October 30, 2014

State tax cut causing problems for municipalities

File Photo

File Photo

A change in how the state handles property taxes for technical colleges is hurting the income from TIF districts across central Wisconsin.

State legislators and Governor Walker’s office pushed through a massive property tax cut at the start of 2014, based on a projected billion dollar tax surplus coming in 2014. Inside that bill was a modification on how technical colleges collected their funding. The measure cut some of those funds from local taxes and to be paid out of state grants instead. That means that local tax rates are lower for residents, but it also means that tax valuation is down for many municipalities, which changes the calculations on tax incremental financing districts. Those are tools local governments can use to collect taxes on improvements in the tax rates in order to fund capital improvements and business investments in the area.

Officials in the village of Weston says this has hit them especially hard, at a time when the village is already projecting several years of operating deficits. Weston finance director John Jacobs says the funding formula reduces resident taxes at the cost of the municipalities. “Since the bill will go down, that means the portion that municipalities collect for TIF districts will also go down. And it happens that for us for December 2014, we will have a reduction about $175,000 that we will lose.”

He’s hoping they can convince lawmakers to give some of that money back to the communities. “There’s nothing in this act that says that there will be a payment made to municipalities, so we’re not kept whole in this whole situation.”

Wausau will be seeing a similar hit, although finance director Mary Ann Groat says they will be able to weather the change more easily. “Based on the increments we received for the 2014 budget, it looks like a $164,000 reduction for next year.”

Stevens Point Treasurer-Comptroller Corey Ladick says his staff is not seeing much in the way of damage. “It’s about $10,000 for us over all,” due to the fact that the city’s TIF districts are not seeing much growth right now.

Some legislators, including Representative Bob Kulp of Stratford, are optimistic the shortfall will not affect the municipalities as much. He says preliminary figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau project property values to go up around 2 to 3 percent, meaning more tax dollars will be coming in.

Representative Mandy Wright says this is an unintended consequence of the tax cuts. “It is something I voted against, because I did not think that we were making these cuts in a responsible manner.” She says it shows that the state needs to do more to protect local funding to municipalities. “If we’re truly talking about cutting past the bone, which is the case here as well as in public transit and public education, that’s extremely problematic and the state is not meeting its fiscal obligations to local municipalities.”

Senator Jerry Petrowski says he will be talking to the Legislative Audit Bureau for more information. “I know that it is a real benefit for the property tax payers to have property taxes go down, but it makes it a little tighter on the municipalities. I think we have to look at a number of things to see how this will be affecting how many people and how many TIFs across the state.”


Lawmaker concerned about elections agency secrecy

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin)

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin)

Wisconsin’s attorney general says the state Government Accountability Board does not have to release information about investigations conducted by the agency, and that has one lawmaker worried there may be a lack of accountability.

An opinion from Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen states that the GAB is prohibited under state law from releasing confidential information about its investigations to state auditors. State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), who requested an audit of the agency that’s currently underway, says that raises some major concerns about the ability of the Legislative Audit Bureau to do its work and could be “problematic” in the future.

Lazich says it’s essential that lawmakers have access to all information about a state agency’s practices and finances, so they know how their decisions will impact its operations. She notes that the Legislative Audit Bureau has handled sensitive information from several other agencies in the past, and “we’ve never, to the best of my knowledge, ever had a problem with the Audit Bureau dealing inappropriately with sensitive information.”

The New Berlin Republican says it’s an issue lawmakers may want to revisit when they return to the Capitol next year.

Nass to run for state Senate

Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater)

Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater)

A long time Assembly Republican has announced plans to run for the state Senate.

State Representative Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) says he will not seek re-election to the 33rd Assembly District this fall. Instead, the Whitewater Republican plans to run for an open seat representing the state’s 11th Senate District. The announcement comes just a day after Republican state Senator Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) announced he plans to retire at the end of the year, instead of seeking another term in office.

Nass has served in the Legislature since 1990. He says his campaign will focus on tax relief, creating private sector jobs, and reforming the state’s K-12 and higher education system.

Kedzie has already come out in support of Nass’ campaign, along with state Rep. Tyler August, who also lives in the Senate district. No Democrats or other Republicans have registered yet to run in the 11th Senate District.

Senator Kedzie announces retirement

Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn)

Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn)

Another member of the state Senate says he has decided against seeking another term in office. Republican state Senator Neal Kedzie announced Tuesday that he will retire when his current term ends, marking the end of a more than 17 year career in the state Legislature.

Kedzie, a Republican from Elkhorn, has represented the the state’s 11th Senate District since 2003. Prior to that, he represented the 43rd Assembly District since 1997.

In a statement, Kedzie said the decision was prompted by a desire to “spend more time with his family and pursue other opportunities outside of state government.”

Kedzie is the fourth Republican member of the state Senate to announce retirement plans, along with three Democrats who also do not plan to seek reelection in November.

Walker signs bill on police custody deaths

Governor Scott Walker has signed into law a bill requiring outside investigators to take the lead on deaths involving law enforcement officers. The new law requires a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency to lead reviews of such deaths. It also requires reports of custody death investigations throughout the state to be publicly released if criminal charges are not filed against the officers involved. The law makes Wisconsin the first in the nation to require an independent investigation of officer-involved deaths.

The bill’s authors, state Representative Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) and Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) were joined at the Milwaukee signing ceremony by family members of the deceased, law enforcement, and community advocates who worked together on language for the bill.

“There has always been agreement that if the initial investigation isn’t handled correctly everything spirals downhill from there,” said Bies. “The public begins to lose trust in police-officers and that leaves our officers in harm’s way. An independent investigation process allows all parties involved to move forward with some peace of mind.”

The bill was prompted by the deaths of Paul Heenan, fatally shot by a Madison police officer outside his home last year, Derek Williams, who died after begging for help and gasping for breath in the back of a Milwaukee police squad car in 2011, and Michael Bell, shot in the head at close range by Kenosha police in his family’s driveway in 2004. All three men were unarmed.