WI GOP Continues Their Assault On Local Democracy

After cutting state aid for public schools and capping local property taxes, Governor Scott Walker and the GOP legislature allowed local school boards some leeway in raising money to fund public education. Whether for new facilities, remodeling current facilities or funding ongoing educational activities, local school boards were allowed to put forward referendums where the local tax payers could decide whether they wanted to foot the bill for public education. And as local communities found themselves strapped for funding, they went to referendums in a big way. And guess what, the state legislature doesn’t like it to the point they want to put additional limits on local spending.

Now you might think referendums are just about the purest forms of democracy that we exercise here in Wisconsin. But that’s not how they see it in Madison. They see another opportunity to impose their ideological views on local citizens and their locally elected representatives. For some reason Madison can’t understand why anyone would see value in taxing themselves for the betterment of the community. So look out, here come more laws out of the Madison GOB cabal limiting what local electeds can do.

[Sen. Duey] Stroebel [(R-Cedarburg)] and seven other lawmakers this week introduced a slate of bills that would attack referendums on a number of fronts, from limiting them to spring and fall general elections to cutting state aid for districts that pass ballot measures for extra operating revenue.

Lawmakers defended the measures as common sense practices that increase transparency and empower voters by bringing more of them into the referendum process.

“There’s nothing punitive here. You can still have referenda,” said Stroebel, an Ozaukee County developer and former school board member and who has championed property tax relief since he first joined the Legislature in 2011.

Did Sen. Stroebel actually say transparency with a straight face? I won’t follow up on that rant in this post. But not everyone one agrees with the senator:

But public school advocates see the bills as an assault on local control that would be felt hardest in lower-spending, less affluent districts, many of which are already losing state and local funding because of declining enrollment.

“Ever since revenue limits were imposed … lawmakers have said, if a board feels they don’t have enough funding, they could always ask their voters to approve a referendum to exceed the revenue limit,” he said. “Now … they are pulling back from that pledge.”

Here are the key features of the bill (some seem punitive, some seem micromanaging, and maybe one makes sense)”

Eliminate so-called recurring referendums for operating expenses — those that raise taxes indefinitely — and cap non-recurring referendums at five years.
Dock a district’s state aid by an amount equal to 20% of whatever it generates in an operating referendum. So, if voters approve, say, $5 million, they lose $1 million in aid.
Require all referendum questions be placed on a spring or fall general election.
Limit when school districts can decide to go to referendum. A school board could vote on an operating referendum only during a regularly scheduled board meeting, and on a debt issue only at the annual meeting where the tax levy is set.
Require districts to disclose the costs of debt service and interest payments on any debt issue.
And provide a 50% match for district funds placed in a long-term capital improvement trust fund, so-called Fund 46, to encourage cash financing of maintenance and construction projects.

The one item that I find of value is the requirement to place school referendum questions on the general elections. That actually is more democratic since more voters participate in general elections that primaries. The more voters who weigh in on budgets and taxes the better. And even then it might be better to restrict them to fall general elections…particularly given the awful voter turnout earlier this month.

But really, dock a districts state support because they ran a referendum to fill the gap in their budget that resulted from the reduction in state support? Punitive and insane.

Let local school boards run their local schools…

just a reminder on my thoughts on Governor Walker’s attempts to control local school boards: Governor Walker Wants To Micromanage YOUR School Board


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