Wisconsin Property Taxpayers, Inc.
Property Taxpayers United for Fairness and Reform Since 1985
News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Good evening! We hope you had a relaxing holiday weekend, and that you were able to spend time with family and friends to celebrate our nation's Independence Day! This week, we'll go through the results from last week's survey, and talk a bit about the changes to civil service. We'll touch on transportation, school funding, and share a recent interview with Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville). Because of the extended holiday weekend, a new lawmaker interview will be featured next week. We hope you find this week's Capitol Report to be interesting and informative, and as always, 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,
Gov. Walker's comments, and Milwaukee-area DOT projects
If you have driven through the Milwaukee area in the past decade, chances are you've driven through some pretty massive interstate projects. First was the Marquette Interchange project, through the middle of downtown Milwaukee. Such a huge project that even the federal transportation secretary at the time remarked that it was so large, it was like performing open heart surgery on a person while they were running a marathon. Next was the I-94/Airport project, which caused a huge headache for anybody looking to travel south of the city, or use General Mitchell International Airport. Major components of the project continue south to the Illinois border. Finally, the Zoo Interchange project in Milwaukee is currently underway. It's almost easy to exit the interstate and make your way to your destination via the city streets. The Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee is the most traveled highway in the State of Wisconsin. Now that we've recapped a few of the largest Milwaukee-area projects in recent years, let's dive into Governor Walker's comments. Last week, Governor Walker asked DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb to minimize spending on mega projects in Southeastern Wisconsin. We aren't sure if that means stalling the massive, miles-long project currently underway, or if it means future-scheduled projects for the state's largest metro area. The good news is that the governor wants the DOT to start focusing more on Northern Wisconsin. "We specifically asked them to put more money into local road aids. We did it a few years ago, but we're going to have to put a fair amount more in. That will help us. It affects county roads, town roads, municipalities, as well as state highways, whether it's here in northern Wisconsin or elsewhere." So, what do you think? Is the massive lack of statewide funding for maintenance due to "mega projects" in Milwaukee, or would finding efficiencies in southern Wisconsin just temporarily help the rest of the state? The Racine area seems a bit frightened that the I-94 project will be stalled due to the Governor Walker's comments, but luckily for them, the Speaker of the Assembly, Robin Vos, represents that very area in the legislature. In an interview with the Racine Journal Times, Speaker Vos said, "I am frustrated that the project, under Governor Walker's plan, is going to be pushed back even further, making the interstate more dangerous and more expensive." We won't know until the DOT submits its budget to the governor if major projects in Southeastern Wisconsin will be jeopardized, but we certainly hope to see long-term solutions proposed as soon as possible, that way no Wisconsinite will have to worry about the safety of their roads.
New state civil service rules and your responses
Last week, WPT brought you the newest changes to the state's hotly-debated civil service changes that were passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Walker. The state civil service procedures dictate the hiring, firing, and disciplinary protocol for state employees, not including the UW-System or the state's national guard. We outlined some violations at work that would create just cause for the suspension or termination of an employee, and asked if you thought these changes were reasonable. Here's what you said:
97 percent of you said the changes were reasonable. Some respondents left comments. "I still think they are too lax." "About time the state disciplines match the private sector." "The [rules] weren't broken, shouldn't have been fixed." The comments and poll show that most of our members believe these changes to the state's disciplinary actions bring current law more in line with the private sector. Only time will tell if these changes will make any real impact on the turn-over in state employment, but for now, they are the law. Next, we wanted to know if you have ever had to let an employee go.
65 percent said yes. 25 percent said no. 10 percent of respondents don't own a business. "I fired an employee...for smoking "pot" in the bathroom while at work. She was then unable to do her job correctly, causing injury to the finger of another. Because I did not do a blood test to prove it, I had to pay her unemployment when she graduated high school. This is not the only time I had to fire a person, but it was the one that upset me the most." Obviously, it sounds like this employer made the right decision. Forget about just the general lack of efficiency that substance abuse can cause in the workplace, but if this person, in fact, caused injury to another because of their actions, it's probably a good thing that she no longer works from you. Hopefully she learned her lesson and has gainful employment someplace else, even with this mark on her résumé. Speaking of résumés, the state made a shift to a résumé-based system for hiring, rather than the old civil service exam. We wanted to know what you thought about the state making this move...
