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Tax, Aid Changes Also Urged in Wisconsin

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Wisconsin would pick up a significantly greater share of public-school costs under a sweeping set of recommendations approved by Gov. Tommy Thompson's commission on local property-tax relief.

The proposals, which were approved by the panel on Sept. 18, seek to increase the state's share of precollegiate-education spending from its current level of 46.7 percent to nearly 70 percent. They also call for a 25 percent reduction in property taxes, according to Robert Hanle, a state budget analyst working for the commission.

"The most significant thing about this," said James Klauser, Wisconsin's secretary of administration, "is the commitment on the part of the state that it will become the major funding source for the K-12 school system."

New Funding Formula

Governor Thompson appointed the 23-member commission in February, soon after he took office.

His action was prompted by growing resentment--particularly in the state's depressed agricultural and rural communities--over rising property-tax levies. Wisconsin ranks 13th in the nation in the amount of property taxes paid on a per-capita basis, Mr. Hanle said. Public-school costs, on average, account for more than half of local property-tax bills.

The commission included members of farmers' groups that have vigorously protested rising property taxes, as well as state legislators, school administrators and board members, realtors, and representatives of teachers' unions, municipalities, and businesses.

The centerpiece of the group's recommendations was a dramatic reshaping of the state's school-finance formula.

Under the proposal, every district would levy a property tax of $4 per $1,000 of assessed value, far below the 1986 statewide average of about $14 per $1,000 of assessed value. The state, in turn, would guarantee districts additional funds to raise spending to $4,200 per pupil.

Districts would be prohibited from spending more than 35 percent above the $4,200 "foundation" amount, Mr. Hanle said. Those that currently spend more than that amount would have five years in which to gradually decrease their spending levels. Similarly, districts that now spend less than $4,200 per pupil would be granted a five-year period in which to raise spending.

'Funny Money'

The school-finance plan has come under attack from Representative Marlin Schneider, who was one of two commission members to vote against the proposals. Mr. Schneider, the chairman of the legislature's joint finance committee, took issue with the commission's recommendation's for8funding the $1.1-billion plan.

The commission proposed paying for the program by: shifting $270- million to the school-aid budget from other local-assistance programs financed from the general fund; raising $705 million by either increasing the sales tax from 5 cents to 6 cents or by eliminating some sales-tax exemptions; revising the state income-tax code to collect an additional $70 million; and raising approximately $54 million from a new state lottery.

Mr. Schneider called the expected lottery proceeds "funny money" because, he said, the legislature had not yet approved a law authorizing a lottery. He also expressed skepticism that $705 million in new sales-tax revenues could be raised.

The recommendations are now before Governor Thompson, who has not yet indicated whether he will include them in his legislative proposal to the General Assembly. During his election campaign last year, the Governor pledged to lower property taxes and increase the state's share of public-education costs to half or more by 1991--a considerably more modest proposal than the 70 percent state share recommended by the commission.

The Republican Governor also faces a Democratic-controlled legislature in his attempts to revamp state finance laws, Mr. Schneider pointed out.

"I think he's got a tiger by the tail and can't let go," Mr. Schneider said.

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