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Janesville Wisconsin Way Forum Summary of Conversation and

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Janesville Wisconsin Way Forum Summary of Conversation and Powered By Docstoc
					                          Janesville Wisconsin Way Forum
                       Summary of Conversation and Comments
                                    Nov. 13, 2007

(Audio/Video of the forum is available at www.wisconsinway.org)

Jim Wood, president, Wood Communications Group, facilitates the conversations on
behalf of the Wisconsin Way.

Opening Comments.

WOOD: Are the issues here in Janesville the same that were mentioned in the video? (70
percent agree, according to notes)

Are you concerned about increased demand and increased concern about our ability to
afford property taxes? (40 percent agree.)

Is there a sense in your community that there is a growing demand for services and less
of a capacity to pay for those services? (40 percent agree.)

What about the issue of political gridlock? Is that an issue that you see? (85 percent
agree.)

This is now your meeting. First, we’d like you to talk about the major concerns in your
community, what you think is working and not working. If you have an idea about what
we should be doing about it, feel free to share that with us.

Speaker 1:
I think we have an excellent higher education system in this state, but we have a brain
drain problem. So we must act in a way to encourage more people to go on to higher
education and then provide an economic incentive for those people to stay in the state.
First of all, we could have a state program of student loans where people can borrow
substantial amounts of money at reasonable interest rates in the form of student loans.
After graduation, those people, if they state in the state to work, particularly doctors in
rural or inner city settings, for example, they get a percentage of loan forgiveness. It will
have to be paid for, and I have ideas on that too. It’s going to cost something, but it’s an
investment in building the workforce of highly educated people. I would also include
loan forgiveness for people who are not doctors if they start a business and hire three or
more people at five times the minimum wage or something of that sort, so there would be
a real incentive for entrepreneurs to stay in the state and build high-tech organizations
here rather than going to Minneapolis to do it.

Speaker 2:
I’m a union representative; I represent teachers. I’m originally from New York, where I
was a teacher. One of the things that surprised me when I came to Wisconsin was that it
was a general consensus in New York that no matter what they were willing to pay you, it
was not enough. If you were willing to deal with these kids, you deserved more. I quit
teaching in 1994, and I was making more then after my fourth year of teaching than a lot
of teachers here are making now. The cost of living is higher in New York than in
Wisconsin, but nonetheless, we’re talking 13 years ago. In Wisconsin, we need to have a
serious appreciation for what teachers do and what public servants do in general. Instead
of focusing the discussion on diminishing what we compensate those people for, we need
to look at how we are going to generate the proper compensation. I think the corporate
tax rate in Wisconsin is outrageous. We have among the lowest corporate tax rates in the
country. It makes sense perhaps at certain times for very targeted incentives to attract
certain industries, but the blanket low corporate tax rate makes no sense. It should be
used strategically. Right now it ends up with a certain sector just not paying its fair share.
If we want to maintain good education and services in this state, every sector should have
to pay its fair share.

Speaker 3:
I’m a little confused. I just started my family and I’ve been living in Janesville for five or
six years, and I’m not familiar with Janesville politics. Last year the people of Janesville
voted to put forth what I think was the largest school referendum in the history of
Wisconsin, $93 million, which represented about $10 to $20 per month on a $120,000
home. The teachers were asking for a little bit more money, and nobody wanted to do it.
I’m confused. It seems that when we want something badly enough, we find the money
for it. I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps we’re not convinced on how bad our roads
are. I think we need a comprehensive PR push to convince everyone that these need to be
taken care of immediately. The Wisconsin Way is one way of doing that, but all
legislators need to be pushing this. I voted yes on the referendum but I never thought it
would pass. I thought, $90 million, yeah right, but it passed overwhelmingly. Maybe we
need to be convinced more of these things.

Speaker 4:
As a former school board member, I feel the referendum law in Wisconsin that applies
only to education is unfair. If you are going to ask the public body to go to referendum to
get the taxpayers’ approval for spending over a $1 million, it should be in every public
forum. It should be for city and county as well as the schools. If they’re going to build a
courthouse, it should have to go to referendum to get permission from the taxpayers. The
same goes for a police station. I think it’s wrong that it’s only mandated for education.

