Give more options for local finance

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Year after year of squeezing makes municipal budgeting a brutal task.

HERE'S A QUESTION: How would you like to get by on roughly the same amount of money, year after year, even as inflation drives up the cost of everything you need and buy?

By the way, we know some people are forced to do exactly that - not everybody gets automatic pay raises - but it's a tough game you're bound to lose eventually. There are only so many rabbits to pull out of a hat. Most workers in successful businesses can expect modest periodic adjustments at least to acknowledge continually rising costs of living.

But in Wisconsin, municipalities like the City of Beloit have been treading water with state shared revenue for years and years. Beloit's share of state aid returned for operational purposes has hovered around $16 million annually for a generation. To make matters worse municipalities operate under revenue caps that limit the ability to adjust property tax rates to make up for shortfalls. State leaders have talked about reinventing government financial models for years, but nothing meaningful has been done.

The net result makes municipal budgeting - Beloit is working toward a fall vote - an annual challenge of trying to balance strong needs against insufficient funds.

SINCE BELOIT IS one of Wisconsin's poorest cities and biggest beneficiaries of state aid money, complaints ring a little flat.

Even so, that doesn't change the fact it is nearly impossible in the long run to keep delivering the quality services a needy community demands while juggling a fiscal plan annually diminished by inflation.

We've said it for years and we'll repeat it. Madison should add inflationary adjustments to state shared revenue packages. Failing that, Madison should make it less cumbersome for local communities to adjust their own revenue side of the ledger.

We get it. In Madison, there are political benefits for appearing more parsimonious than the next guy. That may work well for personal political ambitions, but it won't work forever on the service-delivery end.

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