Yesterday, I came out against an adjustment in state property taxes. But this morning, in light of new information that emerged yesterday, I need to revise my opinion. I am now strongly against the property tax idea for Wisconsin. I have three reasons.
First, it's spending money we don't have. It's fiscally irresponsible for state government to provide $100 million to school districts while forcing most of them to pass through that money in the form of slim property tax cuts when Wisconsin is projected to have a $725 million deficit as it starts its next budget cycle.
Second, if we are going to spend money we don't have, we could find better ways to spend it. This $100 million is skewed toward the well off. In a story in this morning's State Journal respected public finance professor Andrew Reschovsky says that more than a third of the benefits would go to the owners of nonresidential property, and those of us with higher-valued homes would see more of the benefits. If $100 million is just burning a hole in the legislature's pockets, why not target it at people who need it most by restoring the earned income tax credit, for example?
Third, if we have to spend money we don't have, and if we have to spend it on school aid, than can't we at least have a debate here in Madison about how best to use the $2.3 million that is our share? Madison schools Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham has already said that she'll recommend that the school board pass through the money so that everyone will get, on average about $25 shaved off their tax bills.
But because Madison isn't even taxing at the limits set by the state, our school district has options. It could send it all back to taxpayers, it could send some of it back and invest the rest, or it could invest it all in better schools. We don't have $2.3 million of public education needs in Madison?
Our community at least deserves a discussion about how best to deploy this $2.3 million of resources. The state has made a terrible decision in spending this money, but we don't need to compound the problem here. We can take their bad decision and turn it into something good for Madison schools.
Maybe you disagree with me, but isn't this worth at least a public discussion?