Temporarily exempt small-business start-ups from property taxes

"Will grant a short-term property tax exemption for new small business startups based on new net jobs created in Milwaukee County."


State constitution and other barriers to this one, as we noted from the start

During his campaign for Milwaukee County executive, Chris Abele made five promises on actions that he said would create jobs. One was to give a temporary property tax exemption to new small businesses.

The start-ups would get an exemption based on the number of jobs they created.

As we noted in a Truth-O-Meter item on the pledge in February 2011, legal hurdles to such tax breaks are steep and well-known. At the time, two months before Abele was elected, his campaign said Abele had not yet explored all the legal angles.

But we ruled Abele's statement that he could offer the exemption False. Tax, legal and legislative experts said his proposal almost certainly couldn't fly because the state Constitution and various state Supreme Court cases create major barriers to these kinds of special property tax exemptions. And there's no way Milwaukee County could create one alone.

The major hurdle is the "uniformity clause" in the state constitution, which is "intended to prevent the Legislature and local officials from granting preferential tax treatment to influential property owners and protect the citizen against unequal, and consequently unjust, taxation."

Now that Abele's one-year term is winding down, we asked his spokesman, Jeff Bentoff, about the promise. Bentoff acknowledged that the uniformity clause makes it impossible to do such a property tax exemption, but said Abele is working with small businesses in other ways, including through his economic development department.

That may be true, but Abele"s property tax break for small businesses is a Promise Broken.


Chris Abele campaign website, jobs page

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Milwaukee County executive candidate says property tax exemptions can be granted to small businesses that move into the county,” Feb. 9, 2011

Email interview, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele deputy chief of staff Jeff Bentoff, Jan. 9, 2012