Listening session

Wisconsin Rep. Travis Tranel (left), R-Cuba City, and Wisconsin Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, listen to constituents during a listening session at Grant County Fairgrounds in Lancaster, Wis., on Friday, March 12, 2021.

LANCASTER, Wis. — Targeted aid for municipalities, catalytic converter thefts and funding for a Cassville bridge were among the concerns aired by Southwest Wisconsin residents at a listening session hosted by two state lawmakers.

More than 15 people joined Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, and Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, Friday at the Grant County Fairgrounds in Lancaster. The lawmakers are collecting feedback before a top legislative committee begins to develop a 2021-23 biennium budget proposal in May.

Gary McCrea, president of the Benton Village Board, pleaded for additional shared revenue.

“I don’t know how municipalities are supposed to operate when funding is cut every year,” he told the legislators.

Shared revenue, which the state allocates to provide local government services, has declined more than 47% over the past 25 years, according to the Wisconsin Budget Project. In inflation-adjusted dollars, aid decreased from nearly $1.6 billion in 1996 to $830 million in 2020.

Additionally, the state cut $94 million in shared revenue to cities, villages and towns over the same period.

“We used to have two police officers,” McCrea said. “We only have one now.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, unveiled his budget proposal in February, which contained measures like marijuana legalization that leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature have characterized as a pipe dream.

Evers has proposed increasing shared revenue by 2% in 2021 and an additional 2% in 2022. He also supports enabling counties and municipalities to impose an additional 0.5% sales tax to support city services.

Marklein declined to comment on whether he supports the measures, stating that the state’s budget-writing committee, which he co-chairs, awaits the receipt of an analysis of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau of the governor’s proposals in May.

The committee will begin drafting its own budget proposal in May.

“We understand,” Tranel said. “Towns, municipalities, your budgets are tight.”

Joe Ploessl, of Cassville, Wis., urged the lawmakers to allocate funding for a feasibility study that would investigate options for construction of a bridge across the Mississippi River at Cassville.

The crossing would span the site of the former Nelson Dewey Generating Station to the current ferry landing on Oak Road east of Millville, Iowa — the midpoint between the two nearest bridges at Dubuque and Prairie du Chien, Wis., which are about 60 miles apart.

Ploessl, who spoke on behalf of the Badger-Hawkeye Bridge Coalition, estimates the study will cost $1 million to $2 million.

“It’s going to create an economic corridor across the county,” he said.

Sue Krause, also of Cassville, encouraged the lawmakers to investigate the installation of electric vehicle charging stations, also with an aim to foster economic development by attracting travelers.

Stephen Freese, who sits on the Jamestown Township Board and a former state representative, drew attention to the thefts of catalytic converters.

“They are happening in the most rural parts of our state,” he said. “Someone came into our farm and cut the catalytic converter off my truck.”

He urged the lawmakers to consider legislation that would regulate the sale of converters at scrapyards when they are not attached to a vehicle.

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