70 percent said they like the move. 30 percent said the state should have kept the exam. The comments were rather interesting, and made some very good points. "You can lie on a résumé." "Shameful to change this merit-based process." "I've worked in places were exams truly separate good hires from bad hires. Maybe a new time of exam might be a good idea?" "Some people do not test well." "Do both." A lot can be said about exams, and how they might set apart better candidates for a job. It's our understanding that the state will keep some exams for more specific and technical positions, while primarily focusing on work experience. You don't want somebody on the job who lies about their professional history, and you certainly don't want to hire somebody who doesn't know what they're doing. A mixture of both is probably for the best. Should layoffs be based on performance or seniority?
97 percent said performance. Three percent said seniority. If a person truly excels in their position, but was among the last batch of people to be hired, it's hard to find the justification for letting that person go if funding is cut or layoffs are imminent. So, finally, do these changes bring our state more in line with the private sector?
93 percent say they agree. Seven percent say they don't. One interesting suggestion that we received in the comments section was that the public should be able to weigh in on the performance of state employees, and that feedback should be part of their job performance. That might be a tough sell. Depending on a multitude of factors, the state employee cannot always grant a request, or even access certain information being requested by a member of the public. That might lead the resident to feel poorly about whomever happened to answer the phone, and could negatively impact the career of a state employee whose hands are tied. Interesting feedback and responses. Thanks for taking the time to participate.
Governor Walker recently directed the Department of Transportation to minimize spending on projects in Southeastern Wisconsin. We want to get your thoughts. All responses are confidential, there are only five multiple choice questions, and it'll take less than a minute of your time!
General aid estimates released for school districts
The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has released its general aid estimates for school districts around the state. According to a release from that department, there will be a $108.1 million uptick in the state's general aid from the budget. This amounts to 61 percent of Wisconsin's school districts (260 of 424) will have an increase for the upcoming school year. The press release also mentioned that the amount to be distributed to school districts is up nearly $120 million because of changes in how the Independent Charter School and Milwaukee Parental Choice programs are being funded. Milwaukee Public Schools will have a state aid deduction of about $52.8 million to pay its share (25.6 percent) of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Overall, Milwaukee School Choice is expected to cost a total of $206.1 million. General aid to schools is paid in installments and is based on prior year membership, shared costs, and property values. The July 1 aid estimates use unaudited school district data, and will be recalculated using auidted 2015-16 school data, and certified on October 15th. According to the release: "Changes in property valuations are another factor that impacts whether a district receives more or less general state aid than the prior school year. Property valuations per pupil range from $8,996,900 in North Lakeland to $183,400 in Beloit, a ratio of 49:1 between the state's most and least property wealthy districts. Beloit is the state's highest aided district, receiving state general aid that covers 81.3 percent of its eligible shared costs. "There are 20 districts that receive no equalization aid because their property wealth exceeds $1.9 million per pupil. Most of these districts receive special adjustment aid, which ensures that most decreases are held to no more than 15 percent from year-to-year. Geneva J4, Mercer, North Lakeland, and Washington school districts are estimated to receive no general aid for the 2016-17 school year." To read the full release from DPI, click here.
With one term nearly finished, Senator Stroebel has big plans for the next four years
WPT sat down with citizen legislator and real estate business owner, Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) to talk about some of the creative policies that he introduced over during this past legislative session, and to get a feel for what his plans are for his next term in the State Senate. Senator Stroebel, who represents Wisconsin's 20th Senate District. First elected to the State Assembly in a special election in 2011, he eventually won the open Senate seat left by now Congressman Glenn Grothman. I asked Sen. Stroebel what inspired him to enter public service, and he said his kids. "Because I saw our state and nation in fiscal peril, I decided to run for the Assembly around the time of the Act 10 debate. I knew Act 10 would ensure the future generations have a better standing." "I also saw that Wisconsin has a high tax state; we are currently ranked 43 by the Tax Foundation." The veteran lawmaker then mentioned that we are moving the needle in the right direction, but other states are doing more. "Strong reforms like personal property tax repeal, full prevailing wage repeal, and flattening of teh income tax are things we should address in the next session." He spends a large amount of his free time giving back to the community through volunteering, coaching, and sitting on numerous councils such as the Greater Cedarburg Foundation, Concordia University President's Council, and as a 4H Project Leader. "I am proud to have given time and resources to help area kids be the best they can be." The difference between serving in the Assembly and the Senate, Stroebel joked, "is there are more parades for my kids to walk in." The father of eight kids, there won't be a shortage of Stroebel's in district parades any time soon. WPT supported a measure of the first term senator's earlier this year. The bill would drastically reduce red tape, save money, and time, by replacing federal dollars used on local road projects with state dollars. It was estimated to save taxpayers millions of dollars, and reduce the delivery costs of local road projects by nearly 25 percent. "I will introduce this bill again," Stroebel said. "The DOT must exhaust all inefficiencies. We have borrowed for decades beyond our means. Nearly 20 percent of the transportation fund is spent on debt retirement." Tax Incremental Financing, or TIF reform will continue to be a focus of Stroebel's in the coming term. "I plan to introduce legislation again to ensure best practices are utilized by every municipality across the state. We should be diligent before giving any taxpayer subsidies to ensure they are necessary and not unduly picking winners and losers." The senator agrees that TIF can help communities, but said it should used to the benefit of all taxpayers and government entities, "not just a cash account for cities development dreams." To save the biggest obstacle for last, we asked Senator Stroebel about moving the repeal of the Personal Property Tax forward. We have been happy to work with his office in the past, and were thrilled to hear about his priority next session. "My priority in the next session will be to repeal the Personal Property Tax. While it will be hard to 'find the money,' the elimination of the [PPT] will be the best bill we can do to help small businesses grow." We appreciate the creative approach Senator Stroebel has with regards to public policy. His bills not only focus on advocating for the everyday taxpayer, but are always realistic and collaborative. Should he win re-election in November, we look forward to working with his office again on your behalf.
