WPT Capitol Report, August 15, 2016

News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin

Good evening members, We hope your weekend was relaxing and that your work week is off to a productive start. This week, we'll bring you up to speed on the federal disaster declaration for some Northern Wisconsin counties, talk about the Marshfield referendum results, go over a new tax hike proposal in Wausau, and share recent survey results, among other news. As always, we hope you find the WPT Capitol Report to be interesting and informative. If there are any topics you would like to see featured in a future edition, reach out to us directly at any time by e-mailing Have a great week, WPT, Inc.

Property owners reject Marshfield referendum

It's no secret, our roads aren't in the best condition. In fact, some are in outright terrible conditions. While some politicians in Madison are calling for raising the gas tax, others are touting the percentages of Wisconsin's roads that are rated in fair or better conditions. It's all spin, folks. A punt, if you will. And while elected officials don't have much time before the elections are over and the real work begins again, some local municipalities are asking voters to raise property taxes to pay for road repairs. Take, for instance, the referendum last Tuesday in Marshfield. Voters had the opportunity to agree to raising property taxes by $1 for every $1,000 in assessed value for five years. In other words, For every $100,000 in value, $100 extra would go into the Marshfield coffers, earmarked for road repair. Voters didn't much like the idea, and in a vote of 1,532 AGAINST and 861 IN FAVOR, voters overwhelmingly took the sides of property taxpayers and told the local government that it's not going to happen. From our perspective, these results were a bit telling. First, the results tell us that the voting public understands the sacrifices that property owners already make for the good of the public. Property taxes make up a pretty big slice of the revenue pie, yet property owners make up a relatively small portion of the public. Voters had the backs of property owners last Tuesday, and we were grateful to see it. Secondly, we think these results were a giant call for policymakers in Madison to do their jobs and fund Wisconsin's roads. Sure local repairs and and state repairs differ, and so do many of the funds. But the overarching sentiment is that property taxpayers shouldn't take a hit simply because borrowing is easier than making hard decisions. And lastly, it needs to be mentioned that Marshfield city officials budgeted $1.65 million per year for road resurfacing from 2016 through 2020, but are averaging spending more than $2 million per year. Simply budgeting less for projects doesn't make real life costs go down, and higher taxes shouldn't be the first place municipalities go looking. One thing is for sure; if the government mentality is "don't worry, we'll just raise the money through property taxes at a later date," then voters proved the taxspenders wrong last Tuesday.

Eight Wisconsin counties receive federal disaster declaration

The Obama Administration has declared eight Wisconsin counties a disaster area, after being slammed by storms, high winds, and massive flooding last month. Up to 10 inches of rain were reported in some parts of the region. The Federal Emergency Management Agency last week said that the declaration from the federal government means that those counties will be able to receive some federal dollars to help assist in rebuilding after millions of dollars in private property and public infrastructure were left in the wake of the storm. The counties are Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Florence, Iron, Sawyer, and Washburn. Government officials from the state and the localities will have to apply to FEMA to receive the money, which the State Journal reported, can be used to repair roads, bridges, schools, and utilities. It can also be used on efforts to prevent future disasters.

Wisconsin State Legislature receives award for Excellence in Democracy Education

There is, no doubt, a myriad of opinions and feelings regarding Wisconsin State Legislature and it's members, but a national organization that provides study, education, assistance, research, and collaboration among all 50 state legislatures has awarded Wisconsin with a pretty big honor, the Kevin B. Harrington award for Excellence in Democracy Education. According to the letter, the National Conference of State Legislatures gives out this award each year to an individual or organization that furthers the understanding of the principals and practices of the representative democracy for students and the general public. In their letter, the NCSL recognized the Wisconsin Legislature outstanding publications, website, video productions, and electronic communications that assist the public in boosting their general understanding of the state government, and its processes.

Survey results: Wisconsin healthcare and your responses

In the last Capitol Report, we brought you the latest news that Wisconsin's healthcare system has been ranked third in the nation, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Looking at hospitals, nursing homes, and home care organizations, the HHS's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality determined that Wisconsin's healthcare system is at the very top nationwide for quality of service. Maine and Massachusetts held the number one and two spots, respectively. Wisconsin isn't new to this type of attention. In fact, our state has ranked among the top four in the past nine years. But what does that mean to you? What are your experiences with the system? Let's find out. Have you received health care services in the past five years?

90 percent of respondents said yes, they have received health care services in the past five years. On an interesting note, the average American citizen visits their doctor four times per year, for check-ups and other routine business. And in a 2003 Gallup study, one in four Americans visited the hospital emergency room within one calendar year! Residents of Japan visit, on average, 13 times per year. 90 percent of you have received some type of healthcare in the past year, but were you pleased with the care?

85 percent said their care was top quality! "All have had great bedside manner." We also wrote about Wisconsin being ranked in the top tier for access to healthcare. Do you have quick and easy access to medical care?

This can be the scariest thing for families and individuals in rural areas. If there is an emergency, where do you go? We were happy to see that, again, 90 percent say their healthcare is not far at all from where they live. God forbid an emergency ever befall any of you, thankfully, medical care is nearby. How about the costs of healthcare? Have they gone up or down in recent years?

95 percent said their healthcare costs have gone up. In fact, you are not alone. As it turns out, with the high ranking of quality care, the costs are certainly considerable, as well. A study from the Health Care Cost Institute earlier this year showed that Wisconsinites' costs are 81% higher than the national average. The study was based on claims from UnitedHealthcare, Humana, and Aetna. Finally, our fun question of the week; are you afraid of needles?!

95 percent said NO! That just means you won't admit it! Thanks to the 5 percent who owned-up to it!


Wausau could see a $20 wheel tax

Drivers in Wausau could be paying an extra $20 during their license plate renewal if the city gets its way. Another story of the decline in state aids to municipalities leaves this Central Wisconsin city wondering where big portions of their budget are going to come from. Unlike Marshfield, Wausau isn't asking property taxpayers to foot the bill, but rather anybody who owns and has a registered vehicle within the city property. Similar taxes have been imposed in other parts of the state, as well. Milwaukee, Appleton, and Sheboygan are just a few who impose $20 wheel tax. As recently as last week, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, also one of Wisconsin's wealthiest individuals (who pays absolutely nothing in state income tax), said he is considering a $20 wheel tax on all Milwaukee County residents. The Wausau proposal would mean that the registration fee for drivers would reach $95/year, and bring in $650,000 annually for street maintenance, road, and transit costs. So, what's next? Since the new tax would have to be approved by voters in a referendum, the city council is going to repeal the ordinance requiring voters get to decide, and they will implement the tax anyways. Stay tuned.

Crop forecast predicts corn, soybeans, wheat will set records

The USDA's latest crop summary shows Wisconsin farmers are forecast to harvest over 550 million bushels of corn this fall- yields averaging 173 bushels per acre on Wisconsin's 4.2 million corn acres. If this happens, both production and yield would set new records. 101 million bushels for soybeans is the forecast from USDA, which would also break the current record of 92.6 million in 2015. Wheat production is forecast at 21.2 million, up from 15.54 million in 2015, and expected to average 80 bushels per acre.