Scott Walker Rewards Wisconsin Tax Cheats While Homeowners Pay More

Mar 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

How would you like to be a Wisconsin homeowner and find out that under your Governor, property taxes fell off the rolls in his position as County Executive of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin from 2002 to 2010, thereby costing you an extra 20 percent in property taxes? What if that same Governor were taking away your rights as a worker, claiming a budgetary crisis, and you found out that under his leadership as County Executive, certain business owners were allowed to cheat on their taxes?

On his campaign website, Walker crows about how he kept property taxes from increasing from the year before, but what he carefully doesn’t say is that if the taxes didn’t increase, it’s because the taxpayers paid too much the year before, and the year before that…. To be precise, they paid around 20% more than they should have. They paid for businesses the country couldn’t be bothered to inspect, because the amount of revenue collected would be the same either way; In Wisconsin, the amount to be collected stays the same, it’s just a matter of how much an individual property owner will be accessed, while others get off scot-free, so to speak.

The Journal Sentinel did an investigation and found that hundreds of properties in Milwaukee alone (where Walker was the County Executive, a position much like a Governor but on a county level, or like a city manager) are allowed to fall off the tax rolls – properties that claim they are churches, nonprofit hospitals and other organizations that state lawmakers feel shouldn’t have to pay taxes.

In addition to the many properties left off the tax rolls, like tax exempt “churches” that never held services and had chained off parking areas, the Journal Sentinel found:

Far fewer are added to the tax rolls, strapping city budgets and sticking existing property owners with an ever-growing portion of the overall tax bill. Just how much are these exemptions costing taxpayers? Nobody really knows. Not local assessors. Not the state. And not homeowners and others who pick up the tab. That’s because exemptions are loosely monitored, and the system is rife with other problems, an examination by the Journal Sentinel has found.

Calculations based on the best estimate city assessors have – which come from vague and poorly reported data – show the exemptions are costly, driving up tax bills for average homeowners by nearly 20%. That’s close to $800 for a Milwaukee property-tax payer with a home assessed at $175,000….

Meanwhile, assessors across the state fail to properly monitor exemptions – snubbing requirements – while the state Department of Revenue does little to enforce the rules.

The Journal Sentinel identified nearly $500,000 worth of properties with suspicious exemptions while examining just a few cases from 2010 in Milwaukee…. A quarter of the property owners never even responded to the form in 2010, yet they maintained their tax-exempt status.

Way to go, Scott. How’s that fiscal conservative budget thing looking now? To make matters worse, the problems found in Milwaukee are endemic of problems around the entire state.

While it may seem unfair to come down on Walker as county executive of Milwaukee for a problem that is obviously widespread, but particularly bad under his leadership in Milwaukee, the fact of the matter is that Walker has been nattering on about what a fiscal conservative he is and how he stands for the taxpayer. He keeps claiming over and over again that he is cutting collective bargaining for the taxpayer, he is cutting union benefits for the taxpayer, etc. But obviously, if Scott were concerned about the taxpayer, all he would have to do is assess these properties correctly and he’d save the taxpayer $800.00 a year on average. As it stands, his cuts to unions aren’t saving taxpayers a dime, because he gave that money to the Koch brothers et al in tax cuts. So, tell me again how he stands for the taxpayer?

Walker is OK with allowing the homeowners who are already being hit with his union busting bill to take yet another hit for the businesses, supposed churches, and other nonprofits that don’t pay taxes while he bemoans the budget issues caused by his own further gift to corporations. Scott was in charge of the budgets for Wisconsin. On his campaign website, Scott takes credit for not increasing property taxes, “Scott has kept his promise to spend the taxpayers’ money as if it were his own, introducing eight consecutive county budgets without increasing the property tax levy from the year before.” I’m not sure I would call allowing the taxpayers to pay an extra $800.00 on average a year for property taxes “spending their money like it were his own.”

Do homeowners in Milwaukee know that they are funding their government’s failure to collect revenue? Are they OK with people claiming to be a church and not paying taxes? Due to they way they deal with property taxes, the assessors are not motivated to investigate claims of exemptions, because the revenue stays the same no matter who doesn’t pay – the homeowners just pay more for the folks who aren’t paying.

Scott’s website concludes with this:

The state and national political environment today is very similar to Milwaukee County in 2002. Taxes are too high, government spending is out of control, and corruption and incompetence run rampant.
Scott Walker is uniquely qualified to lead Wisconsin’s troubled state government back to fiscal sanity. As, a former state legislator and the Chief Executive of the state’s largest county, Scott knows what must be done to put Wisconsin government back on the side of the people and he’s willing to stand up against the entrenched special interests to do it.

Is this what he meant by standing up to special interests and putting government back on the side of the people? Because it looks like Scott Walker is a walking special interest, giving breaks to the Koch brothers and non-churchy churches, while pick-pocketing the working people of their last dime and taking away their right to be heard at the bargaining table.

Is Governor Walker, who promised to represent the people and not special interests, going to address this problem? He hasn’t addressed it yet, so I doubt he’s that interested in implementing an effective, efficient and fair form of tax assessment now. After all, he can just pile this on the people’s back along with taking their jobs and then blame them for their “failures”. Walker’s budget problems were caused by his tax gift to corporations, but also by allowing tax cheats to continue on stealing from the counties and state. Why is that Scott prioritized and demonized unions, when sitting right in front of him was an obvious source of uncollected revenue already due? It seems Scott has a problem with union members earning a decent living, but not with tax cheats getting off scot-free.

Here’s a radical solution: Governor Walker could solve this problem by being a true fiscal conservative and taxing all of the churches. This solution would be a two-fold winner, as it would cut down on the need for oversight and increase revenue, while making government smaller. Of course, the real way Scott could show his allegiance to small government would be to step down and stop serving as one of those horrid government workers whom we all know by now, do not deserve their pay or benefits. And perhaps he should reject the healthcare and pension that taxpayers are funding for him, just to put his money where his mouth is.

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