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SPECIAL SECTION

$4 million BTC referendum fails by wide margin

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Neil Johnson
August 12, 2014

JANESVILLE—Blackhawk Technical College’s president said he believes voters may have shot down a $4 million spending referendum Tuesday because they were leery the referendum had no sunset.

Voters in Rock County rejected the referendum handily, with nearly 60 percent voting “No.”

If it had passed, the referendum would have allowed the college to tap the local tax base to annually boost its spending $4 million beyond state-imposed revenue caps.

The referendum had no sunset, meaning it would have been a perpetual addition to the college’s annual budget.

College President Tom Eckert said as votes came in Tuesday he heard from people that the fact there was no end date for the referendum’s proposed budget increase may have scared voters off.

“People didn’t like the idea that it was ongoing, that we’d raise the base (yearly)—that it wasn’t a one-year, one-time thing,” Eckert said.

Eckert told The Gazette in an August interview that attorneys’ readings of law is that colleges must “increase their base” through referendums annually and in perpetuity.

He said a continuous increase to the college’s base budget, rather than a one-time increase, would lift the school from the lowest spending bracket per student of similar-sized technical schools in the state.

Eckert stuck to that read Tuesday, saying the college and its referendum organizers would never have floated a one-time spending referendum.

Eckert said college officials and a team who’d worked to float the referendum were “disappointed” by the outcome, but that voters “have spoken.”

He said the college likely would not bring another spending referendum in the near future.

Eckert said the college would not have planned or executed the referendum any differently, including the choice to put it on a partisan primary ballot in the fall, instead floating it in a general election.

Had it passed, Eckert said the college had planned to use the money to expand skills–based programs including computer numeric control, welding, industrial mechanics and electromechanics.

It also would have sought to add more course options for GED students along with more maintenance and information technology staff.

Eckert said the college now must crimp those plans, and continue operating “the best we can with what we have.”

There was a wide disparity in outcome in the two main voting blocs in Rock County, the cities of Janesville and Beloit.

In Beloit, 16 of 22 major precincts voted to approve the referendum by a slim margin. That wasn’t enough to offset the outcome in Janesville, where the measure tanked.

In all, the referendum failed in 26 of 27 major voting precincts in Janesville. In many of those precincts, it failed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

In Green County, 3,500 voters in the college’s other major taxing jurisdiction didn’t help to swing the outcome. The referendum there failed by a 1 percent margin, according to unofficial totals.



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