From Bill Sell

OffRamp: Taxing Our Patience I

Published in the Bay View Compass, January 2005

Let’s talk property tax. What ever is to be done?

Our property taxes have ballooned because State government uses the property tax like a mule, loading on its back tax exemptions demanded by lobbyists. Property tax is hardball; and we are only batboys.

Case in point. Madison ordered that computers are exempt from business property tax. Local government had to stop collecting that tax. You, the homeowner picked up the difference. Hey, Mule, they made an ass of you. At your expense my business gets a break. Thank you very much.

And gridlock in government makes these problems worse.

Gridlock works for incumbents.

The Republicans want a Constitutional Amendment (future gridlock be damned) to sandbag Governor Doyle because they want his re-election campaign in 2006 to go badly; the Governor wants to keep his constituents happy by standing up to the Republicans (current gridlock be damned). And Doyle’s veto will not solve our problems; in fact, a veto may save only his job.

They will all get re-elected.

May I ask? Why is everything in the state at risk these days, except their jobs? Clearly, it falls to our laps to demand these ornery gridlockers start working for us.

So, if I may, here are some suggestions from the Bay View neighborhood about what Madison can do:

Remove from property taxes the services unrelated to property: Health services, education, transit and airport.

Use strong-arm government muscle to negotiate and reduce absurd health insurance fees we pay for public employees.

Nudge, insist, demand that state insurers insure more healthy people; lowering insurance fees for all.

Pre-purchase insurance for large groups; each person to pay a small fee. This works for university students on public transit because few students use buses, but transit gets relatively more cash.

The concept is insurance. Insurance needs to return to the insurance business.

Homestead Relief adjustments would allow low-pensioned seniors to keep their homes. (People at home days make stronger neighborhoods, lowering police costs.)

Instead, a Constitutional Amendment (Taxpayer “Bill of Rights,” or TABOR) is proposed to keep government from spending. TABOR language is confusing, with verbs and participles dangling and drifting vaguely in the twilight of legalese heaven; ambiguous pronouns referencing multiple nouns will guarantee court cases and new work for lawyers for years. Don’t take my word for it. Read: TABOR

I will buy dinner at Lulu’s for two for the first person who diagrams, correctly, the spaghetti sentences in the 606 words of TABOR. Fax to 414–272–3795.

Constitutional language should be plain, simple, not requiring definition, enduring for generations. TABOR uses statutory language without the ability to experiment, to adjust the formulae, to evaluate results. Constitutional amendments take three years to change. Colorado, with a TABOR, cannot fund drinking water.

I have a better name for TABOR: BARTAB.

The bartab quietly escalates because you believe the evening is pure fun and the bartender really really likes you. As the infrastructure crumbles, our credit erodes, and Wisconsin pays higher interest rates on bonds. The kids always pay the bartab.

Emergencies? TABOR allows a Rainy Day Fund (only 15% of spending ). Osama would smile indulgently at our thrift. “Emergency,” not defined in TABOR, is tomorrow’s task, yes, for Madison, someday, maybe later. While the rest of the nation prepares for national emergencies of unknown dimensions, we grasp TABOR like a mirror. Is the face that looks back asking, like Mad Magazine, “What, We Worry?”?

Would you believe pension grabs are out of date? When the TABOR poop hits the fan, these genius legislators will retire on comfy pensions which we will pay, and pay.

So what are the “rights” of the taxpayer? More here, next month. “Right” and “taxpayer” appear only in the TABOR title, a pretty drink, served by a pretty bartender with a pretty promise that this pretty bar will never close, and the more you drink, the less you will pay.

You can reach Bill Sell at the author’s eMailbox .

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