Speaker 5:
I have seen a lot of different taxation systems in a lot of different states, and Wisconsin
isn’t the worst, but it sure could be a lot better. As a property owner, I feel like a renter
who is being treated badly. Redlining used to be a crime; now it seems to be a state
scheme. The code departments are not my friend. My brother added a deck on his house
about 15 years ago. On the day he finished, a tax assessor knocked on his door and
handed him a $50 assessment for putting a deck on his house. This is crazy. You’re
penalizing people for improving their properties. People invest here to buy homes. If you
want people to come to this state and stay, you can not nickel and dime them, and force
them to do stupid things. The house I bought came with a toilet in the basement. They
obviously did that for tax reasons. Why wouldn’t you add a shower or a bathtub? Because
that changes the tax structure. The last time I did something to my basement, I started to
put walls up, but no ceiling. The tax assessor incorrectly assessed me for a property
improvement because the code is you have to have a ceiling for it to become a taxable
issue. That was the last time they were at my house in 1986. It’s just ridiculous. Real
estate stays here. It’s to the benefit of the state for people to improve their properties and
have it done to code. The code office ought to be your protection against questionable
contractors. You should have no problem going to your representatives and your code
department to have them check and make sure things are done properly, as opposed to
applying for a permit and then having them over your shoulder adjusting your taxes. You
would not treat a renter this way. If you had a renter taking care of your property for you,
you wouldn’t treat them as badly as this state does its taxpayers.

Speaker 6:
You mentioned political gridlock. Partisan politics plays into everything. How do you
intend to change that? It’s more like you have elected officials you are doing private
enterprise at our expense. How do you get them to work together on everything and not
be worried about who’s winning today?

WOOD: The short answer is I’m not sure. But we get the question a lot, so I’ll tell you
what we think. The organizations that are sponsoring this are not strangers to the
Wisconsin political process. In my misspent youth I ran a lot of campaigns. When I was
doing it, it was so long ago that most cities only had two newspapers and three television
networks. There was a commonality of perception and politics, etc. As a result, the win
was in the middle; that’s where the votes were. From 8 in the morning to 5 in the
evening, the political process looked a lot like it did today with the two parties screaming
at each other all day long, but at 8 at night, we would gather together to try to find the
middle ground, not necessarily because we were more noble than today, but because
that’s where the votes were. Ultimately, politics is about getting votes. It’s about winning
elections. What’s happened in the last 25 years is we’ve gone from consensus politics to
sliver politics, where both sides go to extremes and then try to build back the majority a
percentage point at a time. They do it because they can. Technology is better, and the
way in which information is moved is very different. I don’t fault that process in terms of
its objective, which is to get people elected. But it makes it very hard to focus on
solutions. It promotes a process in which people spend a lot of time and money trying to
pull us apart, as opposed to bring us together again. What we found in our two and a half
years of survey work is that people in Wisconsin have a pretty clear sense of what they
think their problems are, and are very interested in focusing on solutions and making this
state the way they would like to see it 10 or 15 years from now, or the way they
remember it. The answer to your question is that we can’t do that; only you can do that.
That’s the conclusion that we’ve reached. We had to somehow go about rebuilding the
middle in the state of Wisconsin around real issues and real problems and their solutions.
I don’t know whether it will work. But I do know that I don’t want to wake up 10 or 20
years from now and have to explain to my grandchildren that I didn’t even give it a shot.
That’s why I’m here.

Speaker 7:
I have a concern about the budget. All of the little policy issues and bits of pork that get
put in the budget—isn’t there anyway they can be separated out and dealt with and
discussed and evaluated on their merits separately, so we can have a budget without
having to go through all of that also?

Speaker 8:
Since moving to the state of Wisconsin from North Carolina, I have never minded my
property taxes, even though they tripled. What I saw when I got here was that the public
schools were far better than anything we had in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, or Florida at the time. However, in the 19 years that I’ve been here I’ve watched
the Wisconsin school system begin to drop and drop. Some of that is because we have the
revenue caps and the QEO, we have ma ny good high-quality teachers who leave the
profession so that they can earn a wage that’s more comparable with their degree of
training. They move to other states. We had 81 teachers resign within the last two years
in Janesville. Maybe that’s not just Wisconsin, maybe it’s because I’ve gotten more
experience and I’ve had to deal with more people in government. What someone said
about the codes department and how they treat people is very true, at least in this city.
There is definitely in this community an arrogance of anyone who is an elected official.
They seem to think they know better than anyone else and they look down their noses at
people. I greatly applaud this forum, because it’s an actual attempt to get grassroots input.
I don’t think we can get that very well, at least not in this town. Maybe our elected
officials should be required to live for a month on the average income level in their
community. I think about some of them in their positions at their country club looking
down at the average fire fighter or teacher or community person who wants to improve
their home. They seem to think they know better than everyone else and don’t ask
questions. That’s been my experience with making home improvements and building in
this town, as well as being a teacher.

