere.
Gard and fellow lawmakers still have plenty of work to do to get their house in order. They should concentrate on that challenge and leave local decisions where they belong.
The Janesville Gazette