Discord over taxes rumbles through legislative Republicans

2013-01-03T10:50:00Z 2013-01-04T09:07:37Z Discord over taxes rumbles through legislative RepublicansJACK CRAVER | The Capital Times | jcraver@madison.com madison.com

The same discord over taxes that we see among Republicans in Congress is taking place in the Wisconsin Legislature.

On Wednesday morning I wrote that some moderates in the state Senate, such as Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, are suggesting the Legislature authorize increased spending on K-12 education at the local level by allowing school districts to increase property taxes.

Olsen's idea is to restore some of the cuts made in the last legislative session, when Republicans imposed a 5.5 percent decrease (or roughly $550 per student) in the revenue limits for school districts. Olsen would like to raise the limits by roughly $200 — going about half way towards restoring the levy limit to pre-Walker levels.

That was apparently news to Rep. Steve Nass, R-Town of La Grange, who lashed out later Wednesday in a press release to Assembly Republican leadership after reading the article.

“The last time the Assembly Republican majority failed to stop tax increases was 2007,” he warns. “The voters punished that failure on taxes by giving us the minority status after the 2008 election.”

Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen says any suggestion that property taxes could go up sends the wrong message to taxpayers, as well as to school districts.

“Statements like Luther’s are taken very seriously by school district administrators,” he says. “That $200 figure is now a target that every school administrator is going to be shooting for. That’s the problem, it builds up hope.”

A spokesperson for Olsen said the senator had no comment in response.

Although some insiders shrugged off Nass' outburst (he's gained a reputation for inflammatory statements), they acknowledge it represents a contentious debate that will likely take place within the GOP caucus over spending in the coming months. While many Republicans say they will support increased state spending on education, many of the most fiscally conservative members bristle at suggestions that school districts need the ability to raise more money.

"The (revenue limits) were put in pretty tight but we gave them other tools to use," says Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend, referring to the near-elimination of collective bargaining for school district employees, as well as mandates that employees pick up a larger share of their health insurance and pension.

Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, who sits on the Joint Finance Committee with Strachota, echoed that logic.

"Districts are creatively implementing changes that will help them keep costs under control," he wrote in an email. "I would be surprised to see a return to large annual increases in the revenue limit for all schools."

Incoming state Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, says she hopes both parties can get behind increased funding for schools. She is nevertheless skeptical.

“It’s hard to move forward on addressing it when so many Republicans have taken pledges not to raise taxes," she says.

It does not appear leadership has taken a position on revenue limits.

“At this juncture, it isn’t beneficial to the process to get into hypotheticals," says Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. "We’ll get a better view of the landscape when Governor Walker presents his budget proposal in February.”

Correction: The article has been corrected to reflect the fact that a reduction in the levy limit by 5.5 percent is equal to roughly $550 per student, not $250 per student.

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(14) Comments

  1. witness2012
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    witness2012 - January 04, 2013 4:52 pm
    Why aren't the republicans in the legislature concerned about the hemorrhage of state funds we've seen in the WEDC? We're losing millions of dollars with some of the inept policies of this administration. But we're going to continue to under-fund public schools? How does this make sense to anyone?
  2. koala
    Report Abuse
    koala - January 04, 2013 12:50 am
    Nass, as always, leading the charge toward Stupidville.

    Of course, the whole pivot of Wisconsin politics over the past 25 years has been how to pay 4th grade teachers less and prevent property taxes from rising. So a whole lot of Wisconsin voters have bought into the Kool Aid stand that Nass happens to be manning, in a disarmingly honest if naive and grossly misguided fashion.

    If we do get to Stupidville, we have only the voters who elected chowderheads like Nass to blame. There are values more important than reducing your own tax bill.
  3. Reply
    Report Abuse
    Reply - January 03, 2013 7:53 pm
    Anyone care to venture a guess how long the Right-wing extremists will keep trying to duct-tape their act together after the bottom eventually falls out?

    Left-wing extremists watch and take careful notes, too.

    A move toward middle ground would be a victory for responsible common sense and the death knell for the fringes at the far ends of the political spectrum.
  4. Nav
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    Nav - January 03, 2013 3:36 pm
    You actually believed what they said?
  5. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - January 03, 2013 3:02 pm
    Didn't Olsen get the ALEC and Religious Right memo from Walker? We're trying to kill public education not save it.
  6. Slithy Tove
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    Slithy Tove - January 03, 2013 2:57 pm
    Walker will let Voss, Grothman, and Fitzgerald do his dirty work for the next 2 years and will not push his radical agenda himself. He will, however; sign it when it happens to come across his desk.
  7. gadfly
    Report Abuse
    gadfly - January 03, 2013 1:24 pm
    Slithy Tove: It's not 250,000 jobs. It's 250,000 WELL PAYING jobs. Check the quotes. Now I guess the way Republicans define it well paying could be $7.25/hour. Although since $1 million/yr isn't rich to them, maybe it's more than that.
  8. Slithy Tove
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    Slithy Tove - January 03, 2013 12:31 pm
    The Republicans have 2 more years to run Wisconsin into the ground...majorities in the Senate and Assembly, Governorship, and Supreme Court... Let's hope there is something left when they are done. By the way...where are those 250,000 new jobs?
  9. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - January 03, 2013 12:07 pm
    "That’s the problem, it builds up hope."

    What, school employees with hope? Didn't we stomp that out of them last biennium? Where are they finding it? Dang, now we gotta go back and kick 'em in the face a few more times, and my foot's getting sore.
  10. concerned_citizen
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    concerned_citizen - January 03, 2013 9:48 am
    freedom?
    local control?

    good talking points, but really, the Republicans are closet fascists

    and "let's lower taxes" follows "we're broke"?
    huh.
    guess they had one of those bad math teachers in public school.
    (but it sure does make their wealthy campaign "contributors" happy...)
  11. Spirit
    Report Abuse
    Spirit - January 03, 2013 8:17 am
    Whatever happened to that "local control" thing republicans used to promote?
  12. Nav
    Report Abuse
    Nav - January 03, 2013 7:50 am
    It looks like the unity of the Republican party in Wisconsin legislature is beginning to crack. It has already cracked at the national level.

    We are already seeing that Governor Walker seems to be in no mood to pass more controversial legislation. He knows the people of Wisconsin won't stand for it, and he wants to keep his job for another four years.
  13. mojo
    Report Abuse
    mojo - January 03, 2013 7:21 am
    "That’s the problem, it builds up hope.”

    Almost as good as "...binders full of women."

    And you know what they'll do with that increase if they get it? Blow it on educating children.
  14. geo_
    Report Abuse
    geo_ - January 03, 2013 6:58 am
    Nass is just another big government supporter, he believe's big state government should tell local school districts how to handle their business.
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