Speaker 9:
I can appreciate what has been said about improving your property. Property taxes are
high. I have a 95-year-old mother who still lives in the same house she has lived in since
the 1920s. They probably paid 15,000 for the house then. She doesn’t care what it’s
worth. She just wants to live there and enjoy her remaining days. One of the things I
wonder is do we have a fair property tax system in this state? It seems that at one point in
time, the personal property tax only represented a portion of what we used to support
public services. Over the years we have deferred property taxes for certain businesses and
so the burden has grown greater and greater on residential property and not so much on
corporate property. I see our communities put in different kind of tiff systems and other
kinds of deferments for businesses to attract them. I’m from Beloit, and I noticed there is
a really nice Wal-Mart here. My guess is that was there for a while, and somebody
deferred the taxes on it until they depreciated the building, and when the deferment wore
out, they decided they needed a bigger building. And so somebody gave them another
place with another 15 to 20 years to defer it. Every time the government defers taxes on
such a building it’s ultimately an investment. The community is saying we think this
operation is going to create a lot of well-paying jobs, so it’s worth the investment. Do we
ever go back and look at how much we invest when we defer taxes on corporations, and
what do we get back from that? We do know that when we invest in education, public
service, police departments, etc. there is a direct benefit to the community. So those kinds
of public investments we know we are getting something for. What do we get for the
others?

Speaker 10:
Tonight is the second time I have watched the video. The first time I was enthused, but
then I started to think. The problem you identify with real estate taxes is that we are
perhaps taxing the elderly too much, and in the future it is going to get worse. The
problem with that I thought about is that maybe that’s okay. I don’t like taxes better than
anyone else here. We’re going to be shifting the burden to younger generations. And they
are already picking up a $9 trillion federal debt. The Wisconsin debt is pennies in the
bucket compared to the federal debt. Somebody is going to pay for all of this in the
future. I’m not sure that if we keep creating programs for the elderly, including my mom
and myself in a few years, that we’re necessarily taking care of other generations. Look
around this room. I’m the last of the baby boomers, and most of us are older. I would ask
you to consider the voice of those who are not here, and that is the younger generation.

WOOD: I couldn’t agree more that we need to be concerned about that. The Wisconsin
Way is setting up a series of meetings with the younger generation. We are going onto
the campuses and tech college centers to hear what they have to say as well.

Speaker 11:
I believe that by having town hall meetings, if you are involving the population who are
paying the bills, then you should let them help you establish the priority for the services
people want. I don’t think a lot of people would pick some of the things we are paying
for. One of those things is the developers. New developments are wonderful; they help
increase the value of the city. That’s wonderful on paper. It means you can borrow more.
If there is a population in that area, there has to be a special assessment. In Beloit right
now there is a development they want to do. People came to say they don’t want special
assessments. One man was given a $53,000 special assessment on two empty lots that he
owns. These people have lived in the area for many years and paid their property taxes
for as long as they’ve lived there. I think the developer should be putting in the
infrastructure.

Speaker 12:
I’m a retired teacher. I taught in Janesville for a number of years but I grew up in
Michigan. I don’t have a solution, but I can tell you that the school system I was educated
in outside of Detroit was home to the Ford Motor Company. When I lived there, I recall
that Ford paid 54 percent of the taxes for our schools. We had excellent schools. I don’t
think we could get corporations in our lifetime to carry that kind of burden. They would
move. I used to feel more sorry for them than I do now, because those corporations may
not be making it in the United States, but they’re making it in China or other places
abroad, and they’re still doing well. I don’t think the y have the same sense of
responsibility to their communities as they used to. I don’t have the solution, but what I
keep hearing is different ways for the same folks—the property owners—to provide what
is missing, rather than finding other contributors to the pie. And I think that’s the only
way we’re really going to grow it, not just how we divide it up.

Speaker 13:
In searching for money to support what we’re talking about, one of my pet peeves is the
taxed property in Wisconsin that receives a tax exemption. I would like somebody to
account for how many exemptions there are and how much value is in that. I’m talking
about church property and things like that, houses that the church owns, or any property
in Wisconsin that receives an exemption. We need to go after some of that and narrow
the definition of what should be tax exempt.

