June 6, 2016
News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Good evening to all. We hope your weekend was relaxing and enjoyable! This week, we're going to take a look at your survey responses, and talk a bit about veterans issues in Wisconsin. We will touch on transportation, financial literacy in Wisconsin schools, and tell you a little bit more about Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), and his work in the legislature, in our ongoing series of weekly interviews with lawmakers. As always, we hope you find this week's Capitol Report to be interesting and informative. If you have something you would like to see featured in a future edition, please reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best for a great week ahead,
It's hard enough to get kids to pick up after themselves, let alone make them learn about the importance of finances, and the role that being responsible with money will play throughout the rest of their lives. They call it financial literacy, and it's basically an enhanced spin-off of the money portion of home economics. Credit cards, debit cards, balancing a check book, credit scores, loans, interest payments, mortgages, equity, stocks, mutual funds, dividends, savings, income tax... Have we made your head ache yet? Probably not. That's because the rest of us know about it, and live through it on a day-to-day basis, whether we like it or not. Earlier this year, the Council for Economic Education released the state of financial literacy in schools around the country. They gave the United States a failing grade. The number of states around the country, requiring that high school students complete an economics course has dropped in the past two years. It found that fewer than 20 states actually mandate it. Now, we're not here to advocate that the state mandate this in the curriculum, but should it be taught? That's where there's some good news. Forty-five states include personal finance in their K-12 curriculum. The study showed that states with the most rigorous mandates get their high school grads on a better financial track, and the Investor Education Foundation found that high school students who are required to take personal finance courses have better credit schools and lower debt delinquency, on average. To bring it closer to home, many of Wisconsin schools teach kids about personal finances and economics. In fact, both the Department of Public Instruction, and the Department of Financial Institutions talk a lot about financial literacy in Wisconsin, and in our schools. Last week, Governor Walker announced 11 grants, totally more than $152,000 to be awarded to schools across Wisconsin to enhance personal finance education. The grant receipts were selected by the Governor's Council on Financial Literacy. "These financial literacy grants will help thousands of students broaden their personal financial knowledge and become better prepared to make some sound financial decisions as adults," Governor Walker said. "Several of the grant recipients indicated they will use their funding to develop curriculum to help students and their families better prepare for the cost of higher education in Wisconsin." Among those schools were the Cooperative Education Service Agency #4 in West Salem, Green Bay Area Public Schools, La Crosse 7 Rivers High, Madison Metro School District, Milton School District, New Berlin School District, Phillips School District, Rib Lake School District, River Valley School District, Three Lakes High, and Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High. One this is for sure, when it comes to money, the more we can educate kids, the less they'll approach mom and dad to make up the difference!
Veterans, and your responses
Last week, we dove in and wanted to ask a bit about veterans issues, coming off of the Memorial Day weekend. Nothing could be worse than the idea of veterans coming home after serving our nation, and not having services available to them to help get them back on their feet after being gone, often, for years from family, friends, and loved ones. In the comments section, at a few different points, readers asked what exactly the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs does, as most veterans issues are handled through the federal V.A. That's a great question, and here's a run-down. Back in the early 20th Century, Wisconsin paid out a bonus check to any service member who served in World War I. After WWII, the legislature changed that bonus option to a programs option, in the hopes of providing better benefits to veterans. So, in 1945, the state crated the DVA, which oversaw various programs, including the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, Wisconsin, the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial on the fourth floor north wing of the State Capitol, economic and education assistance, and the state Veterans Trust Fund. Additionally, in 1989, the department was authorized to build a museum dedicated to Wisconsin Veterans, and now sits across from the State Capitol. If you have never made the trip to see this museum, you've got to do it. The department also went on to open a new veterans home in both Union Grve and Chippewa Falls. DVA maintains three state veteran cemeteries; Northern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial, Central Wisconsin Veterans Memorial, and Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial. So, how about you? We asked our readers if they served in the United States Armed Forces.
Of the members who read the report last week, only about 15% were vets. Our guess would have been a bit higher, but we are happy to at least bring some information to non-veterans about this state department, and its work. The readers who did serve were members of the Marines, Army, and Air Force. We thank you for your service. The next question was interesting; generally speaking, does Wisconsin do enough for our vets?
