From Bill Sell

OffRamp: Taxing Our Patience II

Published in the Bay View Compass, February 2005

While the world frets over Al Qaeda’s next assault, Wisconsin Senator Frank Lasee is offering a Constitutional Amendment called The Taxpayer Bill Of Rights to restrict spending, protect the property tax, and defend us in emergencies. So I called the Senator, obtained a copy, and studied TABOR.

TABOR re-arranges power structures in Wisconsin with pretty promises that it cannot keep, as I wrote here last month (See Taxing Our Patience I).

TABOR restricts emergency spending, using a quaintly named “Rainy Day Fund” restricting Milwaukee to 15 percent of its annual budget—$75 million—a bit less than the assessment of a larger downtown office building.

But TABOR does not define emergency. It specifies “an emergency unrelated to economic conditions”? But what kind of emergency is that? My cat’s urgent need to find a lap? Two airplanes crashing downtown?

TABOR is a field of dreams for litigious attorneys. I give TABOR a D- in English grammar. Tell me you understand it and that I am the dolt who deserves a D, but only after you read it yourself: Taxpayer Bill Of Rights

TABOR gets an F+ in Math. Why?

Since I wrote about TABOR last month, you and I received our 2004 property tax bills which rose 8 percent. Will TABOR prevent that? Nope.

TABOR limits net spending of all taxes collected. Under TABOR if one of the three taxes — income, property, sales — goes down, the other two may rise.

That is what happened in 2004.

When income tax revenues (State funds) drop, property tax revenues (local funds) are forced up. This does not change under TABOR. If income tax collections fall, you will have higher property taxes. Your right to die in your own home is slipping away.

TABOR freezes nothing. Well, OK, maybe it can freeze water in February but it will generate hot referenda fights among citizens, pitting one part of our society against the other, such as teachers wanting competitive wages against homeowners wanting property tax relief.

And what are Democrats, the fearless opposition, doing about this? Oh, they’ve gone to the Warehouse of the Big Adjective. Emboldened, they call TABOR names, like “convoluted and ill-advised.” Golly. Killer words, guv’ner. Sock it to ‘em.

As I said last month, TABOR may work for incumbents. Incumbents get re-elected for out-shouting the “evil” politicians on the “other” side.

These are our homes; this is our Constitution. Where is a conservative when we really need one?

Fair adjustments to tax formulae is not sexy lawmaking, but it is a practice older than Christianity. Even the Bible makes the effort, favoring the poor, the widow, and the orphan over the well off.

Speaking of religion, what is[italics] the sacred cow in Wisconsin? It is not the property tax; it’s the income tax. TABOR’s barn door is wide open to property tax increases. Why are we inured to accept these lies without question? Are we sheep? What has happened to our self respect?

Kick the tires before you buy that TABOR car. Ask Senator Used-Car Dealer about the TABOR “wreck” in Colorado. There is a history to TABOR and it is not listed under “The Great Revolutions of Democracy.”

And, please, no fingerpointing. We are at fault when we tolerate political double talk and radio shouting. But tell me, have you not grown tired of the “Gotcha” gridlock wars?

TABOR comes out of gridlock in the Wisconsin legislature. TABOR is a warning to all of us. Tax fears are driving people to embrace anything that is called a “freeze.” Fear mongering can make a solution worse than a problem. We need to talk or we will freeze, kicked out of our homes.

Property tax reform is possible. And I believe we know what needs to be done. For starters, take back those business exemptions and give the homeowner some breaks.

Can we fix our tax system? Can we write a authentic Taxpayer Bill of Rights? Can Bay View out-think Madison? What are your thoughts?

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

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