News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Good evening members, We hope your weekend was relaxing and that you were able to catch some of the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics in Rio last evening. This week, we'll bring you up to speed on a repeal of the "victory tax" in Wisconsin, share the latest survey results and your responses, talk about a development in the proposed Wausau wheel tax, and more. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week, WPT, Inc.
Update: Wausau wheel tax may expand to Marathon County
Last week we brought you the news that the City of Wausau was planning on implementing a $20 wheel tax to generate revenue for road repairs and maintenance. Wausau has lost about $1.3 million in state aid in the past five years. The tax would bring in more than $600,000, and a city council committee has recommended that the whole council pass the tax without a referendum. The tax could be collected starting this year. Now, Mayor Robert Mileke has said the city will drop its plans for a wheel tax if Marathon County passes its own version and sends the $650,000 to Wausau. The county is estimated to generate about $3 million if it passes the county-wide wheel tax. The tax would apply to automobiles and trucks with a weight not exceeding 8,000 pounds, and the DOT has advised Wausau that it has about 41,000 cars and trucks registered each year, though not categorized by weight. According to WAOW, currently, the cities of Appleton, Arena, Beloit, Fort Atkinson, Gillett, Janesville, Lodi, Milwaukee, Prairie du Sac, Sheboygan and Iowa County implement a $20 wheel tax. Kaukauna, Tigerton, Chippewa County, and St. Croix County implement a $10 tax.
Buffalo and Trempealeau Counties will not receive federal disaster aid
After some heavy rainfall that caused widespread damage across Buffalo and Trempealeau Counties, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it will not provide disaster aid relief to the region. FEMA said it needed to find at least $8 million in public infrastructure damage to consider declaring the area a disaster area. The area damages total about $2 million. Local officials will now look to requesting funds from the State Disaster Fund and the DOT for repairs after seven inches of rain fell in parts of the two counties earlier this month.
Speaker Vos proposes a repeal of "victory tax"
The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio have concluded, but that doesn't mean there isn't some local news from the legislature dealing with the games. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is proposing that the State of Wisconsin repeal the so-called "victory tax," which would effectively make Olympic medals and prize money tax-free. Also co-authoring the legislation is New Berlin Republican, Rep. Joe Sanfelippo. The exemption would apply to Olympic medals with a value of up to $600, and the cash prizes received by the athletes, which currently stand at $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for a bronze medal. The exemption would apply to Olympians and Paralympians, but would not apply to 2016 earnings, and the exemption would not apply to income generated from endorsements. Wisconsin had 25 athletes in the Rio Summer Olympics this year. The press release touted Wisconsin's Olympic legacy, outlining the medalists who've come out of the Pettit National Ice Center in West Allis.
Survey results: A pop quiz on the State Legislature
Last week, we shared the news that the Wisconsin Legislature has earned an award for excellence in democracy education by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The annual award is given to an organization or individual that goes above and beyond in its duties to education and inform the public on the democratic process, and other things. The Wisconsin Legislature was given the award because of its publications, website, access to information, and other items. We wanted to know how well some of our readers match up when it comes to some common and not-so-common knowledge of the State Legislature. Let's dive in. Which legislative committee is seen as the most powerful in Wisconsin?
Correct! 60 percent were correct, at least. The Joint Committee on Finance is seen as the most powerful in the State of Wisconsin, as it weeds through the lengthy and tedious budget proposal from the Office of the Governor every two years. Line by line, this committee amends, approves, or rejects proposals from each agency, based on requests that those agencies (i.e. Dept. of Workforce Development, Health Services, Children & Families, etc.) make to the Governor. The biennial budget usually falls somewhere in the ballpark of $70 billion. That's a larger than the GDP of a place like the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. The committee meets for weeks, only adjourning for hours in some cases, before returning to the JFC hearing room on the 4th Floor of the Capitol, and getting back to work. The sessions are known to go into the wee hours of the morning, in many marathon-style hearings. Once the committee approves the final motions of the budget, it's then sent to the legislature, where it's debated, amended, and passed, and sent to the Governor. The biennial budget runs from July 1st, so usually it's a tense situation as that deadline approaches. It's not uncommon for the state to pass a budget after the July 1st date. Here's where it gets tricky. The Governor of Wisconsin, in this case, Governor Walker, has what is called "line item" veto power. He can strike from the budget any individual word or phrase, or even single letter or number, and then sign the budget into law. So, for example, if the legislature approves $100,000 for a project...the governor could, in theory, strike a single "0" from that number, and only give the project $10,000. He can also strike words and letters from sentences and form new sentences. The Governor of Wisconsin has one of the most powerful veto pens in the entire nation. Who chooses which bills are debated and voted on during a legislative session?
