Wednesday, March 19, 2014 | NEWS
Study: Voters approve more than half of all "nonrecurring" referenda
Editor’s note: Three local school districts, Siren, Luck and St. Croix Falls, are holding a referendum vote in the spring election, April 1, asking district voters to exceed state-imposed revenue limits in order to meet various expenses.
MADISON - During 2009-13, Wisconsin school districts held 204 referenda to exceed state-imposed revenue limits, with only 39, or less than 20 percent, asking to exceed them permanently, through recurring referenda.
That was a reversal from 1994-98 when about four in five referenda were recurring. In a new report, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance explains the shift is likely due to public preferences. On average, voters approve about one-third of permanent (recurring) referenda, but more than half of temporary (nonrecurring) ones.
WISTAX is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to public policy research and citizen education.
The new report, To Exceed or Not To Exceed? During 20 Years of School Referenda, That’s Been the Question, notes two interesting characteristics of successful nonrecurring referenda. First, on average, referenda that pass ask for fewer years of revenue capacity than those that fail. For example, during 2012 and 2013, successful referenda asked to exceed the state limits for an average of 3.2 years; unsuccessful ones, for 4.0 years.
Second, those that pass are larger, on average, than those that fail. During 1994-2013, successful referenda asked to exceed limits by an average of 8.0 percent, while unsuccessful ones would have exceeded them by only 6.4 percent. During 2009-13, the gap widened (9.7 percent versus 6.2 percent). WISTAX researchers note that districts asking for relatively larger amounts of spending authority might have greater financial problems that are recognized by voters. Researchers found little evidence that referendum "size" played a significant role in the success of recurring referenda.
Since 1994, school districts have asked for $1.3 billion in extra revenue via nonrecurring referenda. Voters have approved $693 million. Voters also approved about $100 million in permanent (recurring) additions to their caps.
School district revenue limits were implemented in 1993-94 to help limit growth in school property taxes. The limits cap the amount of revenue districts can collect from a combination of state school aids and property taxes. Districts can exceed the limits with voter approval.
In its latest report, WISTAX also examines a third type of school referendum, borrowing for building, remodeling or other large "one-time" expenditures. Since 1994, school districts have held 1,593 of these referenda, asking to borrow a total of $14.98 billion. Voters approved 54 percent (863) of the referenda, but only 47 percent ($7.04 billion) of the borrowing requested. Unlike nonrecurring referenda, voters tended to support smaller rather than larger amounts of borrowing. During 1994-2013, voters approved an average of $4,470 per student (inflation adjusted) in borrowing. Borrowing that was turned down averaged $6,520 per student.
A free copy of The Wisconsin Taxpayer magazine, To Exceed or Not To Exceed? During 20 Years of School Referenda, That’s Been the Question, is available by visiting wistax.org, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; calling 608-241-9789 or writing WISTAX at 401 North Lawn Ave., Madison, WI 53704-5033. - from WTA
Local school referenda - April 1
Siren referendum: Siren School District is asking voters to support a proposal to tax $250,000 in excess of the annual revenue limits imposed by the state for the next five school years to maintain current levels of educational programming, expenditures and operations. See more information HERE.
St. Croix Falls - referendum - The school district is asking voters to approve an extra $240,000 per year for five years for providing one to one computers to all students in the upper grades and grade level sets of computers for students in the lower grades. The tax impact, according to the district will 38 cents per $1,000 dollars of property value but the elimination soon of a $190,000/year bond payment will lower the tax impact to 8.5 cents per $1,000 value or $8.50 a year on a $100,000 home. See more information HERE.
• Luck - referendum - The school district is asking voters to approve a five year non-recurring revenue override in the amount of $300,000 a year to make up for lost state revenue. More information is available HERE.