What if Madison and its surrounding communities got together and said we were going to do business together and forget about the state of Wisconsin?
I recently spent a few days in New Hampshire with a small group of big thinkers on urban issues. The group, called CitiStates, is led by journalist Neal Peirce and consists mostly of writers who report on city topics. However, they also allow a couple of failed pols to hang out with them, as long as they have a blog.
The rest of this week I'll be writing on ideas I came away with from that conference.
So, back to the idea of rogue regionalism. This is a notion I picked up from a fellow named Bill Dodge who runs a firm out of Colorado called Regional Excellence Consulting. Under the concept of regional charters, local governments would forge agreements about how they would cooperate on economic development, transportation, energy, water quality and a host of other issues that are best tackled on a regional basis.
We have examples of this kind of thing around Madison, but none of them are as effective as they might be. The private Madison Region Economic Partnership (the organization formally known as Thrive) comes up short because it's too big with eight counties, which is seven more than it should be. The Dane County Lakes & Watershed Commission suffers for lack of legal teeth and adequate staffing. The Capital Area Regional Planning Commission has been hobbled by anemic budgets and a constricted mandate. And we briefly had a Dane County Regional Transit Authority before it was taken away from us when the Republicans took over state government.
It's that last point that is crucial. Regional charters are different because they don't ask the state for its blessing. These are simply agreements between local governments. A charter wouldn't allow them to collect new taxes or make new laws or regulations. But local governments would be free to fund a regional entity or project they might create, and that entity could give its opinion on the impact of local actions on the region, and it could market that region nationally and to the world.
Republicans have declared a war on local control. And, at least in the Madison area, the state stymies our growth and progress through policies that don't fit with our values or our vision for our own future. Local regional charters might be one promising way of fighting back.