Mostly True
"Today, property taxes are lower than they were in 2010."

John Nygren on Friday, January 11th, 2019 in a tweet

Wisconsin state Rep. John Nygren hits pay dirt with property tax claim

City of Milwaukee taxpayers queue up to pay their property taxes Dec. 27, 2017, at City Hall in Milwaukee. (Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

Many homeowners are currently receiving receipts stamped "Paid" in the mail for their 2018 property tax bills.

Whether the bill goes up or down each year is of paramount importance to homeowners.

So politicians are also eager to weigh in on the issue.

"Today, property taxes are lower than they were in 2010. Allowing taxpaying to keep more of their hard-earned money has been and will continue to be a top priority," state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Jan. 11, 2019 in a tweet.

Property taxes are levied on most types of real estate -- including homes, businesses, and parcels of land. The amount owed depends on the fair market value of the property, as determined by the local assessor.

Is Nygren right?

Are property taxes lower today than they were in 2010?

The evidence

The year 2010, of course, is not an arbitrary starting point.

It marks the year Republican Scott Walker was elected governor and when the GOP won full control of the Legislature. Democrat Tony Evers is now in the governor’s office, after topping Walker in the 2018 election.

When asked for backup to the claim, Nygren’s chief of staff Nathan Schwanz

pointed to a January 2019 report from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau on median property tax payments in the state.

The nonpartisan fiscal bureau is considered the gold-standard on such financial and budget issues. Here is its breakdown for the years in question:

2010 - 2011-- $2,963

2011- 2012 -- $2,953

2012 - 2013 -- $2,943

2013 - 2014 -- $2,926

2014 - 2015 -- $2,831

2015 - 2016 -- $2,849

2016 - 2017 -- $2,852

2017 - 2018 -- $2,876

2018 - 2019 -- $2,870 (preliminary estimate)


So, the 2018-19 total is, indeed, lower than the 2010-11 total.

The fiscal bureau regularly does such estimates, and they are routinely cited by politicians of both stripes.

But it’s important to note they are an illustration -- some people's property taxes went down, some went up. Even if your home value was right at the statewide average, your tax bill might have been higher due to various factors, including levies in individual communities.

Past ratings

Meanwhile, we have checked variations of this claim in the past:

*July 15, 2015: Walker claimed that because of his actions, property taxes were lower than they were four years earlier. Walker’s actions to limit the ability of local governments and school districts to raise levies played a major role. But we found the lower property taxes to that point were also due in part to declines in housing values.

Our rating: Mostly True.

*Jan. 13, 2017, Walker said property taxes -- as a percentage of personal income -- were "the lowest that they've been since the end of World War II" An analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance showed that on the measure Walker cited, they were lowest since 1946.

Our rating: True.

*June 7, 2017, after a "lower than 2010" claim from Walker, we wrote that fiscal bureau estimates of the hypothetical property tax on a median-valued home found the tax was indeed lower. That time we found the drop in residential property taxes was due to commercial and manufacturing properties rising at a faster rate -- not due to collecting less revenue.

Our rating: Mostly True.

Finally, we also used the Walk-O-Meter to monitor a promise by Walker to continue to reduce the tax burden on working families and seniors every year he was in office. This, of course, applied to all taxes -- not just property taxes.

We rated the pledge Promise Kept.  

Are there any wrinkles this time? Yes.

According to the fiscal bureau, the change over the latest two years -- from 2017-18 to 2018-19 -- is a net decrease for homeowners, even though the gross tax bill is projected to increase.

What’s behind the difference? Funding for the lottery and gaming property tax credit increased by about $66 million, which contributed to the decrease in the median net tax bill.  

Where Wisconsin ranks

To be sure, Wisconsin property taxes remain among the highest in the United States. Various property tax trackers place Wisconsin in the top 10, sometimes in the top five.

The personal finance website WalletHub analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The website also used rates to obtain the dollar amount paid in real estate taxes on a median-valued home in each state.

It ranked Wisconsin as the fifth worst state for property taxes. With the median home value sitting at $167,000, the typical tax bill comes to $3,257, according to WalletHub. Filling out the rest of the top five for 2018 were:

Median Home value                     Taxes

  1. New Jersey: $316,400            $7,601

  2. Illinois:  $174,800                  $4,058

  3. New Hampshire: $239,700     $5,241

  4. Connecticut: $269,300            $5,443

  5. Wisconsin: $167,000              $3,257

But Nygren’s claim was not about the state’s rank. So that does not factor into our rating.

Our rating

Nygren said "today, property taxes are lower than they were in 2010."

Data from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows the statement generally rings true. But there have long been wrinkles on these claims -- from declining property values driving the drop to an increase in commercial and manufacturing property values shifting the burden from homeowners.

Those sorts of factors are still in play, this time with tax credits contributing to latest decrease.

And the rating is still Mostly True.

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Mostly True
"Today, property taxes are lower than they were in 2010."
Friday, January 11, 2019