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January 7, 2008

A Column of Personal Opinion
By State Senator Sheila Harsdorf

Property Tax Alarms

It is that time of year again when homeowners are hit with property tax bills.  Clearly, property taxes rank as one of the most pressing issues.  While nearly the entire property tax bill is made up of taxes levied by local governments, what those levies are determined by a number of factors, including reassessments, level of local spending and amount of state aids.
In an effort to control the property tax burden, I have fought for a real property tax freeze on local levies.  For nearly three years, the Governor obstructed a real property tax freeze with vetoes.  Such a freeze would have enabled local governments to exceed levy limits with a growth adjustment, only after getting local voter approval.  While the Governor finally signed legislation to impose levy limits in 2006, it was not before weakening them with his partial veto authority. 

This session, due to the persistence of legislative Republicans, strict local levy limits were again included in the state budget bill, but not before being weakened by the Senate Democratic majority.  Then the Governor used his “Frankenstein Veto” to nearly double the allowable increase in the local property tax levy limits.  The Frankenstein Veto is a phrase I coined to describe a veto that combines parts of two or more sentences to create new laws no legislator voted for.

I have strongly advocated for local and state government spending limits and cost saving measures, such as mandate relief and public employee health care reform.  Also, I authored a tax reform measure to overhaul financing of Wisconsin’s technical colleges.  These changes are difficult, and we need political will and voter support to succeed.

Ultimately, state government must provide local governments with the tools to control spending while elected officials at all levels make tax relief a priority.  I will fight for these changes and against the special interests that protect the status quo which Wisconsin taxpayers cannot afford.