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Vos: Time to set bar higher for referenda

Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 31, 2019

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he’s open to property tax relief in the session ahead, but he doesn’t want to draw from the state’s “rainy day” fund to do it.

The Rochester Republican also is receptive to raising the bar on school referendum passage, a move that could lower the number of borrowing measures and consequently keep local property taxes in check.

Vos, on Empower Wisconsin’s Power Up podcast, says the $650 million Budget Stablization Fund would offer only one-time funding. The reserve, which grew substantially during Republican control, is designed to help offset declining revenue during economic downturns.

Assuming that Wisconsin’s economy continues to grow, Vos said Wisconsin is “in a good place to deliver property tax relief.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) recently told reporters he, too, believes property tax relief is in order.

A recent report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum shows property taxes in the state have surged to their highest level in a decade.

Vos said the rising tax bills are the result of liberal Gov. Tony Evers’ resistance to putting more money into property tax relief during the last budget. Republicans, however, did sign off on higher education spending, less than Evers wanted for sure, but enough to impact the local property tax bill.

The speaker said an explosion in local school referenda is also causing spikes in property tax bills.

“I will say that if Sun Prairie, Mukwonago or XYZ school district decides they want to increase property taxes and their voters go along with it, that’s the process we currently have,” Vos said. “But under state law, the state pays a significant portion of that local levy.”

He said it’s time to consider setting the threshold higher for referendum passage. A simply majority of 50 percent plus 1 is enough to push through a school borrowing initiative. In many cases, referenda are passing with near the bare minimum of support.

“Other states have a higher bar to pass than just the majority,” Vos said. “It’s just something we should consider.”

He said he wants to see the state’s revenue picture before committing to tax relief details.

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