Speaker 14:
We did vote in Janesville for one of the largest referendums in Wisconsin history, but that
money is set aside for the remodeling of schools and things of that nature. It has nothing
to do with giving teachers additional wages or adequate health care. It’s money that was
passed to improve our schools themselves. The only problem I see with that is the board
saying, we have put aside $2 million this year, but we may be short a few hundred
thousand next year so we have to lay people off. Why are we going to spend millions of
dollars on these buildings if we don’t have the staff to put in? I live in Janesville, I teach
in Whitewater, and I’m also the union president for the teachers of Whitewater. What I
see in Whitewater alone is a lack of affordable housing and a lack of jobs that pay a fair
wage. The escalating cost of health care is hurting businesses, not just individuals, and
the cost of prescriptions is escalating. We currently have a fight with Wal-Mart and our
insurance company. Our carrier, who is owned by another pharmaceutical company, is at
heads with them and is holding us hostage, although they’ve known about it a lot longer
than they let on. We also need to hold politicians accountable. They make us promises,
yet two or four years later, they don’t deliver, and we vote them back in. Do what you
say, or get out of office. We have to stop voting these people back in. Maybe it will make
some difference if they know they have to be accountable, or we’re going to vote them
out of office. And we need to start holding everybody accountable. From the students in
our classrooms, to the teachers teaching our children, to the administrators overseeing the
teachers, to the school board overseeing the administrators, to the community overseeing
the school board. We’re losing the accountability in Wisconsin for everything, and we
need to do something about it.

WOOD: Let’s begin to talk about solutions and where we might go from here. Let’s start
with the question of criteria. As you look forward and think about fixing things, what are
the major criteria we need to focus on? I’ve heard about fairness, paying your full share,
better systems, etc. If was your responsibility to make the planning process accountable,
and you had six expert planners trying to deal with the challenges you’ve identified, what
would you say to them about the criteria they need to bring to the plan?

Speaker 15:
I’m a realtor and I’m also a builder by trade. I feel like there are more teachers in the
room than realtors or anybody else. I’m very active in the builder’s association. When I
first started as a board member, it was brand new to me. As of January 1, the credentials
that these builders carry are going to be a little more solidified. There will be two
credentials now. One is a qualifier, which means that person pulls the permits. They came
about by recognizing a problem. We got to a point where we decided to take a proactive
measure. We realized there was a problem when on the news all you hear about is bad
contractors. We went from #5 to #2 in industry complaints. We decided we needed to
take control before somebody else told us what to do and we had no control. We are now
in the process of getting the qualifier certification, which will be January 1. There were
many of us that would be grandfathered in, but we still had to meet criteria. One of the
things we did was use the realtor association as an example, or plumbers or anyone else
who is licensed and what they have to do to maintain these criteria. It’s been a three-year
process to get here when it failed twice before. As far as the comment on developers
taking on the burden, that’s fine, but do you want to pay the price when it comes time to
purchase a home? Because any way you look at it, those costs get passed on somewhere
along the line. As far as the discussion on taxes, nobody likes to pay taxes; I certainly
don’t either. But the reality is that we need to find out where the money is going and what
it is being spent on. I was not for the referendum. I’m not against the buildings being
improved, but when I keep hearing things about improving athletics, and I have a
daughter who wants to be an art instructor and the art programs are being cut, there’s
something wrong with that picture. I don’t want to diminish athletics, but I think the
priorities are a little backwards too. As far as the code department goes, I don’t agree
with everything that happens in this city, but we have to understand how the process
works and why fees are in place. When improving your property, your taxes will go up,
but you will also get more for your money when you sell the property, because the
property will appreciate. Whenever there is a $50 fee in the inspection process, people
always think that is just to raise taxes, but it is also there to protect the community. Fires
are down in the community because the inspector does such a wonderful job. Many
people don’t like him because he’s so by the book, but he is making a difference. I don’t
have all the answers, but since I became involved in the association and a lot of the
political end of things, it’s amazing how you see things work. People can make a
difference. This government in this city could work if strength is in numbers. People can
speak their piece at public forums. There are more people in this room tonight than I’ve
ever seen at any public forum for any issue in this city. The only way we can make a
difference is to stand up and speak for ourselves, and strength in numbers does work. But
I do think you have to be educated on the whole process. If you’re having a problem with
the code department, a lot of it could just be from presentation. Usually people go their
already angry and there’s conflict right from the start, instead of trying to learn. They will
listen. I’m not here to defend them. But processes do work, although they take time.
Unfortunately they don’t always work the way we’d like. I feel this is a wonderful
community. I came from the city of Chicago. Taxes in Wisconsin are high, but when you
look at car insurance, you could be paying hundred more per month just because of the
neighborhood you live in. I think this is a wonderful community overall. We need to
figure out the costs and where the problems are before you can think about finding a
solution.

