Racine Fiscal Report Embodies WPF’s New Statewide Focus

By Rob Henken

Since 2008, the Public Policy Forum (PPF) has published six detailed local government financial analyses using a methodology we adapted from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). We’re proud of this work, which has been recognized with a national award by the Governmental Research Association.

Today, we release a seventh report, which is our first that applies the ICMA methodology to a government outside of Milwaukee County. It also is our first released as the Wisconsin Policy Forum, and we’ll use it to showcase how our new organization will synchronize its southeast Wisconsin and statewide research agendas.

Our new report — Living Within its Means — provides a detailed look at the finances of the City of Racine. Our conclusions should be of interest not only to residents of that city, but also to the entire region and state given the massive Foxconn development in adjacent Mount Pleasant. As we point out in the report, Foxconn offers both opportunities and challenges for Racine, which hopes to take advantage of new development but which also will be faced with a huge increase in local service demands.

All the details — including access to our report brief and video summary — can be found here. But it’s also important for our stakeholders to be aware of how this report fits into our new statewide research approach.

We have now performed in-depth financial analyses of two of our state’s five largest cities (Milwaukee is the other), which allows us to reflect on the similarities of their fiscal challenges and the extent to which they have similar roots.

For example, both Racine and Milwaukee have shaky revenue structures created by their dual reliance on state shared revenues and the local property tax; and both face fierce expenditure pressures from growing obligations to retirees, rising public safety costs, and substantial long-term capital debt.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll be exploring each of those issues on a statewide basis. Two future issues of our Wisconsin Taxpayer publication will examine new construction trends across the state, and how the linkage between that factor and state property tax levy limits is impacting local governments. We’ll also analyze debt loads among different cities and villages in a future edition of our Focus publication.

For those who wish to engage in policy discussion on these issues, we’ll be holding a Viewpoint luncheon panel discussion on May 7 with four municipal leaders to probe further on the full range of fiscal challenges facing Wisconsin cities. We’re also planning a webinar to provide local government officials an opportunity to engage us in dialogue.

Again, this is all part of the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s new approach, which will include continued in-depth analysis of local policy issues in southeast Wisconsin, but also new efforts to explore the statewide implications and offer statewide policy solutions. We hope you find this as exciting as we do.