Thursday, February 11, 2016

Abele Still Pushing To Make Poor Pay For Bucks Arena

Last year, when the powers that be were trying to hammer out a deal for the Bucks arena, Milwaukee County wasn't going to have to pay anything extra for the arena.  When Milwaukee County Emperor Chris Abele entered the room, he showed off his fiscal conservatism and shrewd negotiating skills and walked out with the county having to pay $80 million for the billionaire's playground.

Abele's plan for coming up with that money was to make poor people in the suburbs pay for it:
To cover $55 million in bonding for the arena, which balloons to $80 million when interest is figured in, Abele plans to turn over the county’s bad debt to the state, which will be responsible for collecting at least $4 million a year for the next 20 years. If the state cannot collect $4 million annually, it will likely deduct the shortfall from the county’s share of state aid, decreasing the county’s revenue.

One of the sources of the county’s bad debt is $16.9 million in unpaid property taxes.

But those delinquent taxes on the county’s books are only from the suburbs—not from the city of Milwaukee, which is responsible for collecting its own unpaid property taxes.

The city’s delinquent property taxes are not part of the Bucks deal at all. Mayor Barrett specifically rejected that source of funding, saying he didn’t want to finance the new arena on the backs of the city’s hardest-hit residents.

That means that suburbanites who are behind on their property taxes will be forced to pay for the new Bucks arena, to be located in Downtown Milwaukee.

In addition, under Abele’s plan the county will lose a lucrative source of income, the 18% of interest and penalties imposed on delinquent property taxpayers. According to a report prepared by County Comptroller Scott Manske, $7.8 million of unpaid interest and penalties is available for collection.

The county expects to collect $3.5 million of interest and penalties this year, which goes directly to the county’s bottom line and offsets the property tax levy.

Manske’s report shows that the county ultimately collects 95% of its delinquent suburban property taxes and 92% of the interest and penalties on those taxes.

If the state takes over the collection of this debt, it could force delinquent taxpayers to pay more quickly. The state can also use collection tools unavailable to the county, including garnishing wages and bank accounts. The state also imposes a 15% fee on collections.
When the arena scheme went to the state legislature for approval, the Republicans couldn't muster enough votes to get it done. So they turned to the Democrats for help.

State Senator Chris Larson, who is running to against Abele, took the opportunity to make sure the proposal still passed but that the poor were taken off the hook for footing the bill.

So, thwarted once again, Abele did what he always does when he doesn't get his way - he ran to his Republican friends in the state legislature and got them to introduce a bill giving him what he wants:

This bill requires that a county having a population of 750,000 or more and containing a first class city enter into an agreement with the Department of Revenue (DOR) to have DOR collect the county's debt, including debt owed to the county circuit court. Other counties are allowed, but not required, to enter into agreements with DOR to collect debt. All such agreements must provide that DOR charge a collection fee to the county for collecting the debt. Under current law, counties may enter into debt collection agreements with DOR, and DOR may charge an administrative fee for collecting debts.

The bill provides that a debt collection agreement between DOR and a county having a population of 750,000 or more and containing a first class city may take effect by the county executive's written proclamation, without any action being taken by, or approval needed from, the county board. The county must certify for collection all debts that are more than 90 days past due, except the county may not certify for collection restitution owed to a person other than the county. If DOR determines that any certified debts are uncollectible, DOR will notify the county of the uncollectible debts and the county may contract with another debt collector to collect those debts.

The bill also authorizes the county executive to establish a division of revenue within the county's department of administration that is responsible for the efficient collection of accounts receivable and the administration of debts collected by DOR. The division is required to establish payment plans for debtors who meet certain income limitations. In general, the division may offer payment plans, including installment plans, to a debtor whose annual household income is less than 150 percent of the federal poverty line for the size of the debtor's household.

Finally, if DOR determines that the county has not certified its debts to DOR to the fullest extent possible, DOR will notify the county of the revenue that it would have collected had the the county completely certified its debts. In addition, DOR will notify the county of the units of county government responsible for not certifying debts and the county must reduce its funding to such units in proportion to the amounts not collected.
There's a few key things to note in this awful piece of legislation.

One, in the first paragraph, it clearly points out that this bill is targeting Milwaukee County and only Milwaukee County.

Secondly, the wording in the third paragraph is Abele's fingerprint on the bill, usurping even more power into his hands. After all, one can't expect Abele to allow the county board to have a say in the matter. They have this nasty habit of listening to the people and representing them. That's a major obstacle for Abele's plutocratic agenda.

Thirdly, as pointed out in the first excerpt, the county doesn't have enough bad debt to cover the cost, so the rest of the bill will be taken out of the county's shared revenue.  Given Abele's love of austerity, the gentle reader knows he's not going to raise taxes.

Instead, Abele will cut services and continue with deferred maintenance and repairs of county assets.  After all, it's not like we have iconic county assets falling apart before our eyes or anything.

Lastly, it should be noted, especially by Milwaukee County voters, that Larson did try to stop Abele's economic jihad against the poor and the taxpayers.  Furthermore, Larson was key in getting the referendum on a sales tax dedicated to the parks and transit systems introduced to the ballot and passed by the voters.

Yet another reason why we need to Toss The Boss and elect Chris Larson as the next Milwaukee County Executive.

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