Speaker 16:
I think we need a zone taxation that would distribute it evenly. The conquer and divide
method of city administrations is at work here, in that they have neighbors pitted against
each other on each individual property. If we went to a zone area and the bills were
presented, and it was distributed evenly across the properties in each zone, then you
wouldn’t be discouraging people from making the improvements. The neighborhood I
live in right now has the potential to become the next fourth ward in 20 years. It’s a nice
neighborhood, and a lot of people are edgy about that potential because most people who
live there really enjoy it and want to stay there. But a lot of them saw what happened to
the fourth ward 30 years ago. Our current taxation system is a prime formula to make that
happen, because you’ve created a glass ceiling, and it contributes to urban sprawl. I don’t
mind paying the fee for the permit or the inspection, but I do mind having my taxes go up
automatically for improving a piece of property that stays in this state and becomes an
asset to someone after I’m gone. That is offensive. If my financial situation changed
significantly tomorrow, I’d move to Canada. In 1983 the city of Madison turned down an
electronic taxi system called Taxi 2000. Disney had a monorail when I was eight. The
gentleman offered to hook it up from Middleton to the capital for $1 million to get the
project off the ground. They still do not have their first track up anywhere in the country.
At that time I believe parking ticket revenues in Madison were about $3 million per year.
I think that’s motivation for why they turned the system down. I heard a report two years
ago that parking tickets had gone up $500,000 per year, and that was up from $5 million.
They’re nearing Chicago in that field, and they could have had the electronic taxi system
in 1983. And it’s ludicrous that we don’t have it anywhere in the country. But again, we
need a zone system. Whe n GM put a $500,000 addition on their plant 12 years ago, their
property taxes actually went down. They’re a benefit to the community, but the state has
subsidized numerous times, giving them $10 million in training funds.

Speaker 17:
I’d like to say that I believe Governor Doyle’s Wisconsin Covenant is the right kind of
investment for our children. When we say to an eighth grader that there will be a spot for
you in a college or tech school, we’re making an investment for that child, for that
family, and we’re also putting money back into that system, which allows those places to
become high tech places for people to learn. It brings technology, grant money, and
research tools to university systems. I think we need to make sure we put that money on
the right end, the preventative end so that people are willing to stay with their families
and invest their money in properties, and to be here so their kids have a place to go. I
teach lower elementary school, and I talk to my kids all the time about how I’m going
back to school for a degree, and I tell them that they can be anything they want to be
when they grow up. Kids say to me, when they’re eight, “I can’t. I can’t go to school.”
That is a comment on what children believe they can do. I think the Wisconsin Covenant
is a really important thing for us to invest in, not just once, and not for one kind of party,
and not one governor for four years. We need to do it continuously.

Speaker 18:
I’m a realtor and I’m a mother of teachers. I feel they need to be paid fairly. But I look at
the cigarette taxes and additional gasoline taxes. Is there any accountability for that
amount of money? Are there any answers to keep the property taxes lower? What
answers do people suggest throughout the state? I can think of a lot of questions, but not a
lot of answers.

WOOD: I think we are all in that boat. But a lot of people do have intriguing ideas,
particularly by looking at the way they do things in other places. In Minnesota, young
families who buy property and make investments on that property are not assessed on
those improvements for a defined period of time. That’s been part of a planning exercise
in Minneapolis/St. Paul to attract young families into stable neighborhoods. There is talk
about re- linking taxes to value added. For example, UW-Wisconsin says we should
charge more for an engineering degree than for an English degree, because ultimately it
costs more to educate engineers and they make more money in the long run. The problem
is that you’re trying to collect money at the wrong point in the process if you’re trying to
get engineers into the school system. When we come back, we’ll have all of the answers
we’ve collected. It’s our belief that we needed to come here without an agenda and hear
your ideas first. Clearly, we believe that the current tax system is out of alignment with
current economic reality. You can’t get blood out of a stone, and as the current
population of property taxpayers is aging, and two-thirds of those over 65 have a
household income of under $35,000, it’s a little hard to project a lot more money coming
from that pocket. There are a lot more places we need to look at.

