Monday, March 06, 2006

Would Scott Walker Please Read the TPA?

Scott Walker would make a good Governor. There, I said it.

But one part of being Governor means actually reading and understanding important legislation that affects the state. As I pointed out in this post from last week, Walker is trying to differentiate himself from Republican opponent Mark Green on property taxes by using the Taxpayer Protection Amendment (TPA) as proof that property taxes will go up under Green but not under Walker. Here are a couple quotes:

"Mark Green can not defend backing away from his promise to property taxpayers so he is on the attack," Pfaff said. "His own statement says that he supports the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, however supporting TPA while backing away from two-thirds will force a property tax increase." (My emphasis)

"The language of the Taxpayer Protection Amendment says that if state aid for schools is less than it was in the previous year, the local school district can raise taxes to pay for the lost state aid. Backing away from the state commitment to two-thirds funding will actually force a property tax increase. These facts can be found directly in the text of the Taxpayer Protection Amendment." - Walker Press release, March 2nd, 2006

From Walker's Blog:

"The simple fact is that the Taxpayers Protection Amendment (TPA) says that if the state pulls back on aid, local school districts can (and will) make up the difference by raising the property tax levy. That is why Mark Green is making a similar mistake to what Jim Doyle did in his first budget."

Great quotes, except for the fact that they don't at all represent what the TPA actually says. I racked my brain all weekend to come up with a way to explain why Walker is wrong, and here's what I came up with:

School funding is a mixture of state money and local property taxes. The TPA, however, caps the amount a school district can raise in order to fund their portion of their budget. The TPA doesn't care how much money the state gives the school district, unless that raw number is actually less than the year before. The TPA only cares how much money the school district raises in property taxes (the TPA also thinks you've gained a little weight, but is afraid to tell you.)

So let's say for argument's sake the cap is set at 3%. If the state gives a school district $1 more than it did last year, the property tax revenue cap is 3%. If the state gives a school district $500 million more, then the property tax revenue cap is 3%. The only way this changes is if voters approve more revenue in a referendum (or in a "reeferendum" if the school district needs more revenue to invest in hydroponics).

And don't be fooled by the "property taxes can go up if the state cuts funding" line of argument. As unlikely as actually cutting funding for school aids is, it is made even less likely by a small provision tucked deep inside the TPA. This unconscionable provision provides that if the state actually makes a reduction in local aids, it can't spend that money elsewhere. So, for instance, if the state wants to reduce shared revenue by $100 million, they can't shift that money elsewhere to say, Medical Assistance. This provision virtually guarantees that the 60% of the total state budget that goes to local governments will never be cut. Why would they? So now 60% of the state budget is off the table when it comes time to write the budget. Good luck with that, Legislature.

So, basically, the constitutional revenue cap for school districts is set in stone. It will be that 3% whether Mark Green is governor or whether Scott Walker is governor or whether Jim Doyle is Governor. Yet Walker, it seems, is trying to argue that property taxes would be higher under Mark Green because Green won't commit to funding two-thirds of school district costs. Walker actually believes that the higher property tax trigger applies if the state backs off the two thirds commitment, which isn't true. It would only apply if the state sends a school district less than they did last year. Any increase above $1, and the property tax cap is set.

So Walker has differentiated himself, all right. The only difference between a Walker and Green governorship is that Walker would spend hundreds of millions more in school aids, under the false assumption that it would hold down property taxes under the TPA. Even more troubling is that Walker has bought into the usual Democratic rhetoric that somehow backing off two-thirds funding is a "cut." You could spend $400 million more next year in increased school aids, and Walker considers that "cutting" aid, since the state wouldn't be meeting the two-thirds mark.

I really don't mean to be hard on Walker, but he either doesn't know what the TPA does or he is intentionally misleading people to separate himself from Green. I don't know which is worse.

Rather than this being a statement about Walker, this is more a statement about the TPA. I mean, if the Milwaukee County Executive can't figure out what it does, how is the average voter going to? I guess we should just throw it in the Constitution and figure out what it does later.

Still awake? I'm not.