Gov. Scott Walker, in another sign of escalating tension with fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, vowed Monday to take the unprecedented step of vetoing the entire $76 billion state budget if it raises property taxes on homeowners.Of course, Walker's act has little to do with good governance and everything to do with Walker posing for voters ahead of his inevitable 2018 campaign for re-election (along with trying to stay in the good graces of DC lobbyist Grover Norquist). While Walker's claim that he's reduced property taxes on the typical homeowner is generally true, as the LFB says the property tax bill on the average Wisconsin home would drop from $2,943 in 2013 to $2,831 in 2019 under Walker’s proposed budget (again, your reality may vary), that has come at a great price to Wisconsinites and has hamstrung the state budget.
Walker issued the unusual warning publicly on Twitter in one of a series of messages defending his budget priorities. Republicans are considering breaking with Walker in several key areas on the budget, including property taxes, as they continue to debate changes to his two-year spending plan.
Much of that reduction in property taxes is the result of Act 10 benefit cuts that took thousands of dollars out of the pockets of many Wisconsin workers (and has not been made up over time), or is because of gimmicks like a $406 million increase in aid to the state’s Technical Colleges which has never been offset with taxes to pay for it, nor has the money been allowed to be used in the classroom. And Scotty's latest pre-election year stunt to lower property taxes is to remove the state portion of the property tax, which is goes directly to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to fund Forestry operations. Instead, Walker wants to use general tax dollars to pay for that, which has a price tag of just over $180 million in this budget.
The Governor recommends repealing the state-levied portion of the property tax beginning with the 2017-18 property tax year. The Governor also recommends creating a GPR sum sufficient appropriation equal to 0.1697 mills multiplied by the total state equalized value that will be transferred to the forestry account in the conservation fund. The amount of this appropriation is projected to be $88,759,300 in FY18 and $91,695,600 in FY19.The idea of replacing property taxes with General Fund money might seem OK on the surface as a structural change, but many people who care about the state’s environment see the problems that will happen in the future from getting rid of a dedicated funding source for conservation services.
"This would mean that forestry would have to line up with schools and with transportation and with health care and all the other important needs that are funded with general revenue," said (former State Rep.) Fred Clark, executive director of the Forest Stewards Guild.Given the $1 billion shortfall we are already looking at in 2019-21 if this proposed budget goes through, I think Fred has a point. It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this new money that’s supposed to go to Forestry would be one of the first targets to cut to fill in a future Walker-caused budget hole.
The programs are fully funded in the 2017-19 proposal from the governor, but Clark expressed concern they could be cut in future budgets.
"There's no guarantee that the level of funding that's provided today would be sustained," Clark said.
In addition to the conservation angle, why would any responsible legislator choose a $26 property tax cut gimmick over $180 million that could be used to reduce that future deficit, and/or fix the pothole-covered roads in Fitzwalkerstan without borrowing ourselves into oblivion? Yes, this is a tight budget, but a big reason it is such a mess is because Walker designed it as a Christmas tree filled with pre-election talking points.
And it goes to a bigger theme. In WalkerWorld, there’s no concept of caring about what happens to Wisconsin after 2018, because Scotty’s onto the next grift after that anyway (especially if we’re looking at a different GOP president by then). He just thinks the average Wisconsin voter is so shallow that all he/she cares about is paying $1 a week less on their taxes and the ability to knock down “others” that they resent, instead of demanding better wages, a higher quality of life and a state that people want to live in for the rest of their lives.
Sadly, Scotty's been able to get 52-53% of voters to fall for it in past elections, but after a certain point, the jig is up and the bills need to be paid. This property tax gimmick should be shot down and the $180 million used for a better purpose- whether that’s savings from current and future budget cuts, or better investments like roads, schools and maintaining local services.
Yet again, the wisdom of Marge Gunderson comes through.