Health Care Benefit Cost a Burden on Property Taxes

Upon receipt of their annual property tax bill, most homeowners become incensed over their ever-increasing property tax burdens.  The thought that “we better do something about these ridiculous taxes” crosses our minds almost instinctively.  We then move on with our lives without doing anything about our taxes.  This time has to be different.  We must draw the line and confront these never-ending increases in our property taxes. 

The Tosa Taxpayers Alliance (TTA) is seeking ways to bring some relief to Wauwatosa property taxpayers.

Because the cost of the health care benefits for City and School District employees has become the primary source of continuous property tax increases, TTA’s initial focus is getting these costs under control.  In the case of the City the cost of health care benefits have increased by 69% since 2000.  These benefits have increased by 100% for the School District over the same period of time.  The rate of these increases combined with the attitude that health care benefits are untouchable portends either uncontrolled property tax increases or severe service and program cuts.
There is no argument that there is a direct relationship between the level of salaries and benefits and the quality of the public employees who serve Wauwatosa residents.  However, the compensation for our employees cannot occur in a vacuum and must be determined by the taxpayers’ ability to pay. 

TTA is exploring several initiatives to control the health care benefit costs:

Have A Community Representative On the City and School District Bargaining Committees
The traditional labor - management structure used for contract negotiations has failed to bring health care costs under control.  While the management teams in the negotiations are viewed as representing the taxpayers along with the School Board and Common Council, there is no evidence that the ability to pay for the increases in health care costs is being considered.  Taxpayers need to have direct representation in the negotiations.

Introduce Competition Into Selection Of Health Care Plans For School Systems
Currently State of Wisconsin Statutes allows the teachers unions to name the provider for their health care benefits.  This statutory provision precludes any effort by School District Administrations and School Boards to provide the benefits at the lowest possible cost.  Further more, the WEA Trust, the Wisconsin Education Association's Health Plan which is the provider selected by the vast majority of local teacher unions, is statutorily protected from disclosing its costs or any of the specifics of the coverage provided. 
Changes in the Wisconsin Statutes is the only way that competitive bidding can be used to help control the costs for health care benefits.
Consolidate Public Employee Health Care Benefits Under State Employee Health Care Program
The more far-reaching and longer-term approach is to achieve legislative action that consolidates health care benefits for all public employees by placing municipal, county, school district and area technical college employees under the State of Wisconsin Group Health Insurance for state employees.  A portion of the State funding for each of these governmental entities would be reallocated for their share of the public employee health care benefit costs.  Implementation of the consolidated benefit program must include mandated dollar for dollar reductions in property taxes corresponding to the elimination of the health care benefit cost burden. 
Whatever approach is taken the bottom line is that the taxpayers’ ability to pay must govern the health care benefits provided to City and School District employees.  Resident comments will help refine or expand these approaches to controlling the cost of public employee health care benefits.

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