Through the annual legislative program, the City of Janesville administration strategically communicates its legislative priorities to federal and state legislators and the public.
Each year City staff develops a federal and state legislative agenda which is officially adopted by the City Council. The agenda includes the City’s primary legislative priorities for the coming year.
- ISSUE 1: Increased Support for Transportation Programs: Federal programs and funding are essential for local street, bridge, transit, bicycle/pedestrian, and interstate improvements. Janesville has been able to better plan for and advance much needed local, state, and federal road projects by maintaining programs and funding shares through the FAST Act and is hopeful this dedicated funding source will continue and increase following 2020. We urge Congress to continue prioritizing transportation by fully funding Wisconsin’s transportation priorities and returning Wisconsin’s fair share of dollars; allowing states to explore tolling by removing federal obstacles such as prohibiting the establishment of tolls on existing interstates; and assuring the long-term health of the Highway Trust Fund by allowing the federal fuel tax to be indexed to inflation. The current federal fuel tax has not been adjusted since 1993.
- ISSUE 2: Funding Support for Public Transit: The Janesville Transit System (JTS) meets the transportation needs of the public by providing daily bus service within Janesville and regionally, allowing citizens to get to work, school, and essential services such as healthcare. Federal funding is vital to support Transit’s capital needs and daily operations. We are ecstatic about Janesville’s recent receipt of capital funding for additional buses. We remind Congress of the importance of funding the Bus and Bus Related Facilities program and the annual operating assistance program to provide adequate support for transit services in Wisconsin.
- ISSUE 3: Continued Support for Housing and Community Development Programs: Federally-backed housing and community development programs are critical to assist Janesville’s citizens and to support the local economy. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Home Investment Partnership (HOME) programs are essential in countless communities across the country, including Janesville. These programs help revitalize neighborhoods, encourage home ownership, improve housing quality, improve fair housing opportunities, provide employment opportunities, and provide low- and moderate-income residents with decent, safe and affordable housing. Despite increasing needs and a temporary increase in funding in 2018, CDBG and HOME funding declined again in 2019, and are still down 15% and 1% respectively since 2010. The City requests that CDBG and HOME funding remains a budgetary priority and that CDBG funding be restored to 2010 levels. We also request that Congress considers establishing a task force to evaluate these programs and explores means of reducing regulatory requirements to make it easier to use these funds to address the nation’s affordable housing crisis. Through the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Rent Assistance Program, the City assists approximately 500 families each month, providing an essential safety net for low-income families. The families assisted in Janesville have an average income of $12,098 a year, and 65% of those receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security, or Pension income. Eligible applicants are waiting an average of 33 months for assistance. Administrative fees for the HCV program are insufficient to operate the program in a manner that truly supports and encourages family self-sufficiency. Administrative fees have declined from a 93% pro-ration in 2010 to 79% in 2019. The City requests that Congress increases funding to 100% of fee eligibility so services can be provided more effectively.
- ISSUE 4: Railroad Safety and Disclosure of Hazardous Materials: When emergency events involving trains occur, local first responders are tasked with protecting life and property within the affected communities. However, railroad companies have little responsibility to those municipalities. We are pleased that the FAST Act included the requirement that local first responders be informed about hazardous materials traveling through their jurisdiction before the train arrives. However, this is just a starting point and the requirements should be expanded. For instance, local emergency personnel should be informed about materials in rail cars that are stored in yards and any “off-loading” of material that may occur within their jurisdiction. We ask Congress to continue refining rail safety and reporting requirements so that railroad companies are accountable to the local municipalities that shoulder the responsibility for managing rail-related emergency events.
- ISSUE 1: Restoration of Local Fiscal Control: Municipalities provide essential public services such as public safety, water and wastewater systems, and paved and plowed streets. Despite the great responsibility municipalities assume, the State has stripped the local ability to generate revenue in order to continue to meet citizen expectations.
- Levy limits hinder a municipality’s ability to provide services that grow in cost faster than the increased property value from net new construction. Fiscally prudent municipalities like Janesville, where the property tax per capita is fourth lowest among our 14 peers, are especially disadvantaged by levy limits.
