News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Good evening. We hope you had a relaxing weekend, and that you were able to enjoy some of the great weather seen across much of the state. This week, we'll bring you the latest on a push by some members of Congress to assist dairy farmers in the US, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and Congressmen Ron Kind and Mark Pocan. We'll also talk about a recent report regarding Wisconsin's road funding situation, and share some good employment news! 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,
Baldwin, Kind, Pocan join bipartisan coalition, urging market balancing for milk producers
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D), and Congressmen Ron Kind (D) and Mark Pocan (D) have joined a bipartisan coalition, which stretches across both the US Senate and House of Representatives, urging USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to take action on helping balance the market for struggling milk producers across the nation. 57 members of Congress sent the letter, which asks for assistance during this time of a large decline in milk prices, which have dropped 40 percent since 2014, due to both an increase in US production levels and changes in the European Union's regulation of milk production. The letter says that dairy farmers need immediate aid that directly supports family dairy farmers, and that dairy price programs have failed to work as intended. WPT has been working to inform members of the lackluster performance of the Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP), and its record of taking in much more than it pays out to struggling farmers, at a ratio of worse than 100 to 1. This presumably one of the main programs to which the letter is referring. Representative Joe Courtney of Connecticut cited that over the past few decades, his state's dairy industry has shrunk from over 800 farms to about 150 today. Senator Baldwin said, "Wisconsin dairy farmers work hard every day moving our economy forward, so we need to do everything we can to reward their hard work by giving them a fair shot at getting ahead. Keeping our economy strong means ensuring our rural communities and farms make it through this challenging time for the dairy industry." You can read the copy of the letter here.
Major Wisconsin storm and your responses
Last week, we brought you the latest information on the massive floods and damages from a storm in Wisconsin earlier in July. Some highways were washed away, large infrastructure damages were reported, and even several deaths have been attributed to the scale of the floods and impact on multiple communities in the region. FEMA began their assessment of the region last week Tuesday, and as they work with local and state agencies, many counties and municipalities are stuck with no funding or budget to make the repairs themselves. Not including damage to personal property, the public infrastructure damages alone are about $38 million. Governor Walker has until August 10th to apply for a federal disaster declaration. We wanted to know if any of our members were caught in the storm, and to get your thoughts on the state's actions after the storm. We first asked if any readers experienced the storm in July:
About 2/3rds did not experience the storm, and we were glad to hear it. And based on your responses, nobody suffered any damages from the storms. 100% responded "no" when asked if they experienced any lasting damage from the flooding. With the deadline approaching in just over one week, we asked members if they thought Wisconsin should ask the feds to declare this region a disaster area.
About 85 percent said the state should request the federal declaration. "Can't hurt. Try to get some of that federal money that other states seem to get." "We don't need the Feds involved in our business." "Yes they should. To help the economy with tourism." Keep in mind that the damages cost more to these municipalities than they generally spend in a single year on repairs and maintenance, and the state is currently facing a $900 million dollar transportation shortfall in the coming biennium. The FEMA report should be delivered to the Governor within the next week, and his decision will be based off of those results. And although teams are currently on the ground in the area working through their assessments, it did take two weeks to get them to the region to begin their work.
Bad River Church_ Courtesy of BIA So, we asked if the state has acted fast enough in responding to the crisis.
