Today's Journal Sentinel recounts an increase in property tax delinquencies in Milwaukee County. The usual suspects are rounded up to blame the unlikely. It's a weak economy and "minimal" wage increases that are eaten up by price increases. But the economy is booming and wages are increasing. It's "predatory lending" (i.e., foolishly lending money to people who could not pay it back so they could by homes they cannot afford). That may be closer to the mark but it seems that even that would not lead to foreclosures without flat or slightly declining housing prices. After the run up in values, we seem to be in an inevitable period of adjustment.
County officials apparently think the cause is all sorts of things that are not increases in property taxes and maybe they are right about that. Scott Walker has done a good job of keeping the county tax flat and state law has helped with school levies. Just think of how bad it could have been.
But, if too many people are having trouble paying their taxes, doesn't that suggest that local government ought not contribute to the problem by raising them? Wisconsin in general and Milwaukee County in particular have extraordinarily high property tax rates. Monthly escrows for property taxes are quite often material in relation to - and sometimes even higher than - monthly mortgage payments.
I understand that Milwaukee County government in particular would like to spend all sorts of money on things that it cannot. As everyone now agrees (but did not while it was happening), the people who formerly ran county government - the AFSME heroes and denizens of Democratic clubs - treated county government as a personal piggy bank for years. That party is over and the hangover is ugly.
But raising property taxes into that will cause real pain for people who aren't particularly wealthy. I sure hope Sen. Lena Taylor finds time to address that.