Madison Needs To Adhere To Federal Relief Guidelines

Once again, when there is a large pot of money to be used, creative ways will be found to tap it. That is happening in Madison and one avenue for such spending needs to be nipped in the bud.

At issue is how to raise the pay for the city’s non-union employees. Yes, they are worthy of an increase. They, too, have felt the sting of the pandemic. But at the same time, everyone involved should be mindful of the process for the use of the said funds.

Seven council members have introduced a resolution to use $4.5 million of the city’s $47 million in federal emergency stimulus funding for a one-time, $2,661 payment to all general municipal employees for 2021. While one can argue that the overall goal is laudable, there is no way to sidestep the obstacle standing in the way of it happening.

Simply put, the plan by these alders runs counter to the U.S. Department of Treasury rules on the use of American Rescue Plan funds. That is according to city finance director David Schmiedicke. The groundwork is not a suggestion by the federal government, or meant to allow for a wink-and-nod as locals use the funds in whatever fashion they deem best.

While it is the habit of local governments to try and maneuver around rules, especially when bottom lines are strained, as they are now due to the pandemic, it is essential that they be followed. Citizens often wonder if large bills, such as the relief measures passed by Congress, are spent wisely or used as nothing more than pots of cash for local whims. To ensure the faith of the citizenry, therefore, requires local government to follow, in this case, the federal rules.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, when constraints on the use of funds have irked local leaders.

Former Mayor Soglin chafed in 2016 at the state mandate which requires 70% of room tax revenues to be dedicated to tourism development, promotion, and marketing efforts.   In other words, those monies can not be used for any wish list that may come to mind from the ones elected in the city.

The lodging industry agreed in 1967 to accept a tax on their guests to generate local funding to promote and grow local tourism.  What Soglin had difficulty accepting was the tax should never be treated like a property tax that funds general municipal services. 

Soglin thought Madison’s room tax, which was adopted by a local referendum to help fund Monona Terrace, should have been grandfathered out of the 70% mandate.  The GOP differed at the statehouse and eliminated Madison’s exemption and placed 70% of room taxes under the control of a local board made up of representatives from the tourism industry.

Now, one can agree or not with the current alders and the former mayor. But what must not be done is disregard the rules and regulations that come with funds. When that is done it shows a lack of regard and respect for a process of governing at the level from which the monies originated.

If local units of government do not show respect to the state or federal government, how then should the rank-and-file citizen regard such higher levels of governance?

And so it goes.