Legislature Faces Death and Taxes

“Nothing’s for sure but death and taxes,” so the old adage goes. Recently death and taxes were the topics of debate. Two committees upon which I serve spent hours hearing testimony on both eventualities.

 Taxes were the subject of an extended hearing that brought out assessors, local government and lawyers who represent high value properties. The dispute was over the role of local tax review board. This is a board made up of local people who review appeals about the accuracy of a property tax assessment. The board was being bypassed by some large property owners and a proposed new law sought to remedy that situation.

It seems some large property-owning companies had decided it was better to go straight to court to challenge an appraisal for property than to appear, like everyone else, before the local property tax review board.

New legislation developed by assessors, local government, and business would change the rules to make sure that the first place people went to complain about their property tax bill really was the local review board.

Nobody likes to pay property taxes and the more property you own the more property taxes you pay. So people who came to complain about the way the current system was working were attorneys representing people who owned high-value properties.

It was quite an interesting hearing, with strong arguments on both sides of the issue. I learned a few things that might be helpful for local people. If you do want to complain about your property taxes, you need to let the local review board know; and it would be best to bring some support for your complaint. The strongest document would be an independent appraisal; second would be evidence of similar property selling in your area.

The testimony at the hearing suggested that local appraisers are fairly accurate, but sometimes troubles happen when large appraisal companies come into an area and take over the job local assessors are doing. Sometimes large companies are not familiar with the area and inaccurate appraisals result. Many local municipalities are hiring these companies in our area – so it pays to take a look at that property appraisal and see if it is accurate.

There are deadlines to follow. And these deadlines are necessary so that local government and the review board can conclude their work.

One deadline we all face is death. What happens after you die was the subject of a hearing before the Senate Committee on Health. The Final Rights Bill is new legislation that details what happens to a person’s body when they die. The bill will give people legal rights to give directions about treatment of their body after death. One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Mark Miller (D) - Monona, described the problem, “There is currently no legal mechanism for advanced directives for the disposal of remains.”

A number of ministers wrote me a few months ago about revising this bill to ensure that ministers were a part of the process. I appreciate their concerns. This problem was corrected in an amendment.

Another bill updated the law that governs organ donation. The proposed new law encourages donation and makes Wisconsin law consistent with other states. But our committee discovered a small problem with the bill: it forgot to define death.

I can hear the folks at home now! “Legislators did away with death but kept taxes.”

So we fixed the bill to add the definition of death.

Have ideas on death, taxes or any other subject? Write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or sen.vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov; call Black River Falls (715) 284-1730 or Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free). Miss a column? Find it at my website at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen31/news/