The responses were 50%-50%. After reading the responses, it became clear that we should have added an "I don't know" button, because most readers had no idea what the State Department of Veterans Affairs did. Hopefully now, you have learned a bit more. Another comment highlighted that the current state budget reduced funding to County Veterans Services offices. We rate that claim true. The DVA requested an increase their budget request, but it was ultimately reduced in the final budget. "VA hospitals need to provide better, more timely service to our vets." Absolutely. An if you visit WPTonline.org, under Current Members you will find an option called "resources." When prompted for a password, members type in wpt2016 and there you will find a way to access the phone numbers of your members of Congress. As this is a federal issue, we urge our members to contact their elected representatives in Washington, D.C. Our next question would, in theory, be a state-level proposal. It has been introduced in the past, and we would assume it would be introduced again in the future. The idea is for some percentage of state procurement contracts to be allocated specifically to veteran-owned businesses. Did you think this was a good idea?
Wisconsin Veterans are go-getters. There's no doubt about it. In fact, our state is seeing a large number of vets jump right into starting their own businesses in Wisconsin. That's great news for our state, the economy, and job creation. But should they get a leg up? 60% of you agreed that giving them a small percentage of state contract and procurement would be a good idea. Now, we haven't taken an official stance on something like this, because an official proposal comes with revenue and fiscal estimates, economic impact estimates, etc. We would need to look at all of that before making a determination, but in theory, it's a great idea. DVA Secretary John Scocos recently sat down with a publication in Madison, and shared a bit about his department and their work. He started by saying that the biggest challenge acing WDVA is mental healthcare, but he's got hope. A new program, in partnership with the state Department of Health Services, the Veterans Outreach and Recovery Program (VORP) is being funded by a $2.4 million grant from the feds, and it's designed locate veterans in need, and get them the services and housing they need. He also highlighted some of the other accomplishments of the DVA, including the 13,000 vets who utilize the Wisconsin GI Bill to attend school, and how the facilities a King and Chippewa falls are federally rated 5 stars, with 5 being the highest possible score. Our state veterans homes are rated the top in the nation. In the last budget, he said, DVA changed an underutilized grant program that can now help vets grow their own small businesses. He added, that when vets grow their businesses, they hire other vets, and that the skills they learned in the military only enhance the civilian workforce. With all of the muck on the federal level, we are hopeful that Wisconsin will continue towards progress for our vets, and that we'll do even more in the years to come. To wrap it up, we just wanted to know what you did for Memorial Day weekend. Did you stay home or travel? 80% of readers stayed home! For those who traveled, quite a few attended Memorial Day services or parades in their hometowns. Now that Memorial Day weekend seems like a distant memory, we can look forward to Flag Day on June 14th, and the Fourth of July- less than one month!
What do you think?
We talked a lot about financial literacy in around the country for students. Now, we want to get your thoughts on the topic. Sound off by clicking below, and we'll bring you more results and information next week. The survey is five questions, multiple choice, and all responses are anonymous- even WPT can't see who fills out the survey!
Wisconsin DOT Secretary says no new tax, fees
A bit of news for those of us worried about the transportation issue in the State of Wisconsin: the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Mark Gottleib, said last week that the biennial budget request that he'll submit to Governor Walker will not include any major feed or tax increases. He went on to acknowledge that this would delay upkeep and road expansion work on all but the state's most traveled highways. In an interview with the State Journal, Gottleib said his budget will emphasize maintaining the state's bridges and most traveled highways instead of expanding them or preserving less-used roads. Which projects might get delayed? Well, he said it's too early to know, but among them could be the projects in Dane County that expands Verona Road, and another expanding I-39/90 from Madison to the Illinois border. Additionally, in Metro Milwaukee, it could impact the Zoo Interchange project, the most daily-traveled interchange in Wisconsin. Some republicans are split on the decision. Representative Keith Ripp (R-Lodi), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Transportation said that rural districts, like his, have already felt the pain of the delays in funding, and that long-term funding solutions would be the key to getting us moving again. On the flip side, Senator Duey Stroebel issued a statement late last week, applauding DOT Secretary Gottlieb; "Gottlieb has the right idea: Wisconsin cannot afford a tax increase...Holding the line on transportation taxes ought not mean more borrowing or delayed projects." But how is that possible? Sen. Stroebel went on to cite a piece of policy that he proposed last session called the Fed-Swap bill. WPT supported this measure. The bill would swap federal transportation dollars currently being used in local projects with state dollars, resulting in a 25% savings in delivery costs. He went on to cite former Kansas Governor, and democrat, Kathleen Sebelius, for implementing the same policy in her state. Stroebel's projections state that this legislation would have saved a southeast Wisconsin county nearly $2 million on a project. One thing is for sure: as the options continue to unfold, with a multitude of opinions and solutions undoubtedly about to surface, we will keep you posted every step of the way.
