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Both education referendums passing a sign of improving economy?

By Pauleen Le, ple@wkbt.com
Published On: Nov 07 2012 05:14:08 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 07 2012 06:02:23 PM CST

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Both the La Crosse School and Western Tech referendums on the ballot passed.

So with voters deciding to increase their property taxes, is this a sign of an improving economy?

Taxes were one of the bigger issues in this election season. While asking people to voluntarily increase their taxes doesn't always work, it gets a little bit easier as the economy picks up and if the money is going towards something voters see is beneficial.

Both education referendums were worth nearly $100 million.

And for some of voters, it was an easy “yes” vote to both.

“We need to look to the future and have a place for our kids and even for people who are at technical college who are going back to school,” said Tracy Deml of La Crosse.

But for some, the cost was just too high.

“I was voting against the ‘mega school’ concept in favor of preserving the neighborhood schools,” said Ann Peterson.

Both referendums passed. In fact, the La Crosse Referendum passed by a two-to-one margin.

UW-La Crosse assistant professor of economics, Adam Hoffer, said the support for the two referendums could be an indication the economy is turning around.

“I think that's one of the reasons people are willing to invest again because that's what these both referenda really are, is an investment in infrastructure [and] in the community in the area, and hoping to make La Crosse more economically competitive in the future,” said Hoffer.

Hoffer said voting on these two referendums a few years ago could have had very different outcomes.

“The debt ceiling debate, I think, was much hotter a few years ago,” said Hoffer. “So this would have been asking us to take on more debt, when we were torn at a national level about whether we could afford to take on more debt, so a few years ago, I'm not so sure.”

While La Crosse residents will soon see a property tax increase of nearly $65 a year per $100,000 valuation of a home, Hoffer said it’s no surprise La Crosse voters chose to invest in schools.

“Health care and education, it’s all we have in this town,” said Hoffer. “So if we look at what the people of La Crosse are interested in, it wasn't surprising to me that we would not only want to invest more in our technical schools, but also in our elementary schools as well.”

Hoffer said there's still a long way to go before the economy is fully back on its feet -- with things like improving the housing market as well as fixing the national debt problem, but both referendums passing in La Crosse is a good start.

La Crosse school officials think it will take about six months of planning and another 18 months to build the school with an opening date in the fall of 2014.

The plan at Western Technical College is to have most of the renovations completed by 2016, with some of the money going toward the school’s larger goal to train 1,000 more students a year by 2020.

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