The one way around these constraints would be if residents of a district would approve a referendum allowing the district to exceed those revenue limits, and increase property taxes. This is a tactic that has been happening with increasing regularity in Wisconsin, as over 200 such referendums were held in 2014, the most in over a decade. This pattern repeated this Spring, with 74 different school referendums going to the voters in April 2015. In addition, Wisconsinites have generally been OK with what the schools want to do, as the referendums succeeded at a 76% rate last year, and at a rate near 70% this Spring.
This background leads into what the Wisconsin State Journal’s Molly Beck reported on Sunday. Apparently some Republicans in the State Legislature have a problem with the choices those citizens are making, because passing the referendums allow property taxes to go up, which goes against the tax-cutting claims they made on the 2014 campaign trail.
So the WisGOPs’ solution to the “problem” of communities agreeing to tax themselves to maintain and/or improve their schools via referendum? Get rid of those damn referendums!
One bill — yet to be introduced but available in draft form — would require school boards to ask voters to approve referendums only during the traditional spring or fall elections, and prohibit school boards from going back to voters for two years after a referendum is rejected.So much for the GOP being the “party of local control.”
Currently, school boards can hold special elections for referendums and can go back to voters during the next scheduled election if a question fails.
Another bill bans school boards from exceeding their state-imposed revenue limits in order to pay for energy-efficiency projects — an exception to levy limits that lawmakers created in 2009.
It also shows that the moves made in prior budgets by the WisGOP Legislature and Governor Walker were merely one-time gimmicks designed to give an impression to voters of “lower taxes”, which suckered some of those people into keeping the GOP in power during the next election. These gimmicks include the “tools” of Act 10, which took money out of the wallets of teachers and staff to try to make up for huge cuts to public schools in the first Walker budget of 2011-2013 (it didn’t quite do so, but it sounded good to the rubes). This was followed by an unfunded $406 million giveaway in 2014 that lowered the amount of property taxes that went to the state’s technical colleges, but couldn’t be used to improve services or instruction.
Those bullets have now been used up, but the budget deficits, reduced funding and increased needs for these schools remain in 2015. Instead of restoring the cut funding to public education, the WisGOPs in power continue to funnel money into vouchers for private schools while over 55% of Wisconsin public school districts lost state aid in this school year, which helped lead to the referenda held in 2014 and 2015 to keep the public schools running.
This seemingly dumb choice of the WisGOP Legislature to disallow local communities to raise taxes and maintain public schools as they see fit makes doesn't seem to make sense if you care about governing or getting the best results for society. But they make more sense when you realize how many of these guys got in power. Former Assembly Speaker/convicted criminal Scott Jensen and the voucher lobby have spent millions to obtain and expand GOP majorities in the State Legislature, and the voucher movement needs public schools to fail in order to justify receiving more dollars from taxpayers. So if the public schools can be starved of revenue, they will be more likely to (literally) crumble, bolstering the argument for a new for-profit or religious organization to swoop in and take those students, and the taxpayer dollars that come with them.
Combine that with a right-wing fiscal policy of "low taxes over all other priorities (no matter how much it screws things up)," and these otherwise idiotic bills make more sense. They are designed to pay back the voucher donors that got the Wisconsin GOP in power, and are designed to pose for holy pictures to Bradley/ALEC/Koch oligarchs for “holding the line” on taxes. And it is those voucher and oligarch groups who are being given higher priority than the actual Wisconsin citizens that want to support their local schools.
This sure doesn’t sound like a sustainable plan for economic growth to me. Neither does it sound like anything resembling unobtrusive, "smaller government," or any type of democracy I'm aware of. But then again, when have today’s Wisconsin Republicans (motto for their puppetmasters: “Fuck you, pay me!”) ever cared about any of those things since taking power in 2011?