Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Biggest Taxer in Town

Over the last five years property taxes have been driven by just one of the five local taxing units: Milwaukee Public Schools.

By - Jan 15th, 2013 09:00 am
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It’s that time of year homeowners hate, when they have to pay their annual property tax bill. Sales tax is paid in barely noticeable amounts on purchases all year, and the income tax is gradually withheld on your regular paycheck, but the property tax generates one big fat bill annually. Small wonder it’s such a hated tax.

The good news for the average city taxpayer was that the combined property tax levy rose by just 1.2 percent in 2012.  That includes the levy from five different governmental entities, the biggest being Milwaukee Public Schools ($10.35 per $1,000 of assessed value), followed by the City of Milwaukee ($10.25), Milwaukee County ($5.26), Milwaukee Area Technical College ($2.21), and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District ($1.70).

Four of those five entities have kept their tax levy increases below the rise in inflation over the last five years. From 2007-2012, the cost of living rose 11 percent, while MATC’s levy actually dropped by 1.3 percent, compared to a 5.1 percent increase for the MMSD, 7.2 percent for Milwaukee County and 10.1 percent for the City of Milwaukee. Only Milwaukee Public Schools exceeded the inflation rate, increasing its tax levy by a whopping 19.7 percent over this five-year period.

Milwaukee Public Schools Logo

Milwaukee Public Schools

Indeed, going back ten years, MPS has surpassed all the other four units of government in levy growth. Back in 2002, MPS actually had a smaller levy than the City of Milwaukee, but it has grown at such a disproportionate rate it now ranks first in town, with the biggest property tax levy. The principal reasons for this are the high cost of benefits like retiree health insurance, and a shrinking base of students and per-pupil payments, due to continued losses in enrollment to choice and charter schools and open enrollment. But under the leadership of superintendent Gregory Thornton, the district’s tax levy rose just 1 percent in 2012, which is remarkably low compared to past years.

Update 3:10 p.m. January 15: MPS spokesperson Tony Tagliavia has provided data (see comments) that separates the MPS levy from the cost of voucher schools and which shows the MPS-only levy actually declined by 2.4 percent over the last two years while the cost of the choice program rose 8.1 percent.  If and when he is able to separate out data in years prior to that we will be happy to publish those.

War on Chief Flynn Ends — For Now

There were no huge surprises in the recent audit by the Florida-based PRI Management Group, the consultant hired by the Fire & Police Commission to review the Milwaukee Police Department’s handling of crime data. The report defended the department and bashed the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for misleading coverage, concluding that “the allegations inferring the Milwaukee Police Department had intentionally altered (data) are baseless. The Milwaukee Police Department is not hiding crimes, erasing statistics or undertaking other efforts to present a false picture of crime…”

Perhaps more interesting has been the range of media observers defending Chief Ed Flynn, from conservatives like radio talkers Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes to more liberal observers like Milwaukee Magazine’s Pressroom columnist Erik Gunn and the weekly Shepherd Express.

Sykes, in fact, offered a funny introduction to his column, warning that “in this column, there will be strange bedfellows. Dogs and cats living together.” He then proceeded to quote columns by Gunn and by me (and Sykes is no fan of mine).

Sykes charged there was a “journalistic jihad waged against the chief by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has devoted thousands of words and slain whole forests in their attempt to suggest that Flynn has been fudging the crime numbers.” It’s “a case study in the flaws of prize-hunting, agenda-driven vendetta journalism,” he added.

Gunn has written that some of the JS stories have had “serious shortcomings” and were “flawed investigative projects” that were “colored by years of bad blood between the paper and the department, particularly Chief Ed Flynn.“

Shepherd Express reporter Lisa Kaiser offered a straight-forward report noting the consultant found no proof of data being manipulated but “found many problems with the Journal Sentinel’s misleading articles.”

Perhaps the most powerful part of the consultant’s report ticked off the many factors that would deter a police department from attempting to cook the books: “The intentional manipulation of crime stats would require changing a police report to include information which is contrary to the truth or what was written by the reporting officer. Doing so is a crime if done for this purpose… if caught the repercussions would be catastrophic to the individual personally, to their careers, to their livelihood and to the department. Furthermore, to intentionally change a field on a report for the purposes of lowering a crime rate in a major metropolitan city would require doing so by the hundreds and… would require aligning the multiple people involved in the crime reporting process including civilian records personnel, supervisors and command staff to oblige to committing such an illegal act by the hundreds and expect to get away with it knowing that at any given moment a crime victim or a member of the media could obtain copies of the reports and expose the conspiracy.

