Mayor Soglin's 2017 Operating Budget Message

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 9:50am

Madison’s economy continues to outperform the state and nation. Our unemployment rate is below 3 percent for the first time since April 2008. Home values increased 3.6 percent in 2015; real property values are up 5 percent. These are positive signs of our City’s economic health.

But while we see many positive signs, our City continues to struggle with access to jobs with family supporting wages for all our residents. We have a limited supply of housing, making the affordability of shelter a major issue for many working families.

We face challenges in our community which call for clear and effective strategies that can demonstrate measureable progress toward our neighborhood goals. Some want to focus on a single issue and simply demand more resources without a coherent strategy. That approach is short-sighted – it ignores both fiscal realities and our City’s priorities.

Unfortunately, we cannot tap our economic growth to help our residents that don’t share in this boom. State law proscribes an over-reliance on the property tax and severely limits our options to grow other revenue sources to pay for City services. With over 125 laws adopted since 2011 to prohibit or limit the actions of local government and budgets that have cut state aid, the majority party in the State Legislature continues to be a barrier toward upward mobility for all through equitable economic growth.

With a short-sighted Legislature, we must redouble our efforts to work together – between City departments, between the City and community agencies, between the City and our partner governments – school district, county and municipal, Madison College and the University of Wisconsin.

We can start at the City by connecting the services we provide with measurable goals. I am asking department and division heads to begin the first steps toward making those connections and seeking ways to improve the quality of our services. Seeking quality is not new for City government; but we must go further to use data to develop strategies toward reaching our goals, measuring our progress and improving, and making more equitable, services to our citizens.

We are almost exclusively reliant on the property tax for City services. That is dictated by State law. Given that reality, we must strive to keep the property tax affordable. With very little growth in inflation in 2015 and modest growth predicted in 2016 and 2017, I am setting a goal of a 3% increase in taxes on the average value home.

This will not be easy to achieve, given the need to invest in our infrastructure priorities and meet our pay equity goals for all City employees. We also face growth in the cost of health insurance, which I attribute to unfair and inequitable pricing strategies by health care providers. I will continue to call for transparency in health care pricing and accountability for what studies have shown to be higher costs for government employers, employees and tax payers.

With this in mind, I am directing each of you to meet the following budget targets for 2017:

  •  No increases from the 2016 base budget, except for full funding of previously approved items.
  •  No supplemental requests.

Regarding budget savings plans, each agency will have the choice of providing one of the following options:

  •  A plan for efficiency investments in technology or other process improvement efforts with a payback of three years or less.
  •  A 2.5 percent reduction plan that does not include layoffs.

Your budget requests and savings plans should also be developed with equity in mind, through use of various tools, processes and procedures developed through the Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative (RESJI). Please contact your assigned budget analyst for more information on these budget targets and RESJI tools.

Each of you strives every day to deliver the best services in the most efficient manner possible. I commend you for those efforts and call upon all of us to continue to work together to find ways to help ensure upward mobility and equity for all.