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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Taxes & Fees Rose 43% Under Tom Barrett

12:29 PM, May 4, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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A new poll released Wednesday by Marquette University Law School shows Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett cruising to victory in Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial recall primary. And it looks likely that the June 5 recall election between Barrett and Governor Scott Walker will come down to the wire. According to the same poll, Walker leads Barrett 48% to 47% among likely voters.

But, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, Barrett may have a tough time defending his record on taxes in his race against Walker:

Even before the primary, taxes have emerged as a key issue in the June 5 recall general election against Walker, with GOP campaign ads hammering Falk and Barrett for property tax increases."

As county executive, Walker proposed freezing the tax levy each year, the Milwaukee County Board raised taxes by overriding his vetoes, and Walker then used the higher levy as his base for the following year's proposed tax freeze. By contrast, the Milwaukee Common Council usually has trimmed the levy below what Barrett proposed, while the Dane County Board sometimes adopted Falk's proposed levy and sometimes increased it.

In his first campaign, Barrett vowed not to raise the tax rate. That rate dropped 5.5% in 2005, then dropped twice more and rose five times, for a net decrease of 4.9%.

Barrett also promised his first budget would not raise the levy beyond the growth of the tax base from new construction - a formula that legislative Republicans were pushing at the time as a "tax freeze." The 2005 levy rose 2%, just below the 2.2% new construction growth.

But Barrett and aldermen have relied on user fees to bear more costs that otherwise would be covered by property taxes. While the levy rose 25% in eight years, revenue from the four major municipal service fees jumped 132%, for combined tax and fee growth of 43%.

That was an average combined increase of 4.6% a year, or nearly twice the average inflation rate of 2.5% during that period.

Walker has been touting the news that property taxes had dropped in the state for the first time in 13 years as a clear sign that his budget reforms are working. Barrett has attacked the property tax cap enacted by Walker and the Republican legislature and refused to say how he would have balanced the state's budget. "The answer is they’d have to do what they did in Illinois, which is massive tax increases, massive service cuts, and layoffs," Walker said in a recent interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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