New Berlin School Board member Art Marquardt testifies on the Taxpayer Protection Amendment
Good afternoon. Thanks for allowing me to testify at this hearing on the Taxpayer
Protection Amendment. My name is Art Marquardt and I am the Treasurer of the New
Berlin Board of Education. I am here as a private citizen and am not speaking for the
Board or for New Berlin Public Schools.
What is the problem? High government spending and taxes. Wisconsin ranks 5th in the
nation in tax burden as a percentage of personal income. According to the Tax
Foundation and US Commerce Department Bureau of Economic Analysis, Wisconsin
taxpayers send 11.4 % of their gross income to state and local governments. This is more
than 10% above the national average. There is even worse news. We are dead last
among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for tax friendliness to retirees. We
can’t change Wisconsin’s winter weather, but we can improve our tax climate.
Something needs to be done to reign in the growth of government spending. The
Taxpayer Protection Amendment is that something.
You will hear much doom and gloom from opponents of this amendment. They will say
that “Government can not continue to deliver services without larger and larger tax
increases.” Public employee unions will fight this for all they are worth.
School districts in the state of Wisconsin have been under similar revenue restraints for
more than a decade. The sky has not fallen. Most districts in the state have reigned in
spending by focusing on core curriculum and eliminating non-core services. In fact my
district has through reorganizing our elementary schools found the money within the
current revenue cap formula to build a new 5 track elementary school replacing two
others, make renovations to another elementary school and make over $30 million in
improvements to one of our high schools. As the debt for these projects is retired we will
be able to continue on our long term plan to maintain, improve and replace our facilities
as they need to be retired without going to referendum for additional taxing authority.
The revenue cap on school district spending has increased the effectiveness and
efficiency of the public school systems in the state. Forcing districts to prioritize
spending requests instead of funding everything has resulted in better programs and more
accountability. Every district in this state has had improvement in student learning since
1993. Test scores don’t lie.
Cities, villages, towns, and school districts that face needs that require higher spending
increases than allowed under the TPA should not be afraid of facing the voters to ask for
that additional money. If there truly is a need, and not just a want, the taxpayers will
come through for them. They will need to show that they have been good stewards of all
of the money currently spent, but that is a feature of this change, not a bug.
While I am here to strongly support the TPA there will be several actions that the state
legislature will need to take to make this change work as intended. When the TPA
becomes effective the current revenue limits on school districts should be repealed,
putting all taxing authorities on the same program of revenue restraints. TPA is in effect
bringing the rest of state and local government under the rules that school districts have
lived under since 1993. Repealing the cap statutes and relying on the TPA will simplify
the process of budgeting for school districts as they will have the appropriate revenue
limit numbers much earlier than under current law. The legislature should also take this
opportunity to clean up or repeal state statutes that relate to limits or rewards to other
taxing authorities for following the limits that will be mandated by the TPA.
Now would be a good time to take a look at all of our state statutes and regulations with a
red pen, repealing all of those oddball special provisions that have crept into state law
over the years. Here is one example for you. There is a provision in state statute that
requires a school board to require the teaching of the benefits of drinking milk. Now I
am a milk drinker, and think that as part of the curriculum on health and well being we
should discuss the part milk and other foods takes in a healthy diet. This mandate does
not belong in a state statute. The costs of documentation to prove compliance with
mandates like this exceeds the cost of the mandate by a factor of ten at least. There are
hundreds of these types of special interest requirements scattered throughout state law
that in aggregate cost the citizens of Wisconsin millions of dollars with no real benefit. I
heard just today that the state senate has passed another unfunded mandate on local
school systems. We will need your help in controlling our costs. Public employee
insurance pooling, HSAs, contracting of services, government unit consolidation and
bargaining rule changes can all help to control the costs of government services. Many of
these changes may require changes to state law. None of this is painless, but will lead to
much more efficient use of tax dollars and will give elected officials a reason to say no to
the next special interest to line up at the pay window.
In conclusion, the Taxpayer Protection Amendment will help to slow the growth in
government spending, will force taxing authorities to justify larger spending increases to
the community and will provide a backstop forcing government bodies to prioritize
spending. In addition, as has been seen in our K12 education system, limiting the
increases in spending can actually force innovations and efficiencies on bureaucratic
institutions allergic to change. The consent of the governed is what gives our form of
government its authority. Allowing reasonable increases in funding based upon inflation
and the rate of personal income growth along with a bypass provision that allows the
governed to agree to larger increases is a sensible middle ground. The TPA does just
that. Passage of the TPA will help to make Wisconsin a place where people can afford to
visit, live, do business and retire.
Thanks again for listening. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or
for official business at the address posted on the New Berlin Schools web site.
Treasurer New Berlin Board of Education