Recently, I had the honor of being named chair of a Joint Council Legislative Study Committee that will examine Wisconsin Technical College System funding and governance responsibilities.
Before we have even convened for the first meeting, concerns have been raised with exploring the current technical college system and its funding sources. There are a few reasons why this topic should be explored.
First, since the mid 90's, the tech college property tax levy has increased by 156.5 percent which exceeds any other levy. That is an average annual growth of 5.08 percent, which has contributed to Wisconsin's high property tax burden relative to other states. This is not only a burden on families and senior citizens living on fixed incomes, but it also negatively impacts economic growth and home ownership.
Second, a number of taxpayers I have spoken with are concerned that unelected boards are charged with setting the technical college property tax levy and this taxation without representation has led to a lack of accountability to taxpayers. This issue warrants discussion and it is important taxpayer's voices are heard. I feel it is critical that the system be as transparent as possible and accountable to taxpayers and employers.
Third, we need to look at the balance that exists between the tech college system and the UW system. There may be opportunities for increased cooperation and efficiencies. To that end, we need to ensure there is not a duplication of services and that the mission of the technical college system complements the UW System.
I believe that any viable option to lower property taxes should be seriously explored. We are already transitioning towards greater reliance on state funding as the legislature voted earlier this year to provide tax relief by replacing $406 million per year in local property tax college funding with state funding. Combined with recent actions by the legislature any further reduction in the tech college's reliance on the property tax levy could result in a total 8.3% property tax decrease, which equates to roughly $260 in annual savings for the average homeowner. The goal of the study committee should be to further explore ways to reduce the tech college tax levy while protecting, and possibly strengthening, the critical link between tech colleges and communities, employers, economic development associations, and K-12 schools. I am confident we can look at ways to protect local control and reduce property taxes, something that should be welcomed by the majority of business owners and residents of our state.
In recent years, the legislature has demonstrated our commitment to improving Wisconsin's business climate. The technical college system plays an irreplaceable role in preparing citizens for the workforce and has led to the betterment of countless lives. I assure you the committee will be focused on improving, not diminishing, the critical role the Wisconsin technical colleges play.
As chair of the committee, I am open to all viewpoints. Opposing any and all reform efforts and refusing to deviate from the status quo would be a missed opportunity to improve the system. I understand the arguments for, and the importance of, local control and district autonomy. I look forward to engaging in some lively debate.
State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) is co-chair of the Legislature's budget writing committee and the Joint Committee on Finance.