Public Policy Forum Blog

All politics is local...and global

This week none other than The New York Times and National Public Radio are making national stories from news about local school districts in our state. It's a reminder that Wisconsin is, in fact, on the globe.

The story, covered locally by the Journal Sentinel, can be simplified as follows: Several school districts around Wisconsin participated in high-risk investments using borrowed funds and are now in danger of losing millions. The Irish bank to which these loans are owed is now on the hook, threatening the viability of that bank and the larger German bank that owns it. The German government has stepped in to save the banks, which now find themselves unable to conduct business as usual, affecting the many local governments around the world that have been their loan customers.

The details are not actually that important. The lesson to be learned is that local decisions can have a global impact. As hard as it may be to believe, your neighbor on your local school board is now a player in the German economy.

Couple this new paradigm with the observation from yesterday's Milwaukee Talkie post that deficient local decision-making could result in less local control should the state be required to step in, and you have a recipe for uncompetitive local elections and poor turnout. Who would want to serve on a school board, pension board, or village board when the decisions are this complicated, this tough, and this far-reaching? And even if there are enough people willing to run for these positions, do voters understand the true nature of the job and the types of decisions the elected officials will be required to make?

Unfortunately, the end result may be a vicious cycle in which low voter turnout and unchallenged candidates lead to ineffective leadership and justify loss of local control. Once that happens there is even less incentive for future voters to be informed or for qualified candidates to step forward. The market and the economy are indisputably global. Is it inevitable that governance shall be, too?

Anneliese Dickman