“To truly lower crime artificially and successfully conceal the effort, reports of crimes to the police would have to be erased from the multiple places the information simultaneously resides including departmental databases, computer-aided dispatch systems, records management systems, back-up media, phone recordings and mobile computers.”

In short, it’s not easy to cook the books and the Journal Sentinel never came close to proving this was happening. But rather than confess its error, it ran story after story attempting to prove what it couldn’t. I would like to think the consultant’s report closes the chapter on this sort of reporting, but I share Gunn’s fear that there is still bad blood between the newspaper and the chief, which will fuel more unfair reporting. I hope I’m wrong.

Short Takes

-As I predicted last August, then Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald was running for the U.S. Senate simply to build up his name recognition for a planned job as a legislative lobbyist. Fitzgerald has now registered as a lobbyist for School Choice Wisconsin.

-Count blogger and Parks People president Dan Cody as one of those who supports reducing the county supervisors to a part-time salary. Cody, who ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor, losing to former state representative David Cullen, points to Cullen as the poster boy for a lazy board: Cullen has been double dipping, continuing to collect his state legislator salary after being elected to the county board, yet “can’t seem to find the time” to get his website updated, Cody complains.

-State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) has actually been placed on a watch list maintained by Capitol Police officers to keep tabs on people participating in the Solidarity Sing Along, the Cap Times reported.

-The recent announcement by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign that it will lose half of its funding, all the grant money it has received annually from the Joyce Foundation, is worrisome. Until the WDC was established in 1995, you had to wade through hand-written campaign finance reports, and it would take umpteen hours to check donors to major campaigns like those for governor. Campaigns would be far less transparent without the WDC’s computerized data base of donors. Here’s hoping the group is able to replace this funding.

16 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Biggest Taxer in Town”

  1. Rich says:

    Hopefully there will be at least a small reprieve in JS’s war on Chief Flynn, now that Ben Poston has leveraged his flawed and unfair reporting into a job with the LA Times.

  2. Dohnal says:

    If MPS taxed us based on their success in teaching kids to read they would owe us money.
    All of you out there that want to see Milwaukee prosper and have your tony and sophisticated Wast Side life need to realize that Milwaukee is going to continue to go down hill as long as you have Rip Van Barrett as your mayor, the kids come out of school and cannot read and the next generation cannot find a decent job and live off welfare.

  3. MPS’ share of the school tax levy has actually decreased by 2.4% over the last two years as shown in the data below. The figures below also make clear that growth in the voucher/Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) has fueled overall levy increases over the same time period. State law compels MPS’ Board of School Directors to levy a tax for both MPS and the MPCP.

    2010 MPS-only levy: $253 million
    2011 MPS-only levy: $248.2 million (-1.9%)
    2012 MPS-only levy: $247 million (-0.5%, -2.4% over 2 years)

    2010 MPCP levy: $40.5 million
    2011 MPCP levy: $49.6 million (+22.5%)
    2012 MPCP levy: $53.6 million (+8.1%, +32.3% over 2 years)

    2010 total school levy: $293.5 million
    2011 total school levy: $297.8 million (+1.5%)
    2012 total school levy: $300.6 million (+0.9%, +2.4% over 2 years)

    @Dohnal, most MPS schools rated in new state report cards are growing achievement better than or roughly as well as the state as a whole. MPS agrees: we have a long way to go to improve student achievement, but key indicators point in the right direction. Our graduation rate is 17 percentage points higher than it was for the class of 2000. In the last year, we saw significant increases in test score proficiency among some of our historically lowest performing groups. Twenty-nine MPS schools meet or exceed the state’s new higher expectations on the report cards — and U.S. News and World Report ranked two MPS high schools as best in Wisconsin and the only two Wisconsin high schools among the nation’s 200 best.

    Tony Tagliavia
    Milwaukee Public Schools

  4. Jesse Hagen says:

    Dohnal, as you know Barrett doesn’t have anything to do with MPS.

    MPS is a product of the state of Wisconsin, they fund most of it & determine the governance structure of it. I’m still waiting for Walker & the GOP majorities to do anything about it.

    If MPS is to be split up or the leadership changed, Walker holds all the cards. I won’t hold my breath though, he needs MPS to fail so he can get dupes like you all fired up. It doesn’t hurt that it feeds the prisons as a rural make-work program.

  5. Mike says:

    Mr. Murphy, You’ve stumbled onto a great issue here. As the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) enrollment has grown, one would expect its total cost to legitimately increase. One would also expect this cost to be offset by savings elsewhere. This doesn’t seem to have happened. As I understand it, state funding formulas penalize Milwaukee taxpayers every time a student transfers to MPCP. This policy makes no sense to me. Maybe you could sharpen your pencil and see if MPCP is saving the local tax payer money and if not, why not. I don’t have an axe to grind against MPS or MPCP. One can find good and bad outcomes in both.

