News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Good evening members, We hope you had a great Labor Day weekend and that you were able to sneak in some time to relax with family and friends. In this Capitol Report, we'll share last week's survey results, bring you the latest on Harley-Davidson's plans to lay off workers in Tomahawk, share Wisconsin's recent revenue collections numbers, and talk about Brazilian beef imports, and get your thoughts. As always, we hope you find the Capitol Report to be interesting and informative. If there are any topics you would like to share, or if you have any questions or comments, reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week, WPT, Inc.
Harley-Davidson plans to lay off 39 employees in Tomahawk
Harley-Davidson last week announced its plans to lay off 39 employees at its Tomahawk plant, one of the area's largest employers. The plant, which employs over 300 workers, opened in the 1960s. Many are calling this move by HD a bad hit for the local community, including the Mayor of Tomahawk, Steve Taskay, who called the announcement "devastating," saying he was blindsided by the announcement. The mayor said he immediately called the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, who was already aware of the motorcycle manufacturer's plans in the region. Other area leaders had no prior knowledge of the layoffs, including State Representative Mary Czaja (R-Irma). Harley is implementing nationwide layoffs in 2016, totally about 200 positions within the company. A spokesperson for the company said that they are due to the company reacting to industry and market changes, in an effort to provide the best products to its customers. "To that end," she said, "as we adjust our production plan to align with 2016 guidance, we are making the necessary changes to right-size the company." The cuts will begin in October and continue to the end of 2016. WJFW reports that of the 313 employees at the plant in Tomahawk, 268 are union employees. All positions laid off will be union workers, according to their report.
Flood relief for Buffalo, Trempealeau, Eau Claire counties taking too long
Though Governor Walker has issued an emergency declaration for the three Western Wisconsin counties impacted by massive flooding last month, some area leaders think that state and federal relief is taking too long, as residents are still wading through the aftermath. State Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) says that many of the families impacted are low income, have no resources, and no ability to rebuild. She said they need help, but few seem to be listening. The area saw massive flooding on and after August 10th-11th when up to 8 inches of rain fell in a short time span. Among the widespread damage were farms, roads, bridges, and many homes. Senator Vinehout said that local leaders have been taking action in an effort to urge the state and federal government to help out. She cited many phone calls, public meetings, and other activity. In an interview with WIZM, Sen. Vinehout said "The more I learn about emergency management and emergency help for people, the more I realize how difficult it is to jump through all the hoops that the federal government sets." As WPT pointed out in a Capitol Report late last month, federal authorities deemed the damage too small for a "disaster" declaration, therefor cutting off any type of funding from FEMA. This does not mean, however that this counties cannot receive other types of federal aid, or assistance from the State of Wisconsin.
Many still concerned about infectious disease, as USDA takes final steps to open US market to Brazilian beef
With the agriculture and food industries living in a more globalized era than ever, it's no surprise that meat imports are a common occurrence in the US marketplace. But many are saying that Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) among animals in Brazil is a large enough problem that our country should not allow beef imports from that country. That isn't stopping Secretary Tom Vilsack and the USDA from going ahead with the plan regardless, leaving many people concerned. Brazil, the third largest beef exporting nation in the world, has had a large and widespread problem with FMD in its cattle, a highly infectious disease, that afflicts cloven-hoofed animals, including dairy and beef cattle, pork, goats, sheep and deer. Vilsack says, however, that the United States will not import any products from areas of Brazil that have been impacted by the infectious disease, and claims that Brazilian food safety protocols for monitoring livestock diseases are equivalent to those in the United States. The US Department of Homeland Security has actually listed FMD as highly contagious, and that protecting American livestock from this disease is critical to our nation's agriculture economy and preservation of food supplies. As some large groups, such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association point out, the USDA has done very little to calm major concerns in the agriculture industry. "The USDA has failed to provide the detailed and documented science-based review of the risk evaluation protocols for determining animal health status for countries- information requested by the U.S. been industry and Congress last year," Tracy Brunner said, President of the NCBA. "WIth so much at stake, there is no reason the USDA shouldn't be forthcoming with information," she added. "Most importantly, we need the US government to take the proper precaution and ensure a robust [Foot-and-Mouth Disease] vaccine bank." WPT will continue to bring you the latest news regarding beef imports. We also want your thoughts. Make sure to take this week's survey, which focuses particularly on this story.
Survey results: State employee bonuses
Last week, we shared with you that Wisconsin paid out nearly $10 million in bonuses to state employees for either merit, or retention. Many argue that the state needs to retain its best employees, so bonuses are an easy way to do such. Others argue that the state should be spending this money elsewhere, and many people who work hard in the private sector receive no such bonuses in their jobs. One way or another, we wanted to get your thoughts on the news. We received a lot of comments in this survey, so we'll let those thoughts do most of the talking! Were you surprised to see Wisconsin paid $9.7 million in merit bonuses this year?
Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they were surprised, and that's too much money. On the other hand, a little over 20 percent said they were not surprised, but were glad to learn that the near-$10 million figure was only about half of what state taxpayers dolled out two years ago. Let's look at some of the comments submitted by readers. "If Governor Walker says we have a surplus, then what's the big deal? It's arguably because of the state employees' work every day that the state has extra money. Big deal." "If they want bonuses, go work for a company that pays taxes." "The state is just like any other employer. You have to pay if you want the brightest and best." "Get with the real world!" "This money could have been spent on Highway 23, which really needs to be a 4 lane highway." "Merit bonuses are a great thing to work toward, but in the millions is excessive." "Common practice in most organizations- public or private." "Merit should be rewarded!" "Not sure why the bonus system is needed. Wouldn't that money be better served in our education system?" Have you ever/do you currently receive a bonus?
Alright. 60 percent of respondents have not or do not currently receive a bonus. Just over 40 percent have or do receive one. "Fiscal year end!" "If my performance is excellent." "Incentive bonuses are a win/win." "Christmas gift from employer, and the employees do the same to the business owner." "Holiday bonus." "No, but I've taken several cuts just to keep my job." "Holiday- year end." "FYE bonus based on company performance." "None." "Farmers never get a bonus." "Year end." Overall, do you agree with the state having a bonus program for state employees?
55 disagree, 45 agree. "They're already paid well vs. other taxpayers. I have a friend who works for the state- got a 30% pay increase and paid benefits. Odd how tax paying businesses can't afford it, but the state can." "Use this "extra" money to train new workers." "Yes, as long as they measure and manage it properly." "This is a common method used to attract talent to your organization." "Pay for performance." Which type of bonus do you think makes most sense?
Well it looks like bonuses for merit, or performance-based bonuses take the cake. Nearly 90 percent say this type of bonus makes the most sense. "Must be for work over and above what is expected." "Pay for performance, just like any other employer." "They should only get a bonus if the public overwhelmingly requests it for them." "None of the above. Just because they show up doesn't mean their work ethic is good."
"My mother. She was a teacher." "My twin sister." "Elderly in their social security. You have to jump through hoops and be insinuated of fraud." "My spouse." "Spouse." "Teachers who go way beyond 'the regular school day.'" "My husband. He worked in Milwaukee making parts for cement mixers and drove 50 miles each way to and from work, came home, and did the mowing, gardening, and never took a break." "You!" (Haha, thanks. Good one. I'll tell my boss.) "Farmers. They are being completely taken advantage of with our milk pricing system, and they need a better, more fair trade compensation for the work they do." "My boss- he's taking over business from parents & works very hard to keep business profitable and all employees working." "All the people who volunteer their time for worthy causes- God Bless America!" "My wife!" "My wife!" "Nobody deserves a bonus. If you work hard at your job it is because you like it and or are passionate about it. If you need a bonus to keep you motivated at work you are not doing something you like or are passionate about." "My brother, he has worked two jobs for over 40 years. He has done an outstanding performance at both! He seldom complains and goes above and beyond the call of duty." "Mothers, being a mom is the hardest job in the world." "My wife." "My wife." "Even though not she's not employed by the state, my wife. Always doing something around our farm."
State tax collections up, but lower than predicted
State revenues sit at $15.1 billion for the year, according to the State Department of Revenue, however that's $85 million lower than predicted by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau in January, estimating tax collections would raise $15.2 billion. In October, the Department of Administration will release a broader picture of the state's financial situation when the annual fiscal report comes out, and we'll see the final general fund tax collections and a break-down of department expenditures and revenues. But for now, the DOR numbers show that the state brought in less-than-anticipated revenues on individual income, corporate income, and public utility taxes. The one area the numbers exceeded expectations was general sales and use taxes, insurance company taxes, and excise taxes.
Ag Check-off Reform Act
United States Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Corey Booker (D-NJ) have introduced the "Commodity Checkoff Program Improvement Act of 2016" in the US Senate, according to several reports.
The bill, Senate Bill 3201, was introduced to note that generic programs that promote and provide research for an agricultural commodity are supposed to increase demand and benefit all of the producers who contribute money to the fund.
The bill would require greater transparency and prohibit conflicts of interests and abuses within these programs. The money received from the check-offs are currently prohibited from being used to go towards lobbying efforts, although loopholes and back-alley tactics really prevent the law from doing anything. This bill would take some steps at cleaning up the process. Wisconsin farmers are no exception to commodity checkoffs. For example, all dairy farmers have to pay a mandatory 15-cents per hundred lbs of milk produced. The national DMI gets a nickel of that 15-cents, and the other 10-cents go to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Last year, these two groups received $43.5 million from Wisconsin dairy farmers alone, so imagine the money being raked in by other check-off groups. Senator Lee said he introduced the bill because a Freedom of Information request uncovered "troubling" e-mails between the check-off-funded American Egg Board, and egg industry executives. He said it was a classic case of the egg board and industry executives collaborating to squeeze out smaller competition. Senator Lee has also introduced a bill called the "Voluntary Checkoff Program Participation Act" which says no farmer or rancher would be forced to pay fees into programs that do not promote their market segment. The bill states very simply that no check-off will be mandatory or compulsory, and that participation from farmers in a check-off program would be voluntary.