By Matt Pommer
When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton answered “because that’s where the money is.”
Folks upset about taxes might want to remember the answer from the infamous bank robber. If you don’t like your taxes, try to persuade lawmakers to cut government spending.
In Wisconsin, the place to start is local education. During the 2008-09 school year, Wisconsin spent $9.5 billion on kindergarten through high school, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The state government share was $6.296 billion.
Overall state support for local schools has ranged between 65.12 percent and 66.06 percent in the past three years, according to the Fiscal Bureau. That money has come from general purpose revenue taxes such as the personal income tax, the sales tax and the corporate income tax.
Wisconsin has a program of state aid to school districts to meet the constitutional goal of an equal education. Property poor districts get large chunks of state aid; property rich districts get far less.
Last year Beloit got 88 percent of its revenue from the state. Twenty others also received more than 80 percent. On the other end of the table, 15 districts received less than 25 percent of their budgets from the state.
Some protests, dubbed as tea party rallies, call for cuts in taxes, especially those collected by the state.
School costs are difficult to curb. Scores of municipalities, as well as state government itself, are resorting to unpaid furlough days for their workers to reduce spending.
To resort to that tactic in public schools, state law would need to be changed. It now specifies 180 days of in-school education for each child.
This year state government used $552.3 million in federal stimulus money (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) to help finance schools. It marked the first time federal money has been appropriated to support Wisconsin school districts.
Finance experts estimate Wisconsin will enter the 2011-13 budget with a $2 billion gap, including the stimulus money. Clearly tax protesters have their work cut out for them. Maybe they should approach it with the enthusiasm Sutton showed for robbing banks.
“I enjoyed everything about it (robbing banks) so much that one or two weeks later I’d be out looking for the next job,” he said.
Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.