cur-mud-geon: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner
Ceilings become floors when governmental bodies impose maximum property tax levies. Ceilings become floors when ‘qualified economic offers’ are made law for educators. The QEOs have been eliminated, at least for now, but the maximum levy limits are alive and well.
Supervisor Bill Meyers (District 24 - Washington County) provided some information in this regard as the county was finalizing its new budget. Among those pieces of information was the September, 2010 AFSCME District Council 40 newsletter to its members. That newsletter included information for the member to make it possible for him or her to keep the pressure on the local governmental bodies to be encouraged to budget “up to the levy limits”. Those levy limits are regulated by the state and represent the maximum permissible property tax levy amounts that can be used for budgeting in our state.
AFSCME was reporting on several arbitration cases in Wisconsin where levy limits had been used by arbitrators to establish ‘fair’ compensation for union members. If the governmental unit was not taxing “up to its levy limit”, pay increases denied were usually restored by the arbitrators since there was no real compelling economic reason for denying wage increases that couldn’t have been funded by taxing to the levy limit. The ceiling became the floor and the union was rewarded the extra compensation. This was discussed in six separate cases and the union came out on top by a score of 6-0. Isn’t arbitration great when liberal government selects the arbitrator?
Our own Washington County has had difficulties in keeping itself from taxing to the levy limit. The essence of the levy limit structure is to make it possible for budgeting to be done using the amount of available dollars and then budgeting to spend up to the maximum. That approach is exactly the reverse of what ought to be the process employed in budgeting. If departments budgeted based upon actual needs versus creating needs to gain more funding, we might have a more economical form of government.
Is the use of levy limits the only mechanism that could be employed to control tax rates? I don’t believe that would be the only approach possible. Maybe pure old accountability would be a better control. Maybe arbitrators who weren't predisposed to one side would be part of the solution. The concept of “use it or lose it” is alive and well in government. The idea that a body of government would turn back unused funds from its appropriation is foreign in most cases. The same thing goes on in some businesses, as well, but those businesses are not taxpayer-funded entities.
It is time, with the new Republican dominance in state government, for that party to show that it really has heard the taxpayer/voter. It needs to begin a systematic overhaul of state government which will reach down to county and local levels. Such ‘floors for spending’ need to be eliminated, and sanity needs to be restored to governance. The taxpayer is not that endless pool of money that some seem to think is the case. The government should not be the provider of all things for all people. Those who genuinely need help ought to get that help, but the idea of decades of assistance that have squashed individual growth and personal dignity and drive cannot be permitted to continue. As we continue to pile more taxes on the people who work and pay taxes, we risk placing more of them on some form of government subsidy, as well. Governments are too good at killing the goose that lays the eggs of gold, and then lamenting that it happened.
Keep an eye on California if you have doubts about how this ultimately plays out.