From spooneradvocate.com: “Lawmakers look to lessen technical colleges’ reliance on property taxes” — by Shemane Mills, WPR -Concerns about property taxes have lawmakers looking at other ways to fund the state’s 16 technical schools. They’re also considering changes that could reduce local control of technical schools.

Historically, the property tax has been the largest source of revenue for the Wisconsin Technical College System, a sore point for some taxpayers and the Wisconsin Realtors Association. In the last budget, the state put $406 million towards technical schools in an effort to shift some of the system’s funding away from property taxes.

The WRA’s Joe Murray supports the state increasing its share of funding to 45 percent, but urged lawmakers to consider funding technical schools in the future without any property taxes.

“From our experience, after watching this debate over the last 30-35 years, the only way you ultimately start and keep property taxes going in a certain direction is to take stuff off the property tax,” said Murray.

That leaves the question of where money for technical schools would come from, according to Josh Dukelow from the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce.

“The same people who pay property taxes to support technical education pay municipal taxes to support law enforcement, pay school taxes to fund primary education, pay income taxes to fund state services, and pay sales tax when they shop or dine,” said Dukelow. “To maintain our premier educational resources in Wisconsin, we will have to pay one way or another.”

Dukelow also expressed concern about possible changes in governance of technical schools, saying a more centralized approach wouldn’t be as quick to meet the needs of local business. He said each area of the state has different workforce needs that may not be suited for state control.

From greenbaypressgazette.com: “NWTC budget up slightly, but tax levy plummets” — Gov. Scott Walker’s property tax cuts mean a big change in the way Northeast Wisconsin Technical College balances its books.

The community college’s general fund budget for next school is expected to increase by about 1.8 percent from $77.2 million this year to $78.7 million for 2014-15.

But NWTC’s local tax levy will drop by about half, from $59.3 million to $27.6 million, under the Republican governor’s plan to use the state’s projected $977 million surplus to cover property and income tax cuts. The measure, approved by the state Legislature and signed by Walker last month, sends $406 million to technical colleges to reduce property tax levies.

That means the owner of a home valued at $150,000 in NWTC’s district would pay about $115 for that portion of their tax bill, compared with $240 last year.

A public hearing on the budget proposal is set for next month.

“It didn’t give us more money,” NWTC President Jeff Rafn said of the changes. “It just swapped state money for local money.”

NWTC will receive about 42 percent of its funding from the state, compared with 9 percent currently, he said.

“In my view it is good and properly re-balances things,” Rafn said. “The down side would be if they would eliminate property taxes altogether. Then we would become a state institution and would lose local control.”

Some people have expressed concerns that technical schools can raise taxes yet are governed by appointed bodies rather than elected officials, Rafn said. He noted the state’s 2013-15 budget limits property tax increases to value added by new construction in municipalities within the school’s district in the past year, which is anticipated to be less than 1 percent for NWTC.

“Property taxes aren’t going to go up,” he said. “But taking away local control would hamper our ability to make quick local decisions.”

Rafn cited expansion of nursing programs to meet higher demands at NWTC as an example.

The state Legislature has formed a Special Committee on the Review of Wisconsin Technical College System Funding and Governance — co-chaired by Republican Rep. John Nygren of Marinette — to review the process.

As part of next year’s budget, NWTC is looking to increase some offerings, including programs in fire-medic, therapeutic massage and software development.

The school also will expand some programming, such as its health and wellness program and joint programs with area high schools.

It will use grant money to fund a variety of learning coaches and tutors.

The school plans to eliminate a financial institution management program which is losing enrollment, but Rafn said students enrolled in the program still could finish.

From journaltimes.com: “Gateway property taxes cut in half” — BURLINGTON — The property taxes local residents will pay for Gateway Technical College next year are to be cut in half thanks to an act of the Legislature passed this year, according to officials and Gateway’s proposed 2014-15 budget presented Thursday.

The total amount taxpayers are budgeted to pay next year for Gateway is $28.98 million, down from $60 million this year.

“Homeowners will see a reduction in their local property taxes which gives them the relief they are looking for and Gateway has been able to demonstrate good performance, so we’ll see an increase in the revenue streams to support ongoing training,” Gateway President Bryan Albrecht said following a budget presentation Thursday at the Gateway Technical College District Board meeting in the HERO Center, 380 McCanna Parkway, in Burlington.

Under Act 145, the property tax relief act passed this year, the state will pick up a large portion of what local property taxpayers usually pay for technical colleges throughout the state, explained Conor Smyth, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Technical College System. It doesn’t mean a new pool of money for technical colleges, he said. It means local taxpayers will pay less, while statewide taxpayer dollars, now part of the state surplus, will be more heavily relied upon.

The surplus is the result of holding down spending, Act 10 savings, and the growing economy, according to state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

Change in state funding

Statewide, local property taxpayers used to pay 68 percent of the cost of technical colleges. That is now reduced to 33 percent, and the amount the state pays is going from 9 percent to 44 percent, Smyth said.

