State Views: Gov. Walker's bill misses chance at real property tax relief

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Last week I voted for a property tax relief bill that was conceived in haste as a political gimmick. Tax relief has bipartisan appeal, but the minority had no opportunity to improve this bill. That’s too bad.

The bill won’t provide real property tax relief and will contribute to the 2014 budget deficit.

Still, most of us voted for it. The bill passed 85-12. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I voted “aye” because it does slow the rate of tax increase and was the only tax bill the Assembly would get to consider.

We could have done much better. The way this bill was produced and passed is a black mark against a Legislature more concerned with political advantage than public good.

Special Session Senate Bill 1 doesn’t deliver a property tax cut. It slows the increase by an average of $13 the first year and $20 the next. That’s 25 cents a week the first year. The average will be $13, but many homeowners will receive nothing. The drop in the ocean will be paid for with $100 million over two years.

Gov. Scott Walker’s last budget increased property taxes on the average home by $31. His bill merely reduces the increase for some.

Cuts in state shared revenue have forced cities and counties to hike property taxes. Under Rock County’s proposed budget, taxes on a $100,000 house will rise $14.32 in 2014. The city of Janesville budget proposal calls for a 2.5 percent increase in the levy. Despite the governor’s claim, property taxes here will rise.

The governor proposed the bill Oct. 10. Seven days later, the bill had passed both the Senate and Assembly—a $100-million-dollar package in seven days from conception to law. Some say the governor devised the hasty plan to divert attention from Mary Burke, who announced her candidacy for governor.

I don’t care about his motives. I care about the process and the product. Any debate over property tax relief would have produced a better product. Democrats obviously were willing to approve a tax relief plan. We approved this one. We were locked out of the process, and the result is flawed law.

The strictly partisan approach to everything has crippled state government. Democrats offered a substitute amendment on the Assembly floor that would have produced real property tax savings. The majority dismissed it without serious consideration.

The Democratic plan would have produced actual tax savings. Under the bill we passed, the typical homeowner will see an increase of $11 in property taxes. Under the Democratic alternative, the typical bill would have actually gone down $14. Everyone would have received the benefit.

The Democratic plan would have reduced the pending structural deficit by $53 million and would have put $100 million in the rainy day fund.

When the Republican majorities refused to consider this proposal, they were voting to increase your taxes. If they had subjected SSB1 to rational debate and consulted Democrats the result would have been a tax cut.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, represents the 44th Assembly District. Readers can contact her at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708; phone 888-947-0044; email Rep.Kolste@legis.Wisconsin.gov.

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