Speaker 19:
Those other places are places that the government doesn’t let everyone know about. I bet
most people think that the only sales tax exemptions are things that we would all agree
with, like food, clothes, and medicine. But we don’t pay sales taxes for accountants,
lawyers, for cosmetology, and it goes on and on. The Department of Revenue calculates
and tells the legislature and the governor how much money we would actually have if we
taxed each of these things individually. But we don’t do it, mostly because most of us
don’t even know that it’s happening, and secondly, because some of the biggest ones
would fight it, and who are the real people that normally use expensive lawyers and
accountants? People who are wealthy. And did you know that we have an almost flat rate
for our income tax in Wisconsin? There are only two rates in Wisconsin, 10 percent and
10.5 percent. So whether you make $20,000 or $2 million, you pay virtually the same
percentage of income tax. That’s not the way the federal government does it, or any
progressive taxation system does it. I suppose we do it that way to protect rich people.
That’s the only justification for it. We ask why we get trapped in what to do about
property taxes, and the reason is that we know we need more money. And if we got rid of
the unfair property tax, we’d have even less money. So we have to answer the question
where are we not just going to fill the gap, but we may actually need more money. We
also have to think about our priorities. We never seem to have problems finding money
for roads. Can you imagine having a referendum for road construction? The Market
interchange in Milwaukee is the most expensive road construction project this state has
ever had, in a budget that everyone knew was going to be difficult to pass. The governor
and legislature said they would not raise taxes. They decided to speed it up, which costs
more money. So we have revenue caps on schools, while we build fancier highways. I
don’t think it makes any sense.

Speaker 20:
I’d like to speak about fairness in taxes and accountabilities for politicians. I think some
of the biggest problems in politics come from people who have made a career out of
being a politician, rather than having a one or two-term limit. That might be something to
explore to keep people focused on the job they should be doing in the legislature or
wherever they are. The lobbyists are so strong in both state and federal government that
they affect people who have been there for a long time. A person who could clean it up in
one term would do a better job. I would like to speak about one thing I think is unfair in
taxes, and that is with the beer tax. I’ve been told that it hasn’t been increased in 40 years.
What other tax can you name that hasn’t been increased in 40 years? Inflation alone has
happened in 40 years. There seems to be an epidemic of drunken drivers on the road.
Surveys show that people in Wisconsin lead the nation in binge drinking. UW sports fans
give our state a bad name from their actions while under the influence of alcohol. I’m for
responsible drinking in moderation with a fair tax burden in relationship to all of our
other taxes.

Speaker 21:
I think fairness in taxation should be our primary concern. I don’t feel that overall our
taxes in Wisconsin are too high, although some people may disagree with me. But I don’t
think they’re fair, and we need to make some changes. For the property tax, I suggest that
we look at the homestead credit, which has had a cap at $24,500 for a long time. Costs
have gone up, but the income cap for homestead credit eligibility has not. I think if this
cap was raised, and the table of credit amounts adjusted and put on an index basis, that
could go a long way to bring greater fairness in the property tax system. I would also say
that I would like to see a progressive income tax. Right now income taxes are in the 6 to
6 ¾ percent range. I see no reason why high income people shouldn’t be paying a 10
percent income tax. I would add some progressive brackets at the higher end. That would
be a source of revenue to do some of the things that have been talked about tonight.

Speaker 22:
Another thing about owning a business, small or large, is that we have to pay a nuisance
tax, which is a user’s tax, every year. A lot of people are unaware of that. Everyone pays
taxes for buying something, but as a business, you pay taxes for having it, until it is
liquidated or gone. Many areas are starting to get rid of it because it’s hard to collect, but
we get threatened with a shutdown if we don’t pay it. There are also many taxes involved
in being a builder. I have to have a liability policy, a builder’s risk policy, make sure my
subs have their policies, and a blanket policy over them, to cover the whole thing so I
don’t get sued. This increases the cost of the home and the sale and increases my tax
base. There are so many types of taxes we don’t even know about. That’s why we need to
look at where the problems lie and see if we can identify solutions.

