Dane County Landfill
A garbage truck dumps its load on top of the 110-foot mound of refuse at the Dane County Landfill in February 2008. State Journal archives

The cities of Madison and Milwaukee on Friday sued two state agencies administering a budget mechanism that severely reduced funding for solid waste recycling by diverting landfill tipping fees away from a grant program.

According to the lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court, Madison claims it lost $405,102 last year because a program that helps municipalities pay for recycling was raided for other purposes.

The lawsuit names the Department of Administration, the Department of Natural Resources and the agencies' secretaries.

It claims the diversion of about $13.1 million from the recycling grant program is unconstitutional because those agencies had no authority to do so.

DNR officials could not be reached for comment. Jocelyn Webster, spokesperson for the DOA, said Friday she would reserve comment until department officials had seen the lawsuit, but "typically, DOA has a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation."

According to the lawsuit, the diversion occurred via a circuitous route that begins with the collection of a "tipping fee" that is designated for the recycling grant program. That money was supposed to all go back to municipalities, but instead the $13.1 million — or about 41 percent of the total — was mostly sent to the general fund.

That makes the tipping fee revenue an unconstitutional tax, the suit claims.

Madison City Attorney Michael May said the city's grant went from $1,145,979 to $740,877. Milwaukee's loss was estimated at more than $1 million.

Three Milwaukee aldermen joined the cities in filing the lawsuit.

The grant system was established in 1989 to "create and support a solid waste recycling program." It has also been interpreted as a way to even out the costs of tipping, as half of tipping fees at landfill sites in Wisconsin are paid by municipalities, the complaint states.

The lawsuit asks for restoration of the diverted money and for injunctions against the use of recycling tipping fees for anything other than recycling.

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