December 12, 2011
Milwaukee Legislators Succeed in Increasing Property Tax Accountability, Transparency
Madison – Today, Sen. Chris Larson (D–Milwaukee) and Reps. Christine Sinicki (D–Milwaukee) and Fred Kessler (D–Milwaukee) announced that their efforts to ensure greater transparency and accountability on Milwaukee’s property tax bills were successful. Milwaukee taxpayers will now receive a detailed break down of how much they pay for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and how much is funneled into the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).
Since September, Milwaukee-area legislators have worked with the Milwaukee Treasurer, Comptroller, Mayor, and members of the Common Council and MPS Board of Directors to develop an information sheet to be distributed with property tax bills providing separate cost information for MPS and MPCP, which was formerly listed as one lump sum.
“I am glad taxpayers will finally see the effect the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has on their property tax bills,” said Rep. Kessler. “Milwaukee taxpayers are forced to pay for public, private and parochial school programs in Milwaukee; public schools are the only ones required to educate students with special needs at any cost, not just when it’s convenient. Because of this, MPS is left educating a disproportionate number of special needs students at significantly higher costs.”
“This simple change will clarify for Milwaukee’s taxpayers to what extent public schools have been bailing out their private and religious counterparts,” said. Rep. Sinicki.
In 2010, state law compelled MPS to levy over $50 million in taxes to subsidize the private and religious schools making up the voucher program, which amounts to 17 percent of the total MPS tax levy. New legislation at the state level recently expanded the voucher program in Milwaukee to allow private schools outside Milwaukee to participate, while also removing all enrollment caps on the program and raising the income limits on participants. Due to these policy changes in the Republican Budget, the cost of the MPCP rose significantly, exceeding the state’s official 2012 estimate and increasing the financial responsibility of taxpayers to 22.6 percent.
These changes come at a time when public schools are forced to make do with $1.6 billion less in state aide over the next two years, while spending on programs like the MPCP continue to balloon. In truth, Milwaukee taxpayers are now being billed for both the largest school district in the state, MPS, and the fourth largest, which is what the MPCP has grown to be with 22,400 students. The tax levy for the MPCP already exceeds the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District by nearly $10 million and is expected to exceed Milwaukee Area Technical College’s in the next few years.
Legislators also emphasized the importance of fixing the funding formula. Currently, Wisconsin does not accurately count all students, which in-turn places the financial burden of voucher students solely on the backs of Milwaukee taxpayers.
“This legislation takes a step in the right direction by showing taxpayers how the funding flaw is directly affecting them,” said Sen. Larson. “Knowing the facts is vital to helping us budget and prioritize taxpayer dollars wisely.”