Credit union mergers more common in Wisconsin and across country
According to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), 12 credit unions merged in 2015, and five so far in 2016. Apparently, those numbers aren't unusual for Wisconsin, but since 2010, there has been a sharp decline in the number of credit unions chartered by the state. In 2010, there were 223 state-chartered credit unions, and now there are 150. In that same period of time, credit union members rose from 2.19 million to 2.61 million. Additionally, credit union assets rose from $20.7 billion to $28.8 billion. In fact, nationwide, the number of credit unions has dropped by nearly 600 in the past two years. According to experts, mergers aren't necessarily a bad thing, and can be quite good for the consumer, who is likely to see better rates, products and services. So what gives? The cost of constantly improving and offering new services is increasingly difficult for smaller credit unions, so it's just easier to merge.
DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel column: Every month should be dairy month in Wisconsin
MADISON - In June we all celebrate dairy with farm tours, dairy breakfasts, signs and special menus. Even though dairy month ended when we flipped our calendars to July, we should continue to appreciate the many contributions of Wisconsin's dairy farms throughout the year.
The dairy industry in Wisconsin has good news to tell. Our state is home to more dairy farms than any other state. With about 9,500 dairy farms, Wisconsin has more than 20% of the nation's herds. We have farms that focus on grazing, produce organic milk, sell at farmers markets or take advantage of robotic technology. While our dairy farms are all shapes and sizes, about 96% of them are family-owned.
These farms are not only producing high quality milk, they are also making a huge impact on our state's economy, $43.4 billion strong. These dollars circulate through local communities, supporting schools, businesses and safety services. More than 78,000 people in the state work in jobs related to the dairy industry.
It is no secret to anyone in the dairy business that times are challenging for our farmers. Current prices are about 40% lower than a couple of years ago, leaving little to no room for profit. A lack of income doesn't change the labor and expenses that farmers need to put into their farms to get the job done. While dairy farmers have experienced these highs and lows in the market before, it doesn't make it any easier.
So what can we do to best support our dairy farmers? Buy Wisconsin dairy. Wisconsin milk not only fills up your glass at dinner, but it is also used to make our favorite foods like cheese, butter, ice cream and yogurt.
Wisconsin's dairy processing is second to none. Wisconsin produces more than 600 types, styles and varieties of cheese. Governor Walker and the staff at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection work with our universities and ag organizations on quality, food safety and marketing. It is clear Wisconsin is number one when you look at the hardware; Wisconsin took home more than 38% of the awards at the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest.
I am optimistic for the future of Wisconsin's dairy industry. Our universities continue to develop programming in dairy science and food science. When traveling internationally to countries like China and Mexico, they are interested in our technology and products. The Governor and I will continue to work diligently to maintain and build our relationships with trading partners around the world.
I know it's hard out there right now for farmers. I was a dairy farmer myself during the farm crisis of the 1980's. If I was a betting man, I would say there are stronger years ahead for Wisconsin's dairy farmers. Until then, I have faith in the resilience of our dairy farm community to manage through these times. I am confident our dairy processors will continue to innovate to make the products our consumers demand.
Wisconsin dairy is a brand we can all be proud of. Dairy means more to Wisconsin's economy than citrus does to Florida or potatoes do to Idaho. We should all recognize Wisconsin as America's Dairyland, not only in June, but all year round.
DATCP's Wisconsin Farm Center provides information and support to farmers and their families. Services include financial consultation, succession planning, conflict mediation and technical assistance. Contact the Farm Center toll-free at 1-800-942-2474 or visit our website