In the Assembly, now the Senate, Kapenga is getting things done
Joining the Senate after dominating a special election in the summer of 2015, Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), has been keeping busy. The veteran lawmaker, who has represented part of the Lake Country region in Waukesha County since 2010 spoke with WPT last week to talk about his time in the legislature, and a bit about his priorities moving forward. Kapenga, currently lives in Delafield, with his wife of 20 years and their two daughters. Any hobby or free time, he says, is usually spent with his family. We can't imagine he has much of it. On top of serving the state in his capacity as a lawmaker, Senator Kapenga also owns an IT company in Milwaukee, which undoubtedly drives his motivation to eliminate many of the burdens to growth and prosperity that face the private sector each day. But can he fight to remove those barriers even more effectively in the Senate? "It's an honor to serve in the legislature, no matter what house. I do enjoy the Senate because it requires more multi-tasking than the Assembly. I also feel that in the Senate there is more ability to influence legislation." And he certainly has influenced legislation. In his time across both chambers of the State Legislature, Kapenga has been a strong advocate for Right to Work legislation in Wisconsin. In fact, if you are a fan of this law, you can say thanks. It was then-Representative Kapenga who authored the Assembly Right to Work bill last year, and much of his work that turned the proposal into law. Additionally, he's been a staunch proponent of the prevailing wage repeal. Earlier this year, Governor Walker signed into law a reform that many WPT members have been praising in recent months- adverse possession reform. "I had a constituent run into an issue with a piece of their property being potentially taken through adverse possession," he said. "When I began to research what [it] actually does, it does not line up with how I feel private property rights are established. It is literally an ancient common law principal that favors use of property over who actually owns, pays for, and holds title to it." The bill, which was signed as 2015 Act 200, established a new procedure that allows a record title holder to interrupt an adverse possession or use. It's a major victory for property owners and property rights. We also asked about the Personal Property Tax, and his thoughts. "It is simply an arcane tax on business owners like myself. The problem is that getting rid of it leaves a significant revenue gap for local municipalities. In order to fix it, we need to find an equitable remedy for that gap, which is what most bills to eliminate [PPT] have not addressed. Dealing with this reality is a critical piece to moving forward." For the future, Sen. Kapenga is looking to tackle welfare reforms, "as I feel that is the single largest driver of our societal problems, and our over-inflated state budget." We appreciate the Senator's time and willingness to share more about himself with our organization and its members, and look forward to seeing what policies he's got up his sleeve for 2017. Until then, he left us with this: "We need to finally get at the root cause of why government is out of control."
Wisconsin #11 in middle market company growth
The number of medium-size firms in Wisconsin grew over 90% in the past five years, according to a report from American Express and Dun & Bradstreet. Wisconsin has 4,083 middle market companies, which means they have an annual revenue between $10 million and $1 billion. Currently, these firms comprise 1.5% of the companies in Wisconsin. The national proportion is 1% on average. From 2011 to 2016, these middle market firms grew 90.5%, with about 270,005 companies with a revenue of less than $10 million, and 65 companies with more than $1 billion. The report cited that one reason for this growth is that these firms are much more likely to be in the manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors. This is good news for Wisconsin's economy, and we hope to see more headlines like it in the future.
USDA putting nearly $9 million into boosting biofuel production
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $8.8 million will be aimed at production of advanced biofuels at renewable energy facilities in 39 states. Some Wisconsin businesses will be receiving some cash from the deal, as well, including Bach Digester, Clear Horizons, Holsum Dairies, Ladysmith Biofuel, Sanimax Energy, Sargest Power, and Walsh Bio Fuels. Over the past eight years, the USDA has invested about $332 million to accelerate research on renewable nergies, including biofuels, research on bioenergy feedstock crops, and more.