Almost 90 percent of respondents do not believe the state acted fast enough. "2 weeks. Why?" "If this was a private company dealing with a disaster, a two week response time would have been lampooned on international news. This is nothing short of incompetence. People should have been there the morning after." "Why the wait? Be proactive." "Think about 2008 in the WI Dells. How long did it take to respond?" The Dells comment was in reference to the massive 2008 storm that washed away a state highway and emptied all of Lake Delton into the Wisconsin River. It left the area tourism industry scrambling, countless properties washed away, and a massive response effort from the state. Making matters even worse for local residents and tourism alike, it's reported that the road repairs won't likely be finished or ready for travelers until the late summer. Most are looking for a mid-August date, but fearing roads won't be ready in time for the highly-traveled Labor Day weekend. Finally, on a lighter note:
It's easy in Wisconsin to complain about weather. It seems like the summer heat always leaves people preferring cooler weather, and vice versa. But which do you really prefer? The muggy and hot weather, or the blistering cold? It looks like the cold takes the prize this week. When the temperatures or wind chill hit -40 degrees this winter, WPT will ask the same question again. We suspect the muggy and hot weather will win the poll in the winter months. Thanks again to all of those who responded to last week's survey. Don't forget to click below to take this week's quick, 5-question survey.
Wisconsin health care ranked one of best in nation
You might not think so, but Wisconsin's health care quality score ranks third best in the country, according to a study from the US Department of Health and Human Services branch "Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality." The rankings look at 200 different measurements, which evaluate all different parts of health care performance. Maine scored #1, and Massachusetts #2. The three most poorly rated states were California #48, Nevada $#49, and New Mexico #50. Between 2006 and 2011, Wisconsin ranked #1 twice, and #2 three times. The study notes, however, that Wisconsin's health care costs are comparatively high, and that racial disparities exist in terms of quality of care. You can read the full report here.
Legislative Fiscal Bureau: $1 billion in the hole over next two years
The powerful Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairman, State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) requested an analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau on the state's transportation funding situation. Their findings? Wisconsin will need to come up with another $939 million dollars to match what was approved in the last state budget. That's a big number, and we already know the biggest question; how do we fill it? One option is borrowing the money, but many GOP lawmakers are opposed to issuing bonds at current levels, as it really drains future funds in future budgets. Nygren said that the state is basically passing the cost onto future Wisconsin generations, and we cannot continue to rely on bonding. Governor Walker and the legislature already borrowed $850 million for roads in the last state budget, but it wasn't enough to continue some massive projects around the state, including the expansion of Interstate 39/90, seen as a critical corridor for business between Wisconsin and Illinois. Nygren took part in a conference call with the media last week, in which he said raising the gas tax is the best option because it's paid by not only state residents, but also visitors to Wisconsin. He noted that registration feeds are only paid for by Wisconsin residents. Seemingly taking a jab at the governor, Nygren said, "It's not necessarily the fiscally conservative position to simply say no and continue to delay projects and delay growth of our system and capacity in our transportation system that's going to drive our economy for the next 30 years." Walker said, "raising taxes and fees is not the answer. Under our administration, we will keep it a priority to live within the means of the hardworking people of Wisconsin." Something tells us, however, that the hardworking people of Wisconsin don't want to take out another billion dollars in loans.
Unemployment down in nearly all WI counties and cities
The State Department of Workforce Development had some good news last week, when it reported that most Wisconsin cities and counties' unemployment rates either declined or stayed the same.
29 of the state's 32 largest cities either saw a decrease in or remained the same. The same was true for all but four of Wisconsin's 72 counties.
Those counties were Douglas, Pierce, St. Croix, and Taylor.
Menominee County had an unemployment rate 9.1 percent, he highest in Wisconsin. Dane County had the lowest, at 3.3 percent.
Racine was the city with the highest unemployment at 6.9 percent, and Fitchburg was the lowest at 3.2 percent.
Oshkosh Corp. has a big day of hiring
The massive defense contractor in Oshkosh held a job fair last Wednesday, but one thing was much different: they wanted to hire more than 300 people in one day.
The company was looking to fill various positions for the assembly of its Oshkosh Defense vehicles.
People waited in line for the fair to open, as early as 4AM, and all of the candidates said they were excited at the possibility of landing a position with a reputable employer, with good pay and benefits.
The City of Oshkosh enjoys a very low unemployment rate, at less than 4 percent, and job experts say it's getting better.
One thing is for sure; if Oshkosh Corp keeps scoring monumental defense contracts, these spontaneous job fairs might become more regular.