  6. @Mike,

    When discussing the issue you referenced, it’s worth noting that voucher schools/MPCP aren’t growing solely because of “transfers” out of MPS. As the Public Policy Forum noted in its most recent report on the MPCP, many students who came into MPCP after the income cap was raised were already attending the very same private schools — but they went from being tuition-paying students to taxpayer-paid students because the income limit was raised.

    Tony Tagliavia
    Milwaukee Public Schools

  7. Bruce Thompson says:

    Another factor to include in the mix is the effect of reduced state aid.

  8. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    For 30 years I have listeend to all the BS from MPS and not much has changed except the Educrats get richer.
    If MPS had not run out and signed new contracts they could have forced the educrats to pay up like the rest of the state did.
    As for Barrett he has a responsibility to grow and make this city prosper and as bad as the schools have been for decades he could have been a force to make them better, but chooses to just shut up.
    In Wisconsin we have five forces in education: DPI, educrats, teachers, unions and students. Guess who get the least of the money.
    Spending in education has more than triple over inflation the last 40 years and all you ever hear is whining.
    They teach kids to read in China, Tibet, Bangladesh but ponly 30% of MPS tenth grades can read enough to read the Journal every day.
    The Libs know how to spend money and take care of their buddies but the kids can go to hell. We have lost hundreds of thousands of kids the last 40 years, to poverty cause of this liberal disaster.
    Doyle was in charge of this state for 8 years and education got worse.

  9. Jesse Hagen says:

    So Dohnal, for some reason you didn’t tell us what Walker’s plan for MPS is? The state is the only entity that can change MPS’s structure & it provides a majority of funding.

    Walker has the votes to pass anything he wants, is Walker out of ideas? Is he going to stop wasting the state’s money on MPS?

    While I wait for your response, I’m going to put my money on Walker+company doing absolutely nothing. They want to see MPS fail, it gives mental midgets ammo to criticize Milwaukee despite the state’s responsibility.

  10. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    We need the community to produce, Walker cannot come down here and teach kids to read all he can do is set the stage. There is no more money, and will never be, if MPS does not produce. People up state are tired of listening to the whining and moaning and demands for more money for educrats, unions and teachers.
    Conservatives are the only ones that have produced results in education in this state. Knowles was the education governor, I wanted to split up MPS in 1974 when I was running Dyke campaign, Tommy wanted to make it over so that it would work. Dreyfuss put in ton of money to no avail.
    Now we are forming the Fredereick Douglass Society to encourage the teaching of reading to kids.
    If these people now running cannot do these things, then quit, we will happily replace all of you. No one could do worse.

    NO MORE EXCUSES!!!!!

  11. Jesse Hagen says:

    So you’re saying Walker’s plan is to do nothing? That’s the grand scheme on how MPS will do better, keep doing exactly what hasn’t been working.

    And people say conservatives are out of ideas… but they’re not out of exclamation points, that’s gotta count for something, right?

  12. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    where did I say that Walker is going to do nothing? You must be standard liberal lose in Milw. Walker has lots of plans but we need the voters, parents of Milwaukee to get behind programs that work and the kick the asses f the failed leaders that you have. “There is nothing more powerful than an idea has come”.
    I have been crusading for teaching inner city kids for 40 years since Reynolds and Barbee set about ruining the schools with busing.
    We cannot lose all of these kids cause Liberals are incapable of ruining the governments and teaching kids.

  13. Jesse Hagen says:

    What are Walker’s plans? Call everyone in Milwaukee a loser?

    Where is Walker on MPS? Out. To. Lunch.

  14. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    You need to read the constitution of this state. The state is responsible for education through the DPI, a pretty much worthless organization run by Liberals spending billions for decades and accomplishing nothing, then it comes down to the Joint shcool districts organized by the GOP legislature in the 60′s under Warren Knowles, then the individual school boards, elected by the dopes in Milwaukee, who have consistently elected people who have made things worse for 40 years.
    Where do you find Walker in there?

  15. blurondo says:

    The empty bucket makes the most noise.

  16. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Boy are you right there, and Milwaukee is the biggest empty bucket in the state. MPS has kids that can’t read in tenth grade. City of Milwaukee is going now here, no jobs. 57% unemployment for kids and going nowhere.
    That is really an empty bucket and all we hear is a constant whine and more excuses.
    The elites stuff their pockets with the rest of the peoples money.

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