Saturday, December 16, 2023

My school taxes are up, and yours probably are too. Let's see why

As mentioned earlier, we recently received notice of a sizable 6.7% property tax increase on our home. And the Wisconsin Policy Forum says while that's higher than the rest of the state, there are many other Sconnies getting a property tax increase.
On bills mailed out this month, Wisconsin’s 421 K-12 school districts will levy $297.8 million more in property taxes than they did last year, preliminary figures from the state Department of Revenue (DOR) show. The 5.4% increase is the largest since 2009, and will bring gross statewide K-12 property taxes to $5.77 billion (see Figure 1)....

The state’s 72 counties will increase property tax bills by 2.6% – third-most since 2009 – while technical college levies will rise by 4.9%, the most since 2008. Data for other local governments are not yet available, but the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau projects municipal levies will rise by 3.4% and tax increment districts by 13.6%. If those projections hold true, then gross local property taxes would increase by 4.7%, or the most since 2007.

To be fair, the Policy Forum notes that most Wisconsinites won't be paying a 5.4% increase in property taxes for their schools, because of state payments that knock down what property owners end up paying. In fact, those state aids give more help to owners of higher-value properties and higher property value parts of the state, even if they don't give extra resources to the schools in the process.
The DOR data represent gross property tax levies, meaning they do not account for a sizable increase in state credits that reduce net tax bills for Wisconsin residents. The 2023-25 state budget increases the school levy tax credit by $255 million, or 27%, on this December’s levies. The funds from these credits do not increase school spending. Instead, the additional state money is used to lower the net tax bills paid by property owners. The budget will also increase the state lottery credit by $15.9 million over what it otherwise would have been, producing a similar effect.

These provisions will help hold the statewide property tax increase much closer to those seen in the years preceding the pandemic – likely about 2% to 3% – while allowing a healthy increase in local revenues. The school levy credit is distributed based on how much in K-12 property taxes is paid in each community. As a result, the increase in the credit will deliver the most benefit to communities such as Brookfield or Madison with high property values, since they tend to pay more in property taxes for K-12 schools.
The higher property taxes led Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos to try to take political advantage with partisan hackery.

Except the property tax increases of 2023 have nothing to do with what Governor Evers vetoed last summer. Let's go back to that veto, and note when it takes effect.
A surprise partial-veto from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers gives school districts the ability to collect an additional $325 per student annually for the next 402 years.

Evers expanded the additional revenue limit authority from 2024-25 in the budget passed last week by the Republican-led Legislature to 2425.

Doing so would "provide school districts with predictable long-term increases for the foreseeable future," Evers said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

Budget plans forwarded by Wisconsin's Republican legislators would have provided the state's public schools and additional $325 in revenue per pupil in this budget cycle. Using his broad veto powers as a scalpel, Evers sliced out bits of the budget document to extend that increase for four centuries.
In other words, a $325-a-year increase in revenue limits was already in place for this year and next, based on the budget that Robbin' Vos and the GOP-run Legislature sent to Governor Evers. All Evers did is put allow those increases to continue in 2025-26, on bills that first show up in December 2025. His veto has zero to do with K-12 revenue limits or property taxes this year.

So that makes Robbin' Vos this week's contestant in our favorite game show: "REPUBLICANS - LYING OR STUPID?" Given that Vos has been in the Assembly for nearly 20 years and has made screwing over public schools education funding a specialty of his, I think I know this answer.

Want to know what else is raising K-12 property taxes this December? Something near and dear to Robbin' (de)Vos's heart - funneling more money to voucher schools at the expense of public schools. As the Policy Forum tells us
Another contributor to the rise in school levies is recent changes to the state’s charter and voucher programs providing additional public funding for qualifying students outside of traditional public schools. Under the state’s complex funding mechanism for these programs, these increases could add $42.9 million to the statewide school property tax levy, according to an estimate by the state Department of Public Instruction.
There's one other odd item with this Winter's property taxes that makes for an odd irony. Many Wisconsin homeowners may be paying more property taxes toward their schools, but they're paying less of their home's value at the same time.
As the Forum has pointed out, however, skyrocketing property values mean that K-12 tax rates will generally fall. Just 18.1% of districts will increase rates.

But I don’t think that those of us that are paying higher property taxes with lower rates consider it a “tax cut”, like we would if that happened with income tax. Guessing Wisconsin Republicans aren't going to say that, either.

While the shared revenue increases to local governments will help on that side for 2024, and the higher revenue limits for public schools give a little more breathing room, the reality is that local governments and schools are "catching up" to years of defunding and inflationary increases in costs. And combined with big jumps in home values, it means that property tax bills are still going up for most people in Wisconsin this month.

Which tells me that more likely needs to be done going ahead, including reforms to how we pay for voucher schools (and stop having them steal funds from public schools and forcing property tax increases in the process), and perhaps letting more local communities beyond Milwaukee and small tourist towns pay for their expenses with a sales tax instead of loading it all on the property tax and user fees.

That's a deeper conversation for another post, but I think it's worthy to be recognizing what's going on now, and to separate the Vossian BS from the reality that we're in when it comes to this year's tax bills.

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