Boots & Sabers

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1930, 02 Nov 15

Stroebel Looks to Change Referendum Process

This is reasonable.

Stroebel’s measure would limit school referendums to the regularly scheduled fall and spring election dates, when voter turnout tends to exceed that of special elections. In addition, it would bar districts from going back to the taxpayers with a new referendum for two years after one fails.

In Wisconsin, school districts are restricted in what they can raise property taxes every year. The exception is that the district can ask the voters through a referendum to approve a property tax increase above the limit. In general, I support this process. It prevents a rogue board from jacking up taxes too much, but allows individual districts to increase their taxes if the voters expressly approve.

The problem is that too many school districts have abused the process. Instead of waiting for normal election days, they have held special elections to suppress voter turnout while district employees flooded the polls. They have also asked the voters multiple times – over and over again – to raise their taxes. They do this because they know that all they need to get a “yes” vote once regardless of how many times the voters have said “no” before that.

Stroebel’s reforms would still allow districts to ask the voters to exceed state-imposed limits on property tax increases, thus preserving local control, but force school boards to put together a valid justification the first time instead of throwing referendum after referendum against the wall until something sticks. Also, making the districts schedule the referendum elections for the same day as normal elections is perfectly reasonable and encourages higher voter turnout. There is nothing so urgent in a school referendum as to warrant a special election.


1930, 02 November 2015


  1. old baldy


    This subject came up on your blog some months ago and we had a chat. Looks like you forgot what you learned back then.

    Because SDs may operate on a different fiscal cycle (year) than the state, a SD, with the Stroebel proposal, could fall in a window of insolvency if the referendum had to wait until the next general election. A SD doens’t want to hold a special election any more that you do as it costs them extra money to hold it, but sometimes you have to do it. This is even more critical with the massive cuts in state aides under the current administration.

    As far as “rogue” school boards, explain how that can happen when they are elected by the electorate at the spring general election? They are now more rogue than Dewey.

    Bad piece of legislation that is looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

  2. John Foust

    I rescind any thoughts I had that Stroebel was drunk last summer. It’s clear he always talks like this.

    By his logic, we should do ignore the results of all low-turnout elections because they aren’t the will of the people.

    Again and again we get legislation by unsupported assertion and anecdote. Districts aren’t adequately performing due diligence on referenda? Who says? They’re hammering the citizenry? Show me all the data, not just a few cherry-picked districts. There’s a difference in the intent of the public in a low-turn-out election than in a major election? Who says? If low turn-out is a problem, who is addressing that issue?

    I also note that Stroebel was first elected to the Assembly in a May special election.

  3. Steve Austin

    This sounds like a fabulous idea. These things aren’t so necessary for democracy that you have to incur the time and expense to hold special spring elections just for them.

    And I’m tired of having to vote against these every 6-months. These just keep popping up over and over being rejected until they finally get “approved”

    Finally, if the financial people running the district can’t predict out their budgets 12-months in advance to compensate for November elections in “mid-fiscal year”, they are incompetent.

    Go Duey!

  4. Mark Maley

    John ,

    “Do as I say , not like I did ”

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