Does Wisconsin need a new approach for funding local government?

Mayor Tim Kabat


A new study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum details that local governments in our state are overly reliant on the property tax for providing police, fire, streets and other government services to our residents and visitors.

The report, “Dollars and Sense,” points out that of all Midwestern states, Wisconsin more than any other depends on the property tax to fund these services.

This needs to change.

Our dependence on property taxes causes them to be higher, because there are no other options in meeting the needs for service. High property taxes are a threat to homeowners, especially seniors and those who live on a fixed income. The dependence on property taxes also means that as a share, our residents pay more, while visitors and commuters pay less.

In Wisconsin, local governments are limited in how we pay for services. These options are primarily the property tax and state shared revenue. Limits on property taxes and stagnant shared revenues are preventing our local governments from effectively providing services, as costs and demands continue to increase.

This is a problem that gets bigger each year. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Local spending is not the problem. According to the U.S. Census, municipal spending in Wisconsin is two-thirds of the national average, with $2,205 per capita of spending in Wisconsin versus the national average of $3,443.

In La Crosse, we continue to do our part on spending. In 2012, spending on general government was more than $100 per person. In 2016, this number was reduced to less than $80. We have managed significant decreases in our debt service and property tax rate, too.

The $12.04 rate is the lowest it has been since 2007.

Other states allow local governments to use sales, income and other local option taxes and fees to fund the services they provide. Providing more options in paying for local government better matches the users of services with those who pay for them and helps to lower the tax burden on property owners.

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities — of which La Crosse is a proud member — would like to start a conversation about balanced, fiscally disciplined and sustainable local government services.

Cities like La Crosse need broader, more stable funding. We also need flexibility in funding our services and options that are more responsive to the economy and share the cost among residents, visitors and commuters.

Let’s begin a dialogue here in Wisconsin about more balanced funding for local government.

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Tim Kabat is mayor of La Crosse.


(9) comments


Please plow and repair the streets. If your staff cannot manage the basics why should you be given more funding?

Rick Czeczok

Taxing people to death will not help your cause. Look at your own budgets and cut the fat. The city budget is super obese. To start with look at the past parks budget and spend, if you don't believe me that will convince you. If the city will even let you see it in full...


Yes, the park dept seems to be out of control. hopefully under new management this will change.


If you think you can do it better, comrade, then run for office. But you have to be a citizen first.

random annoying bozo

local governments need to get their fiscal house in order, and quit looking for, and depending on, welfare and handouts from state and federal government.


rab, we need money from state and federal government as well. We won't be able to keep the roads up without it. We pay taxes for that very reason. We do need to control spending but we need to increase the gas tax. It hasn't been raised in years and that has also been contributing to the road conditions. The tax should have already been increased before the price goes up further or people will never approve an increase. If we don't, expect higher and higher property taxes.

random annoying bozo

no, in lacrosse you pay taxes for an echo park that went belly up, for swimming pools that are used less than 1/4 of the year, for brick sidewalks and $7k street lights, for subsidies to the rich via tax breaks and tiffs, for study after endless study...it's an endless list of where you tax dollars go, but one things for sure, streets and roads aren't the priorities of where your local taxes go.


and dont forget $40 million + to the La Crosse center.


It's easy to be the armchair quarterback, Bozo. If you think you can do it better, run for office.

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