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The tyranny of the MATC tax


January 8, 2009

The phrase "no taxation without representation" was coined in a sermon given in Boston in 1750. By 1765 it had become the clarion call fanning the flames of the American Revolution. The words became synonymous with a revolt against an out-of-control government in which the heavily-taxed colonists had no voice. When James Otis later voiced his famous quote, "taxation without representation is tyranny," who knew his words would be relevant in Ozaukee County nearly 250 years later.

We all recently received our jaw-dropping 2008 state of Wisconsin property tax bills. Most towns and villages kept their tax increases low or they didnít increase at all. As an example, the town of Cedarburg and Ozaukee County fought hard for the taxpayers and had no appreciable tax increases, despite having to provide garbage pick-up, snowplowing, street and road maintenance, a county-wide court system, police protection, golf courses, social services, public parks, and the list goes on.

Then along comes Milwaukee Area Technical College.

MATCís portion of your tax bill increased by more than twice that of any other taxing entity. Taxpayers are responsible for nearly 60 percent of revenues for MATC, compared with only 30 percent for the University of Wisconsin system. Ozaukee County taxpayers pay considerably more in taxes to MATC than they do even to Ozaukee County itself, and every year MATC jacks up the tax levy by as much as 6 percent. Whatís worse, there is nothing we can do about it.

There is nothing wrong with a technical college system. Just like the other 15 technical colleges in the system, MATC has a rich history of providing education and vocational training to young students and incumbent workers, facilitating life-long learning and hands-on trade skills. MATCís four campuses serve 55,000 students, 13,000 of whom are full time.

There is nothing wrong with paying taxes. In order for our government to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, We the People, must pay taxes.

Reckless spending wrong

There is something very wrong, however, when reckless and irresponsible spending and the self-preserving decisions of unaccountable technical school boards are foisted upon innocent taxpayers who have no vote as to how their money is spent.

The technical college tax presents a problem as old as our country - taxation without representation. MATCís board of directors consists of nine appointed members (three of whom have to be minorities for some reason), who, along with administrators, prepare and approve their annual budget and sign contracts with three different labor unions. The foxes are running the henhouse and we have no right to vote these incestuous and unelected big spenders on or off of their bureaucratic thrones.

Lavish salaries and outrageous benefits and pensions over the past 17 years have resulted in the cost of an average education for a full-time student at MATC skyrocketing from $1,775 in 1999 to approximately $2,700 today - a 50 percent increase. The cost to educate a student at MATC has risen to nearly $25,000, more than Marquette University, and is estimated to reach $46,000 in the next eight years. Tuition in the UW system covers 40 percent of its educational cost, compared to only 11 percent at MATC.

The clearest measure of success of any technical college system is the ability of its graduates to get jobs in the field they graduate in. Yet, this is the case for only two-thirds of MATCís graduates. Over two-thirds of MATCís students are enrolled in a General Education or Business curriculum - hardly the sort of education that fits with the core mission of a technical college. In 2005, MATC graduated only 14 welders.

No bureaucracy will ever downsize itself, and without accountability to voters, what is to stop MATC from nestling themselves even deeper into the pockets of Ozaukee County taxpayers?

According to past MATC board member William Hughes, more than 90 percent of MATCís budget goes to payroll, benefits and pensions. Past board member Mark Malerle admitted that he supports the teacherís unions and "continues to work for them." This explains a lot. When special interests have their way, taxpayers have to pay.

Does MATC really need 81 administrators and 723 staff? Thatís 1.3 staff for each of its 608 instructors. Stop by a local MATC campus some day and walk the empty halls. Most of the rooms are not used and the buildings are vacant except for staff, administrators, and instructors, many of whom have little to do.

Two wage hikes per year

Board-approved MATC spending has given its faculty two wage increases per year - an annual cost of living increase of 2.9 percent plus a labor step increase of 3 percent to 5 percent - regardless of performance. Even the bad teachers - and there are plenty - are guaranteed by contract to move up the pay rung as surely as weíll go to jail for not paying our taxes. The average annual salary of faculty members is more than $90,000, with the top tier making an average of nearly $138,000 - some of the highest paid technical college faculty in the nation. Pile on extremely generous sick leave and vacation policies, 12 paid holidays, and the fact that they only have to work less than 1/3 of the calendar year and youíll understand why your taxes keep going up.

It gets worse. MATC employees are tenured after three years, and if they work six out of eight years, can take an entire year off with pay! All full-time teachers, operational employees, and staff receive Cadillac health care you and I can only dream about - with 100 percent of premiums paid by you. They can even get health care and pensions after they retire and they contribute nothing.

Seceding from the MATC taxing district is like a state trying to secede from the Union. When Germantown recently tried to move to the nearby Moraine Park Technical College District, the Wisconsin Technical College System Board voted 12-0 to deny their request. No surprise there, considering the $5.7 million Germantown residents pump into the MATC system. It seems that the residents of Ozaukee County and Germantown havenít fled far enough from the wasteful tax swamp known as the Milwaukee Area Technical College District.

MATCís bloated and out-of-control spending shoveled upon the shoulders of hard-working taxpayers who do not have a voice in how their taxes are spent is nothing short of tyranny. Instead of addressing the problem, the bureaucrats on the MATC and WTCS boards merely cater to the whims of the unions and perpetuate the problem. Like clockwork, MATC gift-wraps for itself increasingly higher and better levels of wages, pensions, health care packages, and fringe benefits.

If Thomas Jefferson thought taxation without representation was bad, he should see how it is with representation. The American taxpayer is losing the fight against high taxes, deficit spending, and self-serving bureaucracies at the federal and state levels, even when armed with the right to vote. Without that right, Ozaukee County taxpayers are helpless against tyranny at even the local level.

Gary Wickert is an author, trial lawyer, and town of Cedarburg supervisor, who lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at His column is available online at


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