Speaker 23:
I appreciate the Wisconsin Way coming here tonight to hear what everyone has to say,
and I think what has impressed me the most is how people are dealing with the
complexities of the issues. If there’s any one thing that needs to be fought, it’s the silly
simplistic answers that are often given for things. It bothers me that if you were to hold
eight meetings and reach 1500 people, there is a three-hour talk show in Milwaukee on
conservative radio that reaches many more people than that without any thinking going
on. It seems to me that you guys talk about the tax system, that’s just class warfare. Now
we don’t need to deal with it, because we’ve labeled it and we don’t need to deal with the
complexity of the issue. We see that in the gridlock of the political system. Politicians too
often get caught up in that. My perception of the budget stalemate that we had was that
one side wanted to be able to say, we didn’t raise your taxes. So we’re going to de- fund
the University of Wisconsin law school. You know that’s not going to pass, but now
somebody else is going to have to come up with that money. So we’ll just blame them;
we’re the party that didn’t raise taxes. So we’ll vote against everything that raises taxes,
without thinking about what that does to the schools, the transportation system, the health
system of the state. They’re simply going for a simplistic solution, a label. Whoever
tackles these problems needs to understand the complexity of the issues and think about
who is affected, rather than let somebody slap a label on it because it’s easier than having
to think. I think that’s what happens a lot in this state, and a lot of problems don’t get
solved in this country because people use labels rather than dealing with the real
problems out there.

WOOD: We are trying to do the best we can with the resources we have available to us.
We picked the locations for the initial forums based upon three things: population
centers, areas that had media, and we wanted to get groups of people that looked like the
groups of people we are talking about. But then we realized we are missing the entire
area north of Hwy. 8 as well as rural areas. We have also had a hard time getting young
people to come to these forums. We are doing a couple of things to remedy this. Farm
Bureau and other organizations and attend their meetings to present this data and give
them an opportunity to talk to us. In the northern areas, we are also going to talk to the
tech college system and the UW system. We are doing the best we can. I feel this is the
beginning of a long process. If you want your state to look like what you want it to look
like, it takes effort. Talk to your friends and neighbors, and when we come back, bring
them with you.

Speaker 24:
Other commissions have talked about combining governments, school districts,
townships, as a money-saving means. My comment is that if you do that, if you make
townships part of a county to reduce the cost, you are always creating a new bureaucracy
in the county that will have to attend to all the things going on in those townships. Town
meetings are the most essential aspect of representative democracy that we have. The
further we ge t away from that, the worse off we’ll be. I am hearing that in government we
are losing what I would call service. Many government folks don’t see that they are in the
service business, but I believe that they are. If you want them to remain in service to us as
citizens you have to keep them close enough to hold them responsible. That means not
always combining, because then the county might be 45 minutes away and people will
not attend those meetings. But they will go to their township meetings that are only a few
miles away. Somehow we have to bring that democracy back to people, and that’s the
answer. I suspect nobody in this room has ever gone to a regent’s meeting in Madison.
Why? It’s a pain in the butt.

WOOD: This issue comes up at every meeting. Wha t about the consolidation question?
This gentleman said when it comes to consolidation you should be opposed to losing
local units of government. Is that reflective of the opinion here? (0 percent agree.) A
couple of groups have made distinctions between consolidating services and
consolidating government. So if you kept all the school districts or counties but you were
able to consolidate services, do you have the same concern about that?

Speaker 24 cont’d:
I do have the same concern. Right now, if you live in a township and you know your road
isn’t getting plowed in a timely manner you know exactly who to call. If you start
pushing those services off to the county, now you’ve got to figure out who your county
board member is. Maybe you want to go to the highway department, but you can always
go to your town meeting and stand up during citizen input and tell them what the problem
is for a service that you’ve paid for. The further away you take that service, the less effect
a citizen can have and the less responsive the government’s going to be. It might be
cheaper, but you’re not going to get as good a service. That’s essentially what I’m
hearing.

Speaker 25:
I live in a rural community, the Lima township. A question I have is about the fairness in
the how things are assessed and evaluated. I’ve found that at this point our property is
being assessed at more than what I believe it would sell for. In fact, if somebody would
like to pay me what they’re assessing it at, I think we’d sell it. But I looked at every town
board member’s house and numerous houses within the township, and while people say
these are farmhouses, your occupation should not affect the value of the home. To assess
the property at a different rate may be one thing, because it’s agricultural land. But your
occupation should have nothing to do with the value of your house. When I looked at the
houses of our town board members, I would buy any one of those houses at the price
they’re assessed at. And I could turn around and sell that house for a minimum of 50, and
in some cases more than 100, thousand more than what it is assessed at. I think there has
to be fairness in that sense. I don’t mind paying my fair share. But I believe it needs to be
a fair share. In response to the farm issue, I ha ve relatives who are farmers and I used to
farm myself. I was born and raised on a farm. Milk prices today are pretty darn good. A
couple of my relatives are buying new equipment so that they don’t have to pay the tax
on the money, because they can buy the equipment and it would be tax deductible. I don’t
begrudge them for doing that. I think the problems with farming today come from the
large corporate farms. We are losing a lot of farms, but we are losing the small family
farms. If you look at how the structure is set up today, as far as farm aid is concerned,
there are many programs, such as the milk subsidy program, in which many small
farmers never produce the amount of milk required before they even start paying it. A lot
of lobbying power went into that. Most of the farm subsidy programs are set up for large
corporate farms, not for small family farms. If you’re going to provide a subsidy on milk
production, then provide the subsidy on the first 250,000 pounds, as an example. Then
cut it off. Don’t make them produce 400,000 pounds before they even start to get it. Give
it to the family farmer to try to help them stay on the farm. But that’s not what has been
happening. We need to turn some things around and help the small farmers stay on the
farm. As for the large corporate farmer, a lot of them are investment tag groups. That
shouldn’t be our concern. The small family farms are being bought by conglomerates.
They’re getting all kinds of money. Do they need that? No. We’re giving the money to
the wrong people. Fairness is a major thing, and we need to look at making things fair for
people.

