“Send me to Madison so I can make sure you pay higher property taxes.” Remember when politicians were out on the trail last fall with that message? Me neither.
Yet some Republican legislators are seriously considering doing just that. They actually want to ensure that you and I pay higher property taxes than those proposed under Governor Walker’s budget.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, Joint Committee on Finance co-chairs John Nygren and Alberta Darling told reporters there was heavy debate going on in both caucuses regarding Walker’s proposal to eliminate the state levied portion of the property tax. What exactly is there to debate?
Property taxes remain the least popular of Wisconsin’s taxes and with good reason. Under Governor Walker, Wisconsin homeowners have benefited greatly as property taxes have declined to the lowest they’ve been since the end of WWII (as a percentage of income). However, as much as our situation has improved, Wisconsin’s property taxes are still way out of line with the rest of the nation. In fact, as a percentage of housing value, Wisconsin still has the 4th highest property taxes in the nation according to the Tax Foundation. Is it any wonder that homeowners begrudge writing that check every year?
Governor Walker’s proposal is an excellent means of building on past success. The complete elimination of the state property tax is a winning idea. It guarantees tax relief not only today but for years to come and by taking this tax off the books, Wisconsin should move up in national rankings making our state more attractive to business investment.
The state property tax is also a great candidate for the chopping block. Unlike other property taxes, it doesn’t fund education or popular local services. Instead, the state tax operates as an antique from a bygone era. Originally crafted in the 1930s to assist forestry, the revenues it generates have begun to look more and more like a slush fund for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Under Walker’s budget proposal, the DNR would lose this dedicated revenue stream and be forced to compete with K-12 education, health care, transportation, tax relief and other priorities. This is a good thing and will lead to greater legislative oversight and smarter budgeting.
Legislators have an opportunity for an easy win on taxes. They should take it. Putting a slush fund ahead of middle class homeowners is bad policy and as the adage goes, bad policy makes bad politics.