GOP Lawmakers Offer Package of Bills Restricting School District Referendums

A package of six bills labelled as “referendum reforms” was unveiled today by Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), the Senate author of all but one of the bills, and a number of Assembly Republican authors, mostly from southeastern Wisconsin or the Fox Valley.

These six bills would:

  • Eliminate Referendums to Exceed Revenue Limits on a Recurring (Permanent) Basis—This bill would eliminate recurring operating referendums and limit the duration of successful non-recurring (temporary) operating referendums to 5 years, creating an automatic “cliff effect.” The bill would also convert all previously approved recurring (permanent) operating expense referendums to non-recurring (temporary) operating referendums with a duration of 5 years. The five-year clock would begin in the year the bill, if enacted as a new law, is published. (LRB 0470/1, authored by Sen. Stroebel, Rep. Brandtjen)
  • Require Referendums to be Scheduled on General Election Dates—This bill would require, with certain exceptions (e.g., in cases of fire or natural disaster) that all referendum votes must be held on the dates of Spring and Fall General Elections. The Spring election is held annually on the first Tuesday in April. The Fall General election occurs in even-numbered years on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. This would provide two opportunities in an even-numbered year and only one opportunity in an odd-numbered year. (LRB 0811/2, authored by Sen. Stroebel, Rep. Schraa)
  • Creating a General Aid Penalty for Exceeding Revenue Limits by Referendum and Allowing School Boards to Rescind Revenue Limit Increases Previously Approved by Referendum—Under this bill, a school district’s general school aid payment would be reduced by 20 percent of the excess revenue approved by any operating referendum after the effective date of the bill. Operating referendum ballot questions would be required to include an estimate of any reduction in general school aid that would occur if the referendum is approved. The bill would also allow a school board to rescind all or a portion of its revenue authority granted under a successfully approved operating referendum. (LRB 0829/1, authored by Sen. Stroebel, Rep. Weatherston)
  • Fund 46 Partial Match Program— This bill requires the DPI to provide matching funds (at a 50 percent match rate) for deposits that a school board makes to a long-term capital improvement trust fund (Fund 46). The bill would also require the DPI to make a one-time payment to school boards for any funds deposited in a long-term capital improvement trust fund before July 1, 2017. However, the bill would also require that if a school board adopts a resolution to increase the school district’s levy limit for operating costs or capital costs, the school board would be required to refund to the DPI any matching funds it received for a deposit to its Fund 46 during the ten school years immediately preceding the resolution. If a school board fails to refund the amount of the matching funds to DPI within 12 months, DPI must reduce the school district’s state aid to cover the amount due. (LRB 0868/1, authored by Sen. Stroebel, Rep. Sanfelippo)

(Fund 46 (Long-Term Capital Improvement Trust Fund) refers to a mechanism by which a school board that adopts a 10-year capital improvement plan can set aside money in a segregated bank account for future maintenance or capital improvement projects. The money set aside comes from Fund 10, which is subject to the revenue limit, may be used only for capital projects specified in the ten-year plan. Funds set aside in Fund 46 may not be used for five-year period from the date of the first deposit into the fund. Because the money set aside in Fund 46 is counted as a shared cost in the year it is set aside, not when it is spent, Fund 46 can help a district smooth out its aid eligibility and provides an incentive to setting aside money for future use on projects identified in the ten-year plan.)

  • Limitations on When Operating Referendums Debt Issuance Referendums May Be Called— This bill would prohibit a school board in a unified district from voting on a resolution to exceed a school district’s revenue limit at a school board meeting that is not a regularly scheduled monthly meeting, and would also prohibit voting in a common or union high school (UHS) district on a resolution to exceed a school district’s revenue limit at a school district special meeting.The bill would also provide that the electors of common and UHS districts may vote upon an initial resolution to raise money through a bond issue only at the school district’s annual meeting. (LRB 0871/1, authored by Sen. Stroebel, Rep. Murphy)
  • Disclosure of Debt Issuance Referendum Costs–This bill would require school district referendum resolutions and ballot referendum questions to disclose the total cost of the referendum, accounting for debt service and interest cost. The school board would be required to include in the resolution and in the referendum question the total amount of debt to be issued, the total amount of interest and related debt service costs to be incurred, and the sum of the principal, interest, and related debt service costs. (LRB 2629/1, Authored by Sen. Kapenga, Rep. Macco)

The WASB’s current resolutions on referendums are as follows:

1.25 Authority to Schedule Referenda
The WASB opposes limits on scheduling referenda.

2.40 (a) Additional Revenue Limitations
The WASB opposes any additional limitations on school revenues that will force decreases in revenue to public school districts. This includes, but is not limited to: freezing property tax levies; creating a moratorium on school district referenda; delaying payments to school districts; and adopting a constitutional regulation of school finance.

2.87 Single Referendum Question
The WASB supports allowing school boards to combine resolutions to borrow money and to exceed the revenue limits in a single referendum question.

View LRB 17-0470_1 (Term Limits on Referendums to Exceed Revenue Limits)
View LRB 17-0811_2 (Limits on Scheduling of Referendums to Exceed Revenue Limits)
View LRB 17-0829_1 (School Aid Penalty & Rescission of Previously Approved Referendums)
View LRB 17-0868_1 (Fund 46 Matching Funds & Penalty)
View LRB 17-0871_1 (Restrictions on Voting on Referendum Resolutions)
View LRB 17-2629_1 (Debt Issuance Cost Disclosure)

View Wisconsin State Journal coverage

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