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Nov 4, 201611:54 AMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

Blowing the state’s revenue cap means Madison schools never have to say sorry

(page 1 of 2)

(Editor's note: The third paragraph has been updated since this blog was originally published.)

As the comedian Mike Myers would say, cheeky little monkeys aren’t they!

That’s the Madison school board. Really, the nerve! The munificent seven are asking for the authority to blow the doors off of fiscal restraint — over wise stewardship of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money — forever! In perpetuity! For all time! To infinity and beyond!

The Metro Madison School District’s referendum question this Tuesday, Nov. 8 is almost unprecedented increasingly rare. Of the hundreds of school district referenda across the state over the last several decades, how many others 30 to 40 referenda sought each annually throughout the state, only 3 to 7 ask for a permanent pass.  Even in Madison, most past spending referenda sought a specific dollar figure for a specific time period for a specific purpose. Madison voters in 2008 did approve exceeding the revenue caps by $13 million annually on a permanent basis. But Madison voters rejected similar proposals in 1995 and 2005.

“Very few districts go to permanent revenue limit changes — precisely because those questions have a tougher time passing. Voters don’t want to write a blank check,” Todd Berry told me. He is president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

But no, this is Madison. The referendum question — cutting to the chase — asks:

Shall the Madison Metropolitan School District … be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified [phased in over four years until] the 2019–2020 school year and thereafter (for a total of $26,000,000)?

“And thereafter.” The gift that keeps on taking.

Madison School District spokesman Rachel Strauch told me, “State revenue caps … have been incredibly restrictive in recent budgets. Based on what has been in recent state budgets (no increase in the last two years, and small increases before that) and what we can expect going forward, we project more than $12 million in cuts next year.”

Some Bring It! perspective: $12 million in cuts out of a $376,511,150        operating budget. That’s 3.2%.

No doubt that Madison schools DO need extra money. That’s why the referendum tool is available. But this one should have been for a fixed period.

The point is that the state’s revenue limits are not static. Nor is state aid. They are dependent on many factors, including the overall economy, the State of Wisconsin’s fiscal health, and the political makeup of the legislature and governor.

Fact is, Wisconsin generally increases state aids year by year, except for 2011–12 when incoming Gov. Scott Walker was confronted with a $3.6 billion budget deficit. (See the accompanying graph.)

One can fault the district for being slow to adopt the Act 10 savings. (And I do!) Recalcitrant, actually. Because the school board was in thrall to the teachers union, the district resisted requiring teachers to share in the cost of their health insurance. The district also resisted bidding out that health insurance to more competitive providers.


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Nov 4, 2016 12:33 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

"— forever! In perpetuity! For all time! To infinity and beyond!"

"and thereafter (for a total of $26,000,000)?"

How many beers did you have while writing this nonsense? Even a low info voter like myself can see that the proposal is limited to $26 million. Looks like you contradicted on this one, davey.

Nov 4, 2016 04:35 pm
 Posted by  Ed Hughes

Projected Politfact Rating: Pants on Fire. "Of the hundreds of school district referenda across the state over the last several decades, how many others ask for a permanent pass?" 475, according to DPI. That's how many recurring referenda there have been in the state over the years. (That’s what they call the “in perpetuity” kind.) "Even in Madison, past spending referenda sought a specific dollar figure for a specific time period for a specific purpose." Nope. We've previously held recurring referenda in 1999 (passed), 2005 (failed) and 2008 (passed.) Our current referendum - $26 million over four years – works out to an average increase of about $240 per student per year – which would have been typical increases in the revenue limits in the years from 1993 through 2011. Revenue limit increases included in state budget bills are “in perpetuity” as well, there’s nothing unusual about it. And if the referendum passes and we end up not needing all the authority, we won’t use it all, as we didn’t use all the authority resulting from the 2008 referendum for several years.

Nov 5, 2016 09:24 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Dear David,

I voted early last week, and wrote in your name opposing Ismael Ozanne. So here hoping you pull it out and bring some common sense to Dane County

Rogue One

Nov 6, 2016 03:30 pm
 Posted by  David Blaska

Ed Hughes has a point. I should have written “no longer common” rather than “almost unprecedented.” Still, most school referenda seeking to exceed state revenue caps these days specify a limited time period. In the last several years (2011-14), 121 school spending questions sought temporary relief from revenue limits, compared to only 22 ballot questions asking voters for permanent (or recurring) relief. Of those 22 “in perpetuity” referenda, barely half (13) were approved. The great majority of the 475 “permanent passes” to which Ed refers were balloted before 2001. Only 34% of all recurring (or permanent) spending questions were voted in, which is why so few are proposed these days. The point remains, no matter how generous state government may be in future, either by increasing per pupil state aids or raising revenue limits — Madison will be allowed to exceed that by $26 million.

Nov 7, 2016 08:07 am
 Posted by  Anonymous


Don't confuse Dave with facts.

Nov 7, 2016 09:17 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I love the concept that by returning taxpayer dollars to local school districts (instead of handing them to corporations that may or may not create jobs), state government is being "generous."

You better believe school districts in the WOW counties are approving referendums. Every single one. Why should Madison fall behind? Because some cranks don't want to pay for making their community better?

Nov 7, 2016 11:17 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Anon 9:17. Returning tax dollars to Business DOES NOT create jobs. Demand for product creates jobs. Plain and simple. If there is no demand you shutter plants and lay off employees. They are not recalled until demand for the product goes back up. Don't drink the koolaid. This is Basic Economics.

Nov 7, 2016 09:26 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Stop giving our tax money to unacountable voucher schools. Did the AG ever get the money back from the husband and wife you skipped out of Milw. with a trunk full of cash to Florida? Got to keep them happy; the "donations" they make to keep the gop in office are always welcome and keeps their money flowing.

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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