GOP lawmakers propose replacing technical college property taxes with sales tax hike

April 29, 2013

From “GOP lawmakers propose replacing technical college property taxes with sales tax hike” — Control of the state’s 16 technical colleges would be shifted to a statewide board and a 1 percent sales tax would replace local property taxes raised by technical college boards, under a proposal from Republican lawmakers.

The bill would make all changes contingent on approval by voters in a spring 2014 referendum.

It was authored by Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, and co-sponsored by Joint Finance Committee chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Rep. Tom Larson, R-Colfax.

Bies said he was working on the bill since 2001 in response to constituent concerns about the effect of rising technical college property taxes and local technical college boards not being elected.

“We do not think paying for colleges should be on the property tax,” Bies said.

But he acknowledged he hasn’t received much support from fellow Republicans, and the bill’s prospects are uncertain.

Gov. Scott Walker suggested the referendum, Bies said. Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson didn’t have an immediate comment Friday.

He also didn’t respond to a follow-up email.

The bill, AB 117, was referred to the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, where committee chairman Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, opposes the idea of shifting technical college revenue to a sales tax, spokesman Mike Mikalsen said.

“It was a terrible idea to (broach) the idea of a sales tax increase,” Mikalsen said. “That’s just not realistic.”

Mikalsen said the committee may discuss the role of the state and local technical college boards in the fall. But he noted a Republican attempt last session to add more business representatives to local technical college boards fell flat.

“A lot of legislators are licking their wounds,” he said.

Wisconsin Technical College System officials are open to discussing funding changes but oppose centralizing control of the colleges, system spokesman Conor Smyth said.

“The current government structure is responsive to local communities and the employers in those communities,” Smyth said.

Tim Casper, Madison Area Technical College assistant vice president for budget and public affairs, said the local board — appointed by local elected officials — understands area business needs better than a state board would. He also said the bill is problematic because it doesn’t specify that the sales tax funds would go to technical colleges.

The state’s technical college system provides vocational training, college credit and adult enrichment classes to more than 350,000 students a year.

Technical college boards outside Milwaukee are appointed either by county or school district leaders and must include two employers, two employees, three members of the public, a school district administrator, and a local or state elected official.

Bies’ bill would transfer all district employees, facilities, property, assets and liabilities to the Wisconsin Technical College System Board. The local boards would continue to advise the district director, who would be appointed to the state board.

The bill would increase the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, raising about $900 million in new state revenue. The bill does not dedicate the new funds to technical colleges but calls for legislation to “reconcile” new funding and a shift in control of the system.

This fiscal year, the 16 technical colleges raised $786.7 million in property taxes.

That amount has grown on average by 3.8 percent per year over the past decade.

Much of the statewide increase in recent years came from MATC, which received voter approval in fall 2010 for a $133.7 million building plan.

The college has faced criticism for erecting several new buildings but not having the money to operate them.

“We asked the public and the public pretty overwhelmingly said go forward and provide for the facilities that are needed,” Casper said.

The state cut aid to technical colleges by $36 million, or 30 percent, in 2011-12. Walker proposed a $5 million, or 6 percent, increase in 2014-15.



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