Everyone has a stake in the schools.

Mary Conroy: Make business pay fair share of taxes (excerpts), the Capital Times, May 22, 2007

Every year, Madison’s School Board gets a tsunami of suggestions on balancing the budget. And that’s as it should be: Everyone has a stake in the schools. It doesn’t matter if you have children, hire graduates or pay property taxes. It doesn’t even matter if you live in Madison.

Far-fetched? Not at all. Public schools are the building blocks of democracy. They are the foundation of our economy. They foster the curiosity that leads to discovery, the creativity that sparks new ideas, the social skills that build strong communities.

But our public schools are now in peril. Statewide, we’ve had one referendum after another. School districts have taken drastic measures, from slicing staff to slashing class offerings, from selling property to shutting schools. Citizens and school boards alike have initiated unusual ways to save money.

We need to take school budgets off the property tax rolls. Currently, our property taxes are so high that people on fixed incomes can’t afford to stay in their homes, even though they’ve already paid their mortgages. It’s not that older residents are against paying school taxes. Some of us on fixed incomes, including me, have never voted against a school referendum. But we may have to if Wisconsin legislators don’t act soon.

For quite some time, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has pressured the legislature to lower the total tax burden on corporations. If corporations here paid taxes at the national average, we’d have almost $1 billion in extra funds, according to a recent analysis by Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future.

Consider these facts:

In 1977, homeowners paid 50 percent of all property taxes. Now they pay 70 percent, because businesses pay so much less.
Twenty years ago, the corporate income tax produced 10 percent of state revenue. Now it pays about half of that.
Most Wisconsin corporations pay no corporate income tax, according to the Department of Revenue.
The worst thing is that the state Legislature has enabled businesses to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. It exempts some businesses from sales taxes. It gives tax credits for research, development and investment in “development zones” (including some areas in which developers would build anyway). The Legislature also exempts manufacturing equipment and business computers from the property tax.

Even ATM machines qualify as computers for that exemption.

Who’s making up for what corporations are too cheap to pay? Lower- and middle-class residents are. As a result, they can’t afford to send their kids to college.

It’s not enough to ask state legislators to make corporations pay their fair share of taxes from now on. It’s time for corporations to pay more than the rest of us do. After all, they’ve been paying less than we have for far too long.

So write to your representatives. Tell them to stop being puppets of the business lobby. Ask them why you should meet your tax duty while corporate Wisconsin gets away with murder.

Mary Conroy is a Madison-based freelance writer.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under AMPS, Budget, Local News, School Finance, Take Action

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