NEWS BLOG (WSAU) ‘The Wisconsin Way’, a political action group, wants to change the way we pay for state government. Their proposal is to cut property taxes by 25-percent across Wisconsin. They’d make up the difference by raising the state sales tax, putting tolls on the highways, and putting user fees on almost everything else.
At its core, this may seem like just dividing the pie a different way. Your tax bill might come out the same. You’ll get a lower property tax bill. You’ll pay more when you buy things. But be careful… this plan would represent a huge change in state policy.
The issue is local control, and how much of it we’d lose if we pay more sales tax dollars to Madison. Dollars that are collected through your property tax are controlled by your town board, city council, or school board. They’re your neighbors. And if you need something done in your town or your schools, you speak to them and voice your concern.
But try getting something… anything… changed at the state level. Even if you approach your state representative, they’re one voice of many, fighting for a small slice of the state budget. And there are huge policy areas that your state rep doesn’t have direct control over. If you have an ideal or a change, good luck dealing with the DNR, the DOT, State Consumer Protection, Department of Public Instruction, etc.
As more of the costs of government fall to the state, we’ll see more regulation, less control, and more inefficiency.
Consider a completely different model. New Hampshire has no state income tax. There’s no sales tax either. So there’s virtually no money on the state level. (The only sources of state revenue are a small corporate profits tax, highway tolls, and taxes on liquor sales.) Cities, towns, and schools get almost no state aid. That’s not where the money is.
The drawback is that property taxes are high in New Hampshire. The big advantage is that there’s tremendous local accountability. When an alderman votes to set the budget and mill rate, there’s intense scrutiny from local residents. But if people want something done in their town, it gets debated at town meetings where local residents decide.
I lived near the resort town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. It was a property rich town on Lake Winnipesaukee that had very good schools, parks with manicured lawns, and a fancy community recreation center. People in town said they wanted those things, and they were taxed accordingly. By comparison, property taxes were high. A half-hour to the south was Gilmanton, which had the lowest property taxes in the state. Their town had gravel roads, no municipal sewer system, and one schoolhouse that dated back to the turn of the century. Aldermen who proposed tax hikes would be voted out of office by their neighbors.
More local control isn’t perfect, but it is better. When you lose local control, one day you’ll look around and realize that overall taxes are very high and you have very little say in how it’s spent.
I prefer the New Hampshire way to “The Wisconsin Way’s” proposal.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau