By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ budget plan may technically include a very slight property tax cut, but his tax collectors are offering no relief.
A report by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau this week estimates Evers’ 2021-23 budget proposal would increase property taxes on a median-valued home (valued at $197,200) by about $85 over the next two years. Property taxes could end up fractionally lower than they would be under current law — about $12 — when factoring in Evers’ tweaks.
But as we’ve come to learn, Evers giveth little and taketh much.
His Department of Revenue quietly released a guidance document earlier this year instructing all Wisconsin assessors to refuse COVID-19 relief to struggling property taxpayers.
State law allows for assessors to “consider…all factors that, according to professionally acceptable appraisal practices, affect the value of the property to be assessed.” It’s pretty clear that the pandemic, Evers’ crippling lockdown orders and local capacity caps had a disastrous impact on commercial property values in 2020 in particular.
None of that concerns of Evers’ Revenue Department, which told assessors to “not make changes for market conditions” relating to COVID-19, but only for new construction, demolition and changes in classification, according to the guidance document first reported on by Wisconsin Property Taxpayers Inc.
“I have heard from small businesses across the state who have, even to their own detriment, followed local public health orders at whatever cost necessary to slow the spread of COVID- 19, and keep their employees, customers, and communities safe,” John Jacobson, Government Relations Director for Wisconsin Property Taxpayers Inc.
“And now, when there is some light at the end of this long and deadly tunnel, this sterile and compassionless guidance document answers the question of many small businesses and homeowners of why the state has been slow to provide property tax relief – they don’t plan to and are actively preventing your local governments from providing any either.”
And now the governor stands ready to veto a Republican bill that would use more than $1 billion in federal funding to cut property taxes — part of 11 bills passed last week by the Legislature that outline how the state should spend t$3.2 billion in federal aid. The property tax relief, in the form of direct payments, would be equivalent to a 10 percent reimbursement of the property owners’ tax bill.
The federal government has yet to provide guidance on whether the rebates would be allowed under the COVID response law’s spending parameters. But federal guidelines apparently allow Evers to drop $50 million on his Equitable Recovery program, distributing grants to community partners promoting “equity and inclusion.”