Tax-increase referendums should be held when voters typically show up.
WISCONSIN STATE SEN. Duey Stroebel, who on most topics falls somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, has raised a subject worth serious discussion.
Stroebel and other legislators want a series of changes to election law, specifically how school districts would be able to mount tax referendums. Some of it we like, some of it we dont.
But we do agree Wisconsin should take a hard look at elections held outside the fall, and when voters can be asked to voluntarily raise their taxes.
TAKE A LOOK, for example, at the 2017 spring election cycle. It was fairly typical, meaning the vast majority of Wisconsinites said “I dont care” and declined to vote. Fewer than 2 in 10 voters cast a ballot in the April election. And dont even get us started on the February primary, which was quieter than a graveyard at midnight.
Yet the usual cost for statewide spring elections is somewhere in the $5-6 million range.
For what? To find out citizens are bored with it all?
THAT EXPRESSES THE practical consideration — Why have an election no one is interested in? — but theres also a reason to be at least a little suspicious during low-turnout voting.
When turnout is very low, a motivated minority can sweep the day and a relative handful of ballot-casters can raise taxes for everybody. Thats why, more often than not, governmental jurisdictions are eager to place tax referendums when low turnout is anticipated. Its a lot easier to muster enough yes votes when 90 percent of those eligible are at home eating popcorn.
It would be far more democratic to require all tax-increase referendums to coincide with November elections, with an “out” for emergencies because November elections customarily occur every two years. Of course, the concept of emergency could be manipulated unless it is tightly defined.
For us, its this simple: Taxes for everybody should not be raised because the majority of a 10 percent turnout say so. A much fairer representation of voter sentiment can be measured with higher fall turnouts.
THE PUSHBACK will come from those who argue spring elections are nonpartisan and fall elections are partisan dominated, and all that would just be too confusing for voters. There was a time in the past when we might even have agreed.
Today, though, there are not many truly nonpartisan elections. Those paying attention usually can discern who among candidates has Republican backing and who has Democrat support, often even in local races. It shouldnt be that way — but it is.
Besides, voters ought to be informed enough to sort through such issues anyway.
Perhaps theres some middle ground, keeping some elections in spring while moving larger issues to the fall to maximize exposure to voters. Start with shifting all tax-increase votes, to guard against very small minorities imposing burdens.
THATS NOT EXACTLY what Stroebel and his allies are proposing, though his plan acknowledges the obvious problem with referendum questions. And he has other plans we truly do not like, such as clawing back state aid from districts whose voters approve an increase beyond revenue limits. That would punish communities for displaying the temerity to sass their Madison masters, and we object to such heavy-handed disrespect of local control.
Wisconsin does need to have this conversation, though. We urge legislators to start by looking at changes to place important ballot questions in front of the most voters possible — and thats in the fall.