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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Newspaper Misinforms On Referendum While Telling Readers To Get Informed


"Under state law, the increase in the levy of the City of Janesville for the tax to be imposed for the next fiscal year (2015) is limited to .908%, which results in a levy of $29,712,286. Shall the City of Janesville be allowed to exceed this limit and increase the levy for the next fiscal year (2015), by a total of 4.039%, which results in a levy of $30,912,286? If this referendum is approved, the amount of approved increase in the levy will be available to the City only through the year 2019." Yes _____ N_____

If you want to get informed with correct information about Janesville's tax hike referendum or the local citizens two referenda that were left helplessly dangling by the Janesville city council, you've come to the right place.

It's very unfortunate that the city council approved "reframing" the language in their own so-called "street repair" referendum (NOT the citizens referenda) that basically insults local taxpayers. Yet once again, it's the Janesville Gazette newspaper that not only repeatedly goes along with the city's ill-advised narrative, but doubles down on both the insult and the errors.

JG Editorial Excerpt:
(Titled: City's critics should get informed, do better)

Many people also don't understand that the state limits how much the city can increase its tax levy each year. The amount is based on the percentage increase in value from new construction. That has led to tax increases in the 1 percent to 2 percent range for recent budgets in Janesville. That's hardly frivolous and barely keeps up with inflation.

The problem with the above statement is that the "state" the Gazette editorial is referring to, and the limits they seem to be complaining about were newly imposed on local governments by their endorsed governor, Scott Walker, and state republicans Act 10 law. Before Walker, local elected officials were able to control their own costs and levies without central state power intervention. If the newspaper has a problem with that, they should take it up with their endorsed governor or join the effort to replace him.

OR embrace the suck.

JG editorial excerpt: One way around that limit is to borrow for major projects. The state allows cities to exceed levy limits to pay off debt.

That's only half true. Walker and company did not take away local officials power to borrow, so the city can borrow for major projects. Essentially, the state says local officials can exceed levy limits without asking voters, but only using borrowed money - WITH DEBT.

For instance, the Janesville city council could borrow a billion dollars tomorrow if they so choose, providing they found a lender and were able to pay it back without raising taxes. NO STATE PERMISSION OR REFERENDUM IS REQUIRED.

However, (returning to Act 10 restrictions) the only way Walker and company will now allow local communities to raise the tax levy (revenue) beyond the increase in value from new construction is through referendum.

JG editorial excerpt: That's why the city council last month approved a plan to ask residents in November if they support borrowing $1.2 million a year for five years to catch up on street maintenance.

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! That's a completely false statement on two counts.

One, the city council is NOT asking residents to borrow. Period. The word "borrow" or any terms related to borrowing activity does not appear anywhere in the referendum question. The city council is asking residents to approve raising the property tax levy by 4.039%. Those are the facts. Remember, the city is not required to go to referendum to borrow - only to tax.

Two. The referendum is NOT about "street maintenance." Again, the referendum question contains NO language about streets or maintenance, nor does it imply the additional money will be used exclusively for streets. Because it is a binding referendum, the city is bound only by the language set forth in the referendum. That means the city is asking voters to approve taxing property owners above state imposed levy limits on the city's budget by $1.2 million a year for the next five years. That's it. Period.

The city could spend the extra money on administration raises or new vehicles - or on anything including road repair.

Despite multiple stories and editorials from the Gazette about Janesville's referendum being a question to approve street repair, spending or borrowing - the referendum is about none of that.

Now, perhaps that is the message city officials want to send to taxpayers and voters, but it is wrong and misleading AND in truth, was incumbent upon the Janesville Gazette to set the record straight. Instead, the newspaper helps the city misinform voters and ridicules those who question the misleaders.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article! Could you post a link to the referendum question on street repairs. I could not find it at the rock county website.

Lou Kaye said...

Thanks for noticing that glaring omission. I posted the question at the top of the story.

Anonymous said...

The misdirection in that ed is so obvious even for a casual reader like myself. I've got to wonder what mistakes are the Gazette tools covering up for and who are they really defending? They really look foolish.

Anonymous said...

These Gazette news stories outline the referendum issues in plan enough language so that it's clear this would be a tax increase, not a borrowing proposition: The first linked story is outdated in the sense that when it was written, it was a few days prior to the city council decided to roll back the terms of the referendum from 10 years to 5 years. The Gazette has reported from day one that this would be a tax increase, and its impact on the "average" resident also is reported:

Neil Johnson, reporter
The Gazette

Lou Kaye said...

You should send your links (along with mine) to the city council and the person who wrote that editorial and ask them what went wrong, because I don't see anything in the referendum question reflecting those stories titled about street repair or the editorial twisting it into a borrowing question. They simply don't match. And, the average voter should not have to reference an archive of newspaper articles to see what the referendum was hyped up to be before they cast their vote - not to mention the referendum question lacks the language dedicating the revenue to street repair.

Anonymous said...

As a Gazette home subscriber and follower of this blog, it's now clear to me that the city is using “street repair” as a crutch in hopes of winning a 4% budget tax increase. They're playing off of resident's sentiment built up by the articles at the same time decoupling themselves legally from street repairs through referendum. The Gazette's editorial on this disregards their journalists hard work and makes the paper look complicit with the city's deception. Way too much "by design", IMO. I’m voting NO.

Lou Kaye said...

anon 7:50, you're entitled to a big long loud "BINGOOOOO!"

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