Right again! 65% of respondents guessed that Assembly Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald get to decide. That's correct. Before each session, a special committee known as the "Rules Committee" meets, which is comprised of legislative leaders. The speaker, who is also in charge of referring bills to particular committees, will choose which bills he will be bringing to the floor for a vote. Generally, a time limit for debate is placed on each bill, especially those that might be seen as more contentious, and after the allotted time has expired, the bill will be voted on. The debate time is agreed on by both the majority and minority leaders. How many consecutive legislative sessions does a proposed constitutional amendment need to pass before going to statewide referendum?
You are on a roll! For those of you who guessed "two," you are correct. In order to amend the Wisconsin Constitution, a joint resolution needs to be brought before the legislature and passed in two consecutive sessions. Let's use this example: State Representative XYZ introduces an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution that explicitly names our state's colors as green & gold. That joint resolution, amending the constitution, would need to pass in the 2017-2018 legislative session, then be re-introduced and passed again in the 2019-2020 legislative session. Then the voters of Wisconsin would get to decide. Should the official colors of green and gold be added to Wisconsin's constitution? If the voters approve it, it's official, and the constitution is amended. If it fails, then it's done. The Governor of Wisconsin is basically bypassed in this process, and cannot veto the ratification by voters. What is the function of the Speaker Pro Tempore?
A tie! For those of you who guessed "all of the above," you got it! The Speaker Pro Tempore is charged with overseeing the procedures and processes behind a legislative floor session. It is in his duty to call out members for breaking rules, inform them when their time for speaking has expired, granting them the ability to rise and speak, and to generally keep a level of decorum in the chamber. He is referred to as "Mr. Speaker" on the floor, and yes, from time to time, has to yell at people and bang his gavel. An interesting fact: members of the legislature are not allowed to refer to one another by their names. They need to address their colleagues as the "gentleman" or "lady" or "gentlewoman" from their district number. Members are never allowed to directly address one another, either. So for example: "Mr. Speaker, last year, the gentleman from the 3rd told us that he would vote in favor!" A member would never be allowed to say "Mr. Smith, you told us that you would vote in favor!" If they refer to each other by name, or address each other directly, it is then up to the Speaker Pro Tem to interject and remind the member of the chamber rules. Finally, we asked when was the last time you visited the Capitol.
A pretty even split, but it looks like most respondents haven't been to the Capitol in more than five years and 25% have never been! Our state has, objectively, one of the most beautiful State Capitol buildings in the United States. In fact, people travel from around the country just to step inside and gaze up at the rotunda (greek for round room). Capitol tours take place daily, and the entire building is free and open to the public at any time during normal business hours, and daily hours on weekends. We strongly suggest you take the free tour, and WPT will even help you set it up! Some respondents last week shared stories of their first time in the Capitol. "Mrs. Johnson's 4th grade fieldtrip in 1975. St. Mary's grade school, Wisconsin Rapids!" "Way back when I was in 4th grade. It was after studying the Wisconsin State Gov't. Found it very interesting, also went to the State Historical Society Museum that day as well. To date myself, Patrick Lucey was governor." "Unbelievable architecture and beauty, and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum across the street is an amazing place." "4th grade ate our cold lunches sitting in a circle under the dome." "I went for the first time last year and even stopped in to say hi to my representative, who came out and shook my hand and gave me a blue book and Wisconsin map."
July shows near-record milk output
27 consecutive months of increases in milk production didn't stop in July, as Wisconsin dairy farmers produced 2.56 billion pounds of milk last month, up 2.1 percent from July 2015. Monthly output per cow averaged 2,005 lbs, which was an increase of 45 pounds from last year July, putting it as second highest- behind May 2016. According to the USDA's monthly milk report, California still has the highest production, hovering at 3.37 billion pounds. South Dakota had the single greatest increase in year-to-year milk production, with 215 million pounds in July. The 20 major dairy states had 8.65 million head, which was up 19,000 from a year ago, and 2,000 more than June.
Wisconsin home sales slowed last month
A lean inventory of houses in the market caused Wisconsin sales of existing homes to slow in the month of July, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association. Closings on home sales dropped 7.6% at 8,189 last month, as opposed to 8,866 one year ago. According to the realtors, it was the first year-to-year monthly decrease in 2016. The report also showed that the median home price sold in Wisconsin last month was up 4% at $170,000. In July 2015, that number was $163,500. Wisconsin existing home inventory is down more than 8,000 homes, and the average number of days that a house stays on the market in Wisconsin is 83- lowest since 2005 (81 days).