Wisconsin Property Taxpayers, Inc.
Property Taxpayers United for Fairness and Reform Since 1985
News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
As always, we hope your weekend was enjoyable, and that your workweek is off to a productive start. WPT would like to take a moment to express our deepest sympathies for the Dallas community in last week's tragic and violent events. We offer our condolences to the families and friends of the officers who were killed or injured. In last week's Capitol Report, we touched on Governor Walker's request to minimize the budgets for DOT projects in SE Wisconsin, and asked for your responses. We'll go through our survey results, bring you the latest in national jobs numbers, and touch on a local roads grant. We'll also share our recent interview with State Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) in our ongoing lawmaker interview series. We hope you find the WPT Capitol Report to be interesting and informative. If you have anything you would like to see featured in a future edition, please do not hesitate to reach out by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best for a great week ahead,
Governor launches Wisconsin's Broadband Forward! program
At an event with community leaders and other state officials, Governor Walker officially announced the launch of "Broadband Forward!" The new certification program coordinates and streamlines administrative procedures for the deployment of next generation broadband technologies, by providing a new "Broadband Forward! Community" designation for local governments who choose to participate. "Improving the speed and efficiency of broadband throughout Wisconsin is crucial to the continued economic success of our communities," Governor Walker said. "The Broadband Forward! Community certification allows communities to distinguish themselves by eliminating obstacles to infrastructure investment." If Wisconsin communities choose to be part of this program will comply with certain procedures for reviewing applications and permits relate to broadband infrastructure projects with the goal of streamlining the process for approving local broadband investment. Municipalities who wish to apply should do so through the Public Service Commission.
SE Wisconsin road funding and your responses
Governor Walker recently directed his transportation secretary to minimize the budgets for mega projects in Southeastern Wisconsin. Currently, the I-94 and Zoo Interchange projects are underway in that region, leaving the question of whether or not this decision could slow the completion of these large-scale projects. As always, we wanted to get your thoughts on the decision. First, we asked if you think Governor Walker made the right decision to minimize the projects in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Nearly 75 percent believe this is the right decision. The comments were evenly split. "What good are super roads in Milwaukee if you can't get there because of poor roads in the rest of the state?" "Those in rural areas deserve decent roads also." "The I-94 corridor between the Illinois border and the airport is the current and future business gateway to Wisconsin." We agree with all of the above. Safety should be a concern in every corner of the state, and the quality of highways and roads should reflect such. But will slowing these projects really help the statewide problem in the long term, or is another solution needed?
More than 85 percent of respondents said that another solution is needed, and that cutting these projects isn't a long term fix. What do our respondents feel is the best solution? "Tolls are terrible. Gas tax is OK, but it cannot all go to Madison/Milwaukee. It has to be spread out elsewhere." "Small gas tax increase." "Mileage tax." "Raise gas tax." "Just raise the gas tax." It looks like if WPT's members had the final say, the Wisconsin gas tax would be raised for road funding. And no matter which solution you favor personally, you aren't alone. In fact, it's beginning to look like there may be some major disagreement between the Governor and legislative leaders on which solution to best serves Wisconsin's needs. As we said last week, if you have driven through Milwaukee in the past decade, you have inevitably driven through a major interstate project. Can you imagine halting a project of this size? Should DOT finish these projects?
96 percent said yes, finish what we started. We agree. Finishing these projects on time, and within budget, would be best for the safety of drivers through the region, as well as long term budgeting. In our eyes, there is no need to prolong massive projects, and thereby spending more money by delaying. We might seem like a broken record when we talk about long term roads funding, and all of the impending legislative fights that are sure to come in the next session. But, we can't stress enough the importance of this decision. But will there even be a decision? At this very time last summer, we learned just how doomed some major projects around the state might be, because of a big DOT budget shortfall. But still, at the latter part of 2015 and through the first months of 2016, the legislature made no decisions to fix the problem. They wrapped up their legislative business and went home for the summer to campaign. So how confident are WPT members that the legislature will actually find a long-term solution to statewide road funding?
It looks like 70 percent aren't confident at all, and think the legislature will kick the can again. Only one person left a response on this particular question, but it sums up perfectly WPT's feelings on the issue. "There is too much partisan bickering. It's time for BOTH sides to come together to find a good, common ground approach where WISCONSIN wins." Well said, whoever you are. Finally, we wanted to end on a lighter note. Did you travel for the holiday weekend? What did you do?
Over 80 percent stayed home! Nothing like a good ol' "staycation." "Elkhart lake." "Enjoyed local fishing, recreated at home with family." "Danbury area lake." And what seemed like a special tradition for one WPT member's family... "Helped the neighbors paint their deck and installed new deck boards on ours..and finally, every 4th of July, we always take pictures of our corn to see how tall it is with a personal, family member in the picture. We have been doing this for 23 years." We'd love to see the pictures! Don't forget to take this week's survey! We'll talk about broadband access in Wisconsin, and its importance to the economy.
STOP. SURVEY. DON'T SKIP!
The state government is doing a lot of focusing on expanding broadband access to more rural parts of the state. They say it's crucial to the future of our economy. What do you think? Take our brief five-question survey. All responses are anonymous. It will take less than a minute of your time.
