Friday, October 5, 2018

Even with Walker/WisGOP shell games, property taxes are higher! But don't worry, the Lottery will bail them out

Yes, the Brewers should be your first priority at this time (especially given the Swampiness that is coming from the US Senate). But that doesn't mean something else big is going on tonight.

Powerball has also exceeded $250 million for Saturday, so that likely means a pickup in lottery sales in Wisconsin. And it would be building off of what we recently found out was a big Fiscal Year 2018 for the Wisconsin Lottery.

We found that out via the most recent Lottery Credit Certification, which is sent to the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee . Interestingly, Lotto Games that have the big jackpots are less than 40% of the ticket sales for the Lottery.

Wis Lottery revenues FY 2017-18
Instant Scratch Games $419.4 million
Lotto Games $246.96 million
Pull-tab games $1.04 million

That accounted for $64.6 millon more in sales than the previous Fiscal Year, a hefty increase of 10.7%. The growth was spread evenly between the scratch games (+$34.6 million) and the lotto games (+$30.05 million).

It also means that there is slated to be a significant break coming for Wisconsin homeowners on the tax bills that will be coming out in a couple of months, because in addition to $18 million in added “profit” from the Lottery for that Fiscal Year, there was a reduction in what was handed out last December for property tax relief. Put those two factors together, and there was a lot of money carried over on July 1, allowing for more of it to be sent back to taxpayers this Winter.

Lottery Funds Available for Tax Relief, Winter 2016, ’17, ‘18
Winter 2016 $183.35 million
Winter 2017 $170.26 million
Winter 2018 $236.76 million

The Wisconsin Department of Administration estimates that this will raise the Lottery Credit for the average homeowner by another $46.

And that comes just in time for Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP, as we found out today that this increased write-off will make up for what happened last year. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau sent a memo out that said property taxes on a median-value ($160,622) home in Wisconsin ended up $27 higher last Winter than they originally thought.

How come?
…The primary factor affecting the reestimate is higher final school district, municipal, county, and tax incremental district (TID) levies than those estimated under Act 59 (the 2017-19 state budget). Compared to levy estimates under Act 59, the final statewide school district levy was 0.9% ($42.8 million) higher; the final statewide municipal levy was 1.1% ($31.8 million) higher; the final statewide county levy was 1.3% ($28.2 million) higher; and the final statewide TID levy was 1.1% ($5.2 million) higher. Conversely, the final statewide technical college levy was -0.7% ($3.3 million) lower and the final statewide special district levy was -2.3% (-$2.7 million) lower than those levies estimate under Act 59. Additionally, the final estimated average lottery and gaming credit was $4 higher than the estimated average credit under Act 59. Also, the final estimated average first dollar credit was $1 lower than the estimated average credit under Act 59 when accounting for the actual credit distributions in July, 2018.
Some of this is pretty straightforward, and not necessarily a bad thing, as levies have been allowed to go up more than normal in areas that have had a sizable amount of construction. But some of this also reflects the increasing amount of school referenda that have passed just to keep the lights on at K-12 districts around Wisconsin.

This reality threatened to blow up a lot of the efforts (and General Fund tax dollars) that WisGOP have invested to try to claim “look at how we lowered your property taxes”, because the shell game of underfunding schools and local governments had raised those taxes anyway. Now, this extra $46 of Lottery Credit will likely allow that talking point to stand. But this is where I should point out that some of that extra $46 is paid back not from the Lottery itself, but from all Wisconsin taxpayers. How? Another shell game.

During last year’s budget deliberations, the prospect of a lower Lottery Credit due to weak sales freaked out some Republicans and Governor Walker, because it meant that property taxes would rise and take away that talking point. So they concocted a scheme where $8 million last year and $40 million this year of General Fund tax dollars were sent to the Lottery to pay retailers, instead of using the funds from Lottery ticket sales themselves.

Take out that $40 million shell game, and the Lottery Credit could still be increased by a solid $26.5 million for this year, and we could use that $40 million to fix the roads, fund the schools, help local governments, etc. But that would only translate to less than $20, not enough to make up for the $27 increase that was revealed today. So don't count on that happening.

Which means we will also likely see more of yet another shell game that has happened in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan - the large number of new wheel taxes that have been laid down by local governments in recent years just to fill Scott-holes.

The state won't pay to fix it, so you get a wheel tax

Among the new wheel taxes that are on the way and/or already imposed for places such as the Cities of Appleton and Green Bay, along with Eau Claire and Dane Counties (Dane County just started their $28 wheel tax this week, actually).

And since local governments don't get a cut of Lottery sales, don't expect that trend of new wheel taxes to slow down until we get a new group in charge that actually will give shared road aids to Wisconsin communities (and if you think Walker is serious about increasing those aids by $57 million for 2020 without raising taxes or fees might be stupid enough to vote for Scott Walker). But hey, maybe you can spend some of that extra $46 writeoff for the Lottery on more tickets for the $650 million plus in jackpots this weekend. HUZZAH!

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