A new report by the Public Policy Forum says property taxes in Southeastern Wisconsin increased by over 5 percent in each of the last two years. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"Property tax collections rose by 5.1% this year in southeastern Wisconsin, coming on the heels of a 6.1% increase in 2008 that was the highest jump in a half-decade, a Public Policy Forum report to be released Friday shows."
The report says declining property values have forced local governments to raise property tax rates in order to meet their budgets.
"As growth in property values has slowed, many local governments have been required to increase property tax rates to generate the additional revenues needed to meet annual inflationary expenditure increases," said Rob Henken, the forum's president.
There is no question that declining property values result in less revenue flowing to local governments, but raising property tax rates is not the only recourse for local officials.
As Milwaukee County Executive, I have introduced seven straight budgets with no increase in the property tax levy, and in 2008, when other state and local governments faced massive budget shortfalls, Milwaukee County had a small budget surplus.
We prioritized county spending based on available revenue. We cut non-essential spending, and we looked for innovative ways to provide more services for less money. For example, by replacing full-time, year-round park maintenance workers with seasonal part-time staff, we could add 26,000 hours of labor for park maintenance while saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
This brand of creative governing requires leaders who are open minded and willing to put the best interests of the taxpayers ahead of government interests. That is exactly the kind of leadership we need to get our great state working again.
Governor Jim Doyle is using a potential school funding crisis to unravel state imposed revenue limits on local school districts. The Governor recently told a Madison newspaper that he will remove state per pupil spending limits in legislation that would repeal a law that bans use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. The Obama Administration said the state needs to change the law or risk losing out millions in federal education money.
In 1993, the average increase hit an all time high of 10%. When I was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly that same year, one of my first priorities was to create taxpayer protections that would reverse the 8-year trend of average annual property tax increases in excess of 8%.
The Governor’s proposal to lift revenue caps is especially perilous for taxpayers because it will be compounded by his state budget provisions to remove the Qualified Economic Offer and loosen the mediation arbitration rules.
The revenue limit law caps the amount of money school districts can collect from a combination of general state aid and property taxes combined. The law was enacted in 1993 as part of a comprehensive plan to control rising property taxes.
According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA):
“…from 1986 through 1993, school property taxes increased at least 8.5% in seven of eight years and topped 10% in 1993. During this time, the school levy averaged nearly 54% of all property taxes.”
“Revenue limits have helped reduce school property tax increases to less than 5% per year from more than 9% annually prior to the caps.”
Governor Doyle wants to turn back the clock to the days of double-digit property tax increases, and he is using President Obama and billions of dollars in federal education aid as an excuse. This will devastate our seniors on fixed incomes and people across the board including many farmers, small businesses, middle income homeowners, and larger employers who simply cannot afford to pay more in taxes.
After raising taxes by more than $2 billion in a crumbling economy, we cannot give business another reason to shed Wisconsin jobs.
On Friday, I spoke with talk radio host Charlie Sykes who introduced me as: “one of the few politicians who thinks that maybe government should make the kinds of sacrifices the rest of us have to make.”
This year, I will introduce my 8th straight budget with no increase in the property tax levy because I campaigned on a pledge to spend the taxpayers’ money as if it were my own. I kept that pledge, and I will do it again and again as your Governor.
Last week, we witnessed America at its best and at its worst.
Thousands of concerned citizens across the country turned out for town hall meetings with their Congressional Representatives. Driven by their questions and concerns regarding President Obama’s plan to overhaul our health care system, hundreds filled meetings that typically draw no more than a couple dozen people.
Freedom of speech is one of our most coveted liberties. Unfortunately, many of our leaders in Washington aren’t so sure. From President Obama and Speaker Pelosi on down to rank and file members of Congress, last week’s exercise of free speech and assembly were met with hostility and harsh words.
Demonstrators were labeled as angry mobs and compared to domestic terrorists. This is disappointing, but those of us who believe in freedom of expression know that we are fortunate to live in a nation that affords all citizens those rights.
As the debate over health care continues, I hope President Obama and our Representatives in Congress will remember that people are naturally and genuinely frightened by the prospect of changing their health care coverage. This is especially true for senior citizens and the parents of children who are chronically ill. Elected leaders have a responsibility to address our questions and concerns and to move forward with caution.