Wisconsin to receive share of $44 million for wetland conservation
The US Department of Agriculture has awarded Wisconsin and 11 other states $44 million to assist with conservation on private and tribal agricultural lands. It's called the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership, and that program will distribute the cash to projects that "protect, restore and enhance wetlands" on parcels obtained by the federal government. Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture said "these projects will ave tremendous impacts on the local level" in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We know to have the greatest benefit we need to have a suite of measures in place, including from neighbor to neighbor, and that's what this funding will help achieve." The program will help property owners enhance and protect wildlife habitat on their land, as well as help them reduce the impact of floods and help recharge ground water. It will also help with providing outdoor recreational and education opportunities. The program was created in the 2014 Farm Bill, and is managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The program could have large impact in Wisconsin. According to the Wisconsin Wetland Association, our state has lost 50% of its historic wetlands, and 75% of the remaining wetlands are on private property. To learn more about the program, you're encouraged to contact the NRCS office at (608) 662-4422, or by visiting www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/
WPT Interview with Senator Julie Lassa, Chair of Senate Democratic Caucus
WPT had the opportunity to interview the Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, State Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) to talk about her accomplishments, and some of the issues on which she plans to focus. Lassa, born in Stevens Point in 1970, grew up on her parents' dairy arm in northern Portage County. She graduated from Stevens Point Area Senior High, graduated from UW-Stevens Point, and performed graduate work at the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs at UW-Madison. Her life-long ties to the Stevens Point region are no doubt the driving factor behind her love for the community she represents. She was elected to the Assembly in 1998, and has been serving in the State Senate since 2003. Senator Lassa is currently the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Commerce, and the Committee on Revenue, Financial Institutions, and Rural Issues. WPT, as always, asked the lawmaker to share a bit about her district. Among the myriad of places she mentioned in her district, she said if she had to pick just one place every Wisconsinite should visit, it would be the Wisconsin Korean War Veterans Memorial in Plover. "It features a unique and beautiful design and is situated on a wooded island in Lake Pacawa. As a memorial to those who served in the "forgotten war," it's a moving and educational remembrance of all those who have sacrificed for our nation," she said. Though Lassa serves as ranking member on some of the most important committees in the legislature, she is also co-chair of the newly-formed Wisconsin's Children's Caucus, along with Republican lawmaker Rep. Joan Ballweg of Markesan. And it doesn't stop there. Lassa is also a member of the WEDC Board. When Governor Walker moved to abolish the Department of Commerce and create WEDC in 2011, Lassa was one of the voices warning against haste and lack of planning. "Many of the missteps that happened later, from losing track of millions in loans to inadequate vetting of award recipients to not verifying that companies were doing what they were supposed to with taxpayer funds, can all be traced back to WEDC's chaotic creation." The senator believes that WEDC's brand now is just too broken to be fixed at this point. "I've heard from businesses and business groups that don't want to be associated with WEDC because they fear for their own reputations." That's why she is has proposed as reset of sorts that would keep the best aspects of WEDC's structure, but would return to having taxpayer dollars administered by accountable public officials. She added, "We also need to refocus WEDC's efforts from 'smokestack chasing' to helping entrepreneurs start and grow the small businesses that create most new jobs. I will keep working to restore confidence in Wisconsin's economic development programs." And helping small businesses grow isn't where her efforts stop. She also wants to restore the exemption for seasonal employees to perform work searches while they're laid off for the winter. "If you have a job, the state shouldn't force you to apply for another one during a seasonal layoff. I hear not only from constituents who are frustrated because they are forced to apply for jobs during a seasonal layoff, but also from business people who are concerned that they will lose talented and experienced employees. I sponsored a bill that would remove this work search requirement for seasonal layoffs." Since the changes were made, WPT has heard from countless members that these new requirements cause them to lose great employees, and place a huge burden on their workforce during the off-seasons. Aside from making WEDC more accountable, and having a pro-small business focus going into next session, the lawmaker said she is looking forward to finding common ground on evidence-based policies to make life better for all of Wisconsin's children through her work on the Wisconsin Children's Caucus. We asked the senator what she felt was her biggest accomplishment. "I think [it] was getting 15 proposals signed into law despite being in the minority. In the very partisan atmosphere of the State Legislature, it's getting harder and harder to work across the aisle to get proposals passed into law." And moving forward? "I will keep working for policies to strengthen Wisconsin's economy. I've introduced bills to help entrepreneurs get the capital they need, and toe expand the ability of our tech colleges to train our skilled workforce. I also advanced proposals to use student loan forgiveness to attract your professionals to locate and stay in Wisconsin, especially in rural areas."
$40 million federal grant awarded for I-39/90 expansion
With all of the talk about the transportation budget, road funding, and delays in massive projects, a little bit of good news was announced this past week, to the tune of $40 million. The federal government has awarded the Wisconsin Department of Transportation the whopping grant to speed up the expansion construction of the highly used and highly-trafficked portion of I-39/90 near Janesville. Wisconsin DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb said that the grant will supplement existing funds to help DOT accelerate the improvements to the region. This is the first year for the federal grant program, and Wisconsin is among some of the first states awarded the grant. Specifically, expanding the stretch between Avalon Road and Highway 14 will begin now in 2018, rather than 2020, widening that four miles to eight lanes from four. This particular area sees nearly 60,000 cars per day.
Better than expected jobs numbers for June
It's always a nice surprise to hear that things turn out better than anticipated. That's exactly what experts are saying about the jobs numbers for June. The economy added 287,000 jobs last month, but the unemployment did bump upward to 4.9 percent. That might sound bad, but sometimes that's not actually bad news, because it means more people are entering the labor force. Experts say it's important not to put too much emphasis on one or two months' numbers, but rather take a look at long-term trends. At the end of last year, we were pacing at nearly 300,000 jobs per month, but slowed to 200,000 in the first quarter of this year.