Speaker 26:
This afternoon I was reminded of the vast amounts of money that get spent on lobbying
for pet issues with our legislature. As we’re thinking about new ways to tax, maybe we
can tax the money that is thrown at these issues, on lobbying and special interests.

Speaker 27:
I have heard that legislators and judges and a few other public servants have a system set
up in which they will get health insurance bene fits for life. Is that true, and if it is what
kind of criteria is required to get it? What kind of system is set up and where is all this
money coming from?

WOOD: Elected officials at the state level are allowed, under current law, to take sick
leave time that they haven’t used and apply that on an accruing basis against the cost of
ongoing health insurance. That produces a pot of money that allows them to have health
care for quite some time. They don’t have health care for life automatically. I’m not
familiar enough with the judicial system fully answer the question. My advice is, even
though they won’t like it, call your legislator’s office and ask them the question. They
will send you the information.

Speaker 28:
One thing I think would be helpful is a public listing of who is paying business taxes,
maybe broken down by the size of the business. I’m really concerned that the major
employers and corporations are the ones who are not paying business taxes. I don’t think
it’s our small businesses. How much does the money that the big businesses are not
paying damage us? I think the public needs to know that.

Speaker 29:
In terms of fairness, someone mentioned the beer tax. I want to add on to that. Being
involved with the criminal justice coordinating council here in this county, the comment
has been made often that 80 to 90 percent of the crime in this county is related to alcohol
and drugs. If we could use an extra beer tax to help pay for treatment, that would make a
difference in the amount of tax we need to build prisons and house people in them. On
the question of gridlock, being on the county board, I am aware that there is very little
partisan politics going on in the county board. Maybe I’m naïve, but because it is non-
partisan, it doesn’t feel like there is a divide. What if we made the Wisconsin legislature
non-partisan?

Speaker 30:
I think I speak for most of us in this room when I say that we believe in democracy.
We’re all here because of that. We believe in a cleansing of the ballot box. Maybe what
we all have to do is talk to others about Wisconsin Way and look in our own hearts and
minds to see if we need to run for political office because we’re part of that big middle.

Speaker 31:
An idea that’s really unpopular is a flat tax. What you hear about a flat tax is that it’s not
fair because the low income people can’t afford to do that. If I were king for a day, I
would probably create a flat tax with zero deductions. In doing so, it would cause all of
those people who make a lot of money and aren’t paying any tax at all to have to pay
some tax. Someone I taught with owns apartment buildings and businesses, and he said
he wouldn’t support a flat tax at all. He said a few years ago before he had these things,
he was tax poor. For 8 or 9 years, he didn’t pay any income tax at all, federal or state. He
had all the loopholes and deductions, and he was worth millions from all of the properties
he owned. The people who are most against this type of taxation are the ones with the
most to lose, and those are the ones with the most money. Because if they have a lot of
money right now, they’re not paying a tax that amounts to anything. Because they can
hide it through deductions. All of us in middle income don’t have the deductions, so we
carry by far the majority of the tax burden. We need to do something to make the other
people pay their fair share. One thing we can do is stop deductions. My wife and I created
a couple of business-type things as much for tax deductions as anything else, because
now we can claim things that I couldn’t claim when I didn’t have it. As long as it’s
available, you’re going to use it. But if you eliminated it, I think it would be better for all
of us, and the amount of taxes coming in would be much greater.

WOOD: Closing comments.

				
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