For Gateway, approximately $32 million is being moved from local property taxes to the state. That means about $83 in property tax relief for someone with a $100,000 home.

Vos, the Assembly speaker, said the biggest complaint he hears from constituents is about taxes and this provides relief, but state Rep. Cory Mason, R-Racine, said instead of simply swapping out property taxes more money should have gone to technical colleges for worker training, and he had proposed a bill that would have done that.

Mason said he voted against Act 145 not because he thinks the property tax cut is bad, but because technical college funding needs to be restored to prior levels.

“All the money they put into the technical college went to property tax relief, nothing from that bill went for job training or getting people back to work … If jobs really is the No. 1 issue, we should be investing in things that get people back to work.”

Albrecht said the college is getting additional state funding through a new performance-based calculation that rewards the school for doing well. The college has also applied for an additional $2.7 million through what is being called the Blue Print for Prosperity, according to Albrecht. That includes money for more boot camps, among other things.

Additional budget items

Overall, Gateway’s proposed total budget is down from $161.62 million to $156.76 million. Albrecht attributed that in part to Act 10, which essentially eliminated collective bargaining for public employees. It allowed Gateway to make changes to benefits such as retirement and health insurance, he said. Also he said over the last three years there were approximately 85 retirements, which contributed to the college’s savings because employees who had been with Gateway used to receive longevity pay based on the number of years they were with the college. Now he said instead of budgeting for longevity pay, they have funds budgeted for merit-based pay increases.

“We certainly want to be an employer of choice and recognize employees for the great work they are doing,” Albrecht said.

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.

From twincities.com: “Scott 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.

From wuwm.com: “Walker calls on lawmakers to approve tax cuts in State of the State address” —Wisconsin workers would see more money in their paychecks, under a plan Gov. Scott Walker unveiled Wednesday night.

The governor called for using half of a nearly $1 billion surplus to cut income and property taxes. It was Gov. Walker’s fourth State of the State address.  It was also his most upbeat compared to previous years and lasted about an hour.

The governor says the state’s finances are in great shape and the economy is improving every day. He credited his economic development policies since he took office in 2011.

“A true commitment to real structural reforms for state and local government budgets led to our long term fiscal stability, meaningful tax cuts that keep more money in your pocket rather than requiring you to send it to Madison, changes to laws and regulations that make sense if you’re trying to start a business or find a job, and bipartisan investments and worker training are some of the driving forces behind the strong economic recovery,” Walker says.

Walker then unveiled his plans for spending a $900 million surplus. He called the initiative his “Blueprint for Prosperity,” and promised to reduce income taxes by nearly $100 million.

“Earlier today, I directed Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler to adjust withholding for state income taxes by $322.6 million so you can keep more of your hard earned paychecks. Starting in April, a typical working family of four will see $57.90 more in their paychecks each month,” Walker says.

Walker says he plans to use $400 million to reduce property taxes. He says the typical homeowner would see a $100 reduction on their next bill, nearly four times larger than the property tax relief passed last year.

The governor also wants to earmark $100 million for the state’s rainy day fund. He called for $35 million to be put toward job training, with the focus on several areas.

“First, investment in our technical colleges to eliminate waiting lists in high demand fields like manufacturing, agriculture and information technology. Second, we’ll help high school students get training in high demand jobs through dual enrollment programs between our high schools and technical colleges,” Walker says.

Walker then called the state Legislature into special session beginning Thursday, to immediately get to work on the plan. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson says he doubts Democrats will support the proposals. He says Democrats would have used the surplus to restore funding to education that Walker cut.

“If Gov. Walker had interest in a healthy, responsible budget he could do the following: return the money stolen from our children’s classrooms to make sure they’ll be ready to enter the 21st century economy, take decisive action to return investments to job training, reinvesting the 30 percent cut that Wisconsin’s technical colleges endured in 2011,” Larson says.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca says he’s concerned the tax cuts would eventually cause another budget shortfall.

“At a time of surplus, that’s a self inflicted wound that we shouldn’t have to absorb. I didn’t think anybody would want to have to return to structural deficits,” Barca says.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke issued a statement following Wednesday night’s speech. She thinks Governor Walker is painting an overly rosy picture of the state’s economy. She says she would use a good chunk of the surplus to pay down the state’s debt.

From startribune.com: “Wisconsin technical college leader backers Walker’s property tax cut plan” — The leader of the Wisconsin Technical College System is coming out in support of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed property tax cut.

Walker’s proposal would replace $406 million in property taxes raised by technical colleges with state money. He does that by lowering the property tax levy technical colleges can assess homeowners by 89 per $1,000 in value.

Technical college system president Morna Foy said in a statement released Thursday that Walker’s plan brings better balance to the system’s funding structure. She says the technical college system has “long sought greater equity between local and state investments.”

Walker’s property tax cut proposal outlined in his State of the State speech from Wednesday is drawing praise from Republicans and Democrats alike.

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