March 21, 2013
We suppose perverse credit is due for the ingenuity of local government officials finding ways to get more money to spend.
A report from the Public Service Commission (PSC) reveals that statewide, nearly 15 percent of the money paid by homeowners and businesses on routine water bills isn’t used for anything remotely related to producing, treating or delivering water. It’s diverted into general fund accounts to support all manner of local spending.
The most dramatic instance occurs—SURPRISE!—in Milwaukee, where the water utility this year will channel more than $12 million into the general fund for non-water related spending at the same time that it seeks a three percent rate increase because it can’t afford to repair and replace decrepit water mains. Credit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for digging this up:
In the PSC’s report released publicly last month, regulators found municipal water utilities made a total of $87.4 million in payments in 2010. This figure represented 14.9% of total municipal water utility rate revenue that year — nearly $15 of every $100 collected.
The total grew to $92.9 million in 2011, but the overall percentage of revenue requirements remained about the same, at 14.8%, the report said.
As usual, the excuse, in Milwaukee and statewide, is the familiar refrain about the state (meaning, ultimately, you,) not giving local governments enough shared revenue to supplement property taxes. So sad.
The PSC notes that grabbing water utility revenues for who-knows-what is now a significant revenue stream for municipalities and it isn’t illegal. In fact, it’s consistent with fund raids at the state level during the Doyle years, when gas tax revenue that was supposed to pay for roads and bridges got siphoned off for other state spending. Thankfully the Legislature has advanced a constitutional amendment for the November 2014 ballot to put an end to that.
Raising one tax to make another seem less painful is a standard and popular tactic, but it keeps people in the dark about what they’re paying for.