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View from around the state: GOP centralizing power at state level

The Legislature seems intent on expanding the reach of state government with the city of Milwaukee paying the price for reasons we’re not sure of, other than legislators must believe they can do a better job than the Milwaukee City Council or the Milwaukee County Board.

The GOP trend toward larger government oversight and less local control seems to run counter to Republicans’ beliefs. It should be alarming for anyone who believes that some of these decisions should be made at the local level, not by the state.

Last week, for example, the Assembly passed a bill that would increase the power of the Milwaukee County executive while reducing the authority and budget of the Milwaukee County Board. It would also cut county supervisors’ terms from four to two years.

The Republican supporters of the bill are convinced the board won’t tackle the problems itself, therefore the need for the heavy hand. However, Milwaukee County residents have the power to do something — they can run for county office or go to the voting booth, preferably both.

The Assembly’s decision to dictate how the county is run and to centralize more of the power with one person runs counter to what we expect in a democracy.

But the state isn’t stopping there. It’s also intent on setting a statewide residency requirement for municipal workers. The biggest impact would be felt in Milwaukee, where city and school district workers must live within the city limits.

The Joint Finance Committee has approved the residency rule as part of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-15 budget bill. (It still needs to pass both the Assembly and Senate.)

Regardless of what you think about Milwaukee County or residency rules, the local municipalities should be able to set their own policies and govern their own boards. Those municipalities can then enforce their policies or grant exemptions as they see fit on a case-by-case basis.

That was what the city of Green Bay did when it hired its police chief. Green Bay department heads are still required to live within the city limits, but when the Police & Fire Commission wanted to hire Tom Molitor as police chief, the City Council granted him an exemption because he lives in Abrams, an Oconto County community 20 minutes north of Green Bay.

While we believe Green Bay should look at ending its residency policy for department heads, we believe it’s up to the local government, not the state, to determine that policy.

If you believe that these proposals are aimed at only Milwaukee County, consider this: another budget proposal prohibits municipalities from banning food or drink sales based on portion size. Again, regardless of your view of this issue, the fact that the state wants to dictate this seems like an overreach. Plus it’s a distraction from the important budgetary items, as are all non-fiscal policies contained in Walker’s spending plan.

As state Rep. Jane Bewley, D-Ashland, told Wisconsin Public Radio: “When I see the overuse of power in Milwaukee County, I fear for my own counties, my own cities, my own villages, my own towns, and each and every person in this room should do so as well.”

 — Green Bay Press-Gazette

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