Walker’s plan for tech college funding
January 28, 2014
From chippewa.com: “Walker’s plan would overhaul tech school funding” — Western Wisconsin property taxpayers would save about $15 million under tax cuts proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Money from the state’s expected surplus would offset taxes levied by Western Technical College, benefiting homes and businesses in Western’s 11-county district.
But Walker’s proposal is more than a money dump. It would also transform funding methods for Wisconsin’s technical colleges.
Western’s top official lauded the plan but wondered about the future.
“Essentially, it’s shifting the balance,” Western president Lee Rasch said. “If this plan is going to help reduce the impact on property tax, it’s really a wonderful thing.”
The governor’s plan would inject state funding into Wisconsin’s network of tech colleges in 2015 to ease the burden on local taxpayers. The average homeowner would save $89 per $100,000 of property value in Western’s district, which includes La Crosse County.
It’s a savings from this year’s rate, but it’s also lower than taxes were before voters passed an $80 million bonding referendum in 2012, Rasch said. Western’s total levy this year, not including debt, was just more than $25 million. Walker’s plan would cut that to $10.3 million.
“That’s a pretty significant drop,” Rasch said.
Western’s ability to tax property owners would be reduced from $1.50 to 61 cents per $1,000 of property value.
Western and other technical colleges would switch to a K-12-style of financing, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance President Todd Berry said. The governor’s proposal would link technical college levies to state aid and impose a cap on all revenue.
Like public schools, low property taxes would depend on continued support from the state. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the 2015 aid increase “will repeat in future years.”
“This is not one-time money,” Evenson said.
However, if state aid does dip, property taxes increase.
“That puts a new pressure on the state budget that hadn’t existed before,” Berry said.
Last year, Republican lawmakers recommended removing Wisconsin’s technical colleges from property tax bills.
At the time, Rasch criticized the proposal as a threat to local control. Walker’s proposal is “a good plan,” as long as local campuses still have the flexibility to develop courses and react to regional employment trends, Rasch said.
Walker also wants $35 million extra for training skilled workers. The program that would benefit is managed by the Department of Workforce Development, but some of the new funding would be channeled to technical colleges.
Money would go to eliminating wait-lists for high-demand courses and dual-credit programs, so tech schools could offer more college-level classes at nearby high schools.
Western officials are already considering ways to take advantage of the proposed funding, Rasch said. The college has wait-lists for welding, information technology and health care classes.
“We’re watching it closely,” Rasch said.