FILE - Wisconsin state Sen. Duey Stroebel

Wisconsin state Sen. Duey Stroebel

Sen. Duey Stroebel of Wisconsin's 20th District wants taxpayers in the state to know two things.

One, property taxes in Wisconsin are actually down over the past decade. That's thanks, he says, to Republican lawmakers and former Gov. Scott Walker. And two, Stroebel said the state legislature has protected homeowners from the skyrocketing cost of local school referendums. But that may end. 

"Taxpayers haven't really felt the pain of those increased [local school] budgets because of the backfill that's been going on," Stroebel, R-Saukville, said. 

Stroebel said the Wisconsin legislature spent more than $4 billion on schools across Wisconsin over the past five years to help keep former Gov. Walker's promise to hold the line on taxes. 

"The Legislature appropriated $4.25 billion in local property tax relief from the 2014 fiscal year through the budget ending in June of 2019," Stroebel said. "Money all Wisconsinites paid, predominantly in income tax, has been used to backfill local property taxes statewide."

Stroebel said the backfill has masked the true cost of billions of dollars in local property tax increases local voters have approved for their schools. 

"The perception was, 'We're not spending money on education,' and a lot of these referendums were passing," Stroebel said. "And I think a lot of people believed that because they looked at their tax bill and said 'Property taxes fund education, my property tax bill hasn't gone up or has stayed level the past eight years. We must be shorting education' when, in fact, we weren't."

Wisconsin lawmakers approved a nearly $500 million increase for schools in the most recent state budget. The state is now spending more money on education than ever before, nearly $6 billion a year. A recent report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum said local property taxpayers across the state are kicking in another $5 billion for schools in Wisconsin. 

Stroebel said Democrats, particularly Gov. Tony Evers, have been able to benefit from the misconception about a lack of spending on schools. 

Perhaps, it's time to stop giving them that benefit, Stroebel said, to stop bailing out local governments, and to let local taxpayers know just how much money is being spent on education in Wisconsin.

"If we keep buying down property taxes, while Tony Evers goes and spends, spends, spends, who's ever going to feel it? They're never going to feel it," Stroebel said. "We need to think long and hard if that's the best thing to do."

Evers said before the new year that he thinks taxpayers support higher taxes and higher spending. He pointed to the flood of school referendum questions that voters have approved over the past two years as evidence. 

Stroebel said he's not sure taxpayers would support so many new taxes and that much spending if they saw all the numbers. 

"I think when property taxpayers see the effects of additional spending actually on the property tax bills, which they haven't seen for the past eight years, they may have a different feeling about that spending," Stroebel said. 

Staff Reporter

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.