Proposal would move tech college funding from property tax to sales tax

August 26, 2013

From “Proposal would move CVTC funding from property tax to sales tax” — By Jon Swedien – Republican backers of a bill that would overhaul the Wisconsin Technical College System say it would lower property taxes, but technical college officials fear it would hamstring their schools.

A trio of Republicans — including Rep. Tom Larson of the Dunn County town of Colfax, who co-signed the bill — are pushing for the overhaul as a way to reduce property taxes by removing technical colleges’ ability to raise money through local levies.

Instead, the bill proposes to fund technical colleges, including Chippewa Valley Technical College, with money from the state’s general fund.

The bill calls for a 1 cent increase in the Wisconsin sales tax, which would add money to the state’s coffers in order to cover the expense — although the new revenue would not be dedicated to technical colleges.

“As I was out doing doors, I can’t tell you how many times I ran into people worried about their property taxes,” Larson said, adding he’s especially concerned about senior citizens on fixed incomes. “This bill basically takes some of the burden off the tax roll — the property tax roll.”

Larson said a sales tax increase would be easier for people to stomach than the current technical college charge on their property tax bill.

The legislation also would move technical college employees onto the state payroll and transfer authority for technical college property away from local district boards to the Wisconsin Technical College System Board. Under the bill, the district boards would be stripped of most of their decision-making authority.

Currently the WTCS Board provides policy oversight and program review, but decisions largely are made at the district level.

Local control

CVTC President Bruce Barker said a strength of the Technical College System is that the district boards are tapped into local business trends. This allows them to quickly adjust programs to best fit the current needs of local industry, he said. If Chippewa Valley businesses need more welders, CVTC ramps up its welding program, he said.

“How responsive would Madison be to local needs?” Barker said, adding that he doubts the Technical College System would be as nimble if decision-making were centralized in Madison.

Barker said he’s also concerned about funding technical colleges with sales tax revenue. Economic recessions, when sales tax revenue is likely to dip, is when technical colleges are needed most to train workers for available jobs, he said.

“That’s usually when we’re busiest,” he said.

Barker said he understands the call for property tax relief, but other ways could be done to accomplish it. He also noted that technical college levies, as with city and county levies, are capped.

Referendum required

If lawmakers approve the bill as written, the overhaul could be undertaken only if voters approve it in a statewide referendum.

Larson said that’s an important aspect of the bill. By calling a referendum, voters would have final say on the matter, he said.

The bill calls for a referendum question to be added to next spring’s elections ballot. The referendum could be pushed back if lawmakers feel more time is needed, Larson said.

Taxation without representation

A long-standing criticism of the Technical College System is that district boards can tax communities even though their members are appointed — not elected. Larson noted this bill would alleviate that issue.

The bill will be discussed Thursday during a hearing in Madison. Larson said the bill’s success will depend on whether Republican leadership backs the plan.

Republican Reps. John Nygren of Marinette and Garey Bies of Sister Bay also have signed onto the bill.

The Technical College System does not support the bill, although it is open to strategies for property tax relief, spokesman Conor Smyth said.


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