- Expenditure Restraint Program (ERP): The State currently allows municipalities to exceed their levy limit if voters approve the increase via referendum; however, that increase is not exempt from the ERP calculation. Many municipalities with successful referendums increase their budget greater than their ERP limit and lose State aid. For example, the City of Janesville cannot ask the voters to exceed the levy limit for the enhanced street rehabilitation program without the risk of exceeding the ERP limit and losing $1,525,000 in aid. This is counterintuitive to the referendum process.
- Many states with levy restrictions allow municipalities to levy a local option sales tax to lessen their reliance on State aid and property tax. Like Wisconsin counties, municipalities should have the ability to implement a local option sales tax. We estimate that in 2019, a 0.5 percent sales tax in Janesville would have generated $9 million in revenue for the City, paid in portion by non-residents that use services in Janesville, the economic hub in our region.
The legislature should restore local fiscal control by either removing levy limits or revising the law to allow municipalities to increase their levies by a maximum of inflation plus net new construction; exempting any budgetary increase for a successful referendum from the ERP limit calculation; and giving municipalities the ability to implement a 0.5 percent local option sales tax.
- ISSUE 2: Fair and Equitable Distribution of State Shared Revenue: The State’s 2017-2019 Biennial Budget included an increase in the ERP payment to Janesville from 2018—2022. This increase acknowledged the inequitable method for the distribution of shared revenue and allows the City to address critical budget shortfalls. However, the additional $583,000 for five years does not remedy the problem with State Shared Revenue. With the additional funding, Janesville still receives only $669 per capita in property tax and shared revenue combined, compared to the peer average of $819 per capita. The City of Janesville is a fiscally-responsible steward of taxpayer dollars with the second lowest property tax rate and fourth lowest property tax per capita among our 14 peer communities. State Shared Revenue is vital to our ability to provide public services to our citizens and should be distributed among municipalities in a fair and equitable manner. If Janesville received State Shared Revenue that was equal to that of the average peer city, it would equate to an increase of nearly $5.5 million each year, doubling Janesville’s current distribution. We request that the legislature “unfreeze” and annually recalculate Shared Revenue, allowing for factors such as population and assessed value growth to determine distribution.
- ISSUE 3: "Dark Store" Property Assessment Appeals: Since 2011, Janesville has had nine “dark store” appeals, resulting in over $816,000 in litigation and refund costs (increasing property taxes for the average home by an extra $24.58). Evolution of the property assessment process is occurring through court case law. Increasingly, fragmented court decisions are resulting in a loss of tax uniformity and is shifting the tax burden away from national and global corporations to small business and residential property owners. An ongoing strategy of some national retail chains is to appeal assessments, arguing their properties should be valued the same as vacant or abandoned stores. These “dark store” claims are costly for municipalities to fight. We were encouraged by the wide support for AB 386 and SB 292 that would have closed the “dark store” loophole and encourage the legislature to revisit this issue in 2020.
ISSUE 4: Adequate Funding for Local Roads and Public Transit: The City of Janesville urges our State officials to find a viable and long-term strategy for addressing Wisconsin’s transportation needs while also continuing to support local road and non-motorized programs and public transit. Additionally, we ask our legislators to work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to manage the Urban Surface Transportation Program in a predictable and common sense way in order to ensure local communities receive full funding as allocated under federal legislation. Local roads and reliable public transit are vital to our City’s economy and quality of life. More Americans than ever rely on public transit to get to school, work and essential services. We are encouraged by the use of Volkswagen settlement funds for bus grants and request the legislature restore transit operating assistance to historic levels.
Contact Your Legislators
|Senator Tammy Baldwin|
|717 Hart Senate Office Building|
|Washington, D.C. 20510|
|Senator Ron Johnson|
|328 Hart Senate Office Building|
|Washington, D.C. 20510|
|Congressman Bryan Steil|
|20 S. Main Street|
|Janesville, WI 53545|
State of Wisconsin:
|Governor Tony Evers|
|115 East Capitol|
|Madison, WI 53702|
|Senator Stephen Nass|
|11th Senate District|
|Room 10 South, State Capitol|
|Madison, WI 53707|
|Senator Janis Ringhand|
|15th Senate District|
|Room 22 South, State Capitol|
|Madison, WI 53707|
|Representative Amy Loudenbeck|
|31st Assembly District|
|Room 306 East, State Capitol|
|P.O. Box 8952|
|Madison, WI 53708|
|Representative Debra Kolste|
|44th Assembly District|
|Room 8 North, State Capitol|
|P.O. Box 8952|
|Madison, WI 53708|