News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Members, We hope you had a great weekend, and that you were able to find some time to spend with family and friends. A special Shanah Tovah! to our Jewish members, as they celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashana today and tomorrow, the Jewish New Year! This week, we will update you on Governor Walker's disaster declaration, bring you the latest survey results, share some resources for parents with college students, share a new proposal from Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt and Sen. Leah Vukmir, the Wisconsin lottery and gaming credit, and more. We would also like to remind members that our Capitol Reports, Newsletters, and helpful resources are available on our website at www.WPTonline.org under the Current Members tab. Just enter the member password wpt2016 and enjoy all of the latest news and information in one easy spot. As we continue to make improvements to our website, and add useful information and resources for our members, we would like to get your thoughts on what type of information you feel would be most helpful. Share your thoughts by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. 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, never hesitate to reach out to us directly. Have a great week, WPT, Inc.
Sen. Vukmir, Rep. Thiesfesldt taking on unfunded benefit fight
Last week, WPT brought you the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that showed local governments in Wisconsin are carrying a hefty unfunded health benefits liability of $5.4 billion. This week, a pair of conservative lawmakers, Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Reprepsentative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) have vowed to make an effort to pay down the liability. This marks the third time that the lawmakers have sponsored legislation that requires local governments to set aside the money to pay for benefits that they offer to new employees. As the Journal Sentinel points out, in Milwaukee County alone, that number is about $4 billion. What's stopping this piece of legislation from moving forward? A group of special interests. They've even prevented the bill from making it to committee. Among them is the Association of School District Administrators, who claims this is a one-size-fits-all approach, and that local governments are already working on the issue. To be clear, the bill by Vukmir and Thiesfeldt would make local governments set aside money for the new hire benefits, this way they wouldn't suddenly be on a hook for decades of promises (paid for by taxpayers.) Also, this bill only deals with health benefits, which are a bulk of the unfunded liability. Wisconsin's pension obligations are sound and fully funded. We plan to keep you updated as this situation continues to unfold. Make sure to take this week's survey below to share your thoughts on this proposal.
New higher education planning website
Governor Walker and officials from the Department of Financial Institutions announced the launch of the "Look Forward to Your Future" website. The site is designed to help students and parents plan for the future of college, and related expenses. According to the Department of Financial Institutions Secretary, Lon Roberts, the goal is to provide K-12 students and parents with access to information and resources about the importance of planning for college. "From career planning to financial planning to the selection of the right post-secondary institution." According to the website, it's never too early to begin planning for college, and career choices need to be made. We took a look around the site for you and found that this is quite the useful tool. The site is broken down with separate sections for students and parents alike. There's a useful list of Wisconsin loan providers, a calendar with important dates and deadlines, as well as resources to help parents and students find educational tools, checklists and even repayment plans. You can visit the Look Forward to Your Future site at www.lookforwardwi.gov.
Governor Walker has proclaimed October to be Manufacturing Month in the State of Wisconsin.
The governor issued the proclamation and cited the 467,000 Wisconsinites who are employed in the manufacturing sector.
Manufacturing in Wisconsin accounts for 19 percent of the state's gross domestic product, and contributes more than $57 billion to the state's economic growth.
The governor also said that due to retirements and economic expansion in the manufacturing sector, many more employment opportunities will become available in the year to come.
Governor Walker has made significant investments in programs like the Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship program, and others.
Survey results: Local governments' unfunded benefit liabilities
Last week, we brought you the news that local governments in Wisconsin are currently carrying unfunded employee benefit liabilities totaling in the billions. This means taxpayers on the hook, like with everything else. This week, we also talked about a solution to curb the problem from growing, proposed by Sen. Vukmir and Rep. Thiesfeldt. Make sure to chime in on their proposal by clicking the survey link in the next session. But for now, let's see how readers responded last week. Wisconsin local governments have nearly $7 billion in unfunded liabilities for employee benefits. Surprised?
58 percent were surprised that this is evening happening, and had no idea the amount was this large. 42 percent said they weren't surprised at all. "This is the reason Walker did what he did with Act 10." "I think this is another great proof of government out of control. We need more citizen oversight!" "Are these defined benefit plans? Pension laws are in dire need of reform." "With more retirements happening than workers coming in, this was bound to happen." "Who's to blame for this oversight?" "How did that happen???" "Looks like blind leading the blind. No disrespect to people that are blind." In reference to a few of the questions and comments above, there is likely no blame except for local level officials who allowed promises to be made to employees that the local governments couldn't afford. The benefits are defined, and the vast majority of these billions come from health plans in particular- not pensions, which are fully funded. Do you support raising local taxes to pay down some of these liabilities?
58 percent say no, 42 percent say yes. While many options will be introduced, it's unlikely that any local solutions will be passed without a referendum. Then it's up to you to decide at the ballot box. Right now, it seems the most urgent thing at hand is to stop this problem from growing. "For those local governments that promised the moon, they can now make the tax payers put the extra needed to keep their word." "What can be done to solve this problem." "Margaret Thatcher said that the problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money. The pension plan needs to support itself. They made the commitment, they have to follow through. I didn't pay into it, so why do I have to pay for it now? It makes no sense." "Too many benefits paid without being held accountable to stay within the budget." "This is not a local taxpayer problem. The people employed in those jobs need to buck up and cover the liabilities. It is their future." "Already pay enough local taxes." "Reward the municipalities that manage well. Tax the irresponsible." Again, we feel the need to clarify that these are most not pension liabilities, except for Milwaukee County, which the state will not foot the bill. As far as what can be done to solve the problem, that's a very good question, and we look forward to considering solutions offered by lawmakers.
Did you know Wisconsin has the best-funded pension system in the nation?
61% said yes. "We couldn't say this when Doyle was governor! (Thanks Doyle for our transportation mess NOW!)" "If we cant afford it, the pensions should be cut." "They say we do. I am not sure." "And again why? This public sector getting overpaid has got to stop." Have you or has anybody you've known had a government pension?
"My uncle was a prison guard and he still had to pay for some of his health insurance after he retired. Another uncle was a teacher and he is living on easy street now. Depends on who you are and what he did." "Any good is a loaded question. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not. Depends on the details of the pension." "They never paid any money into their retirement account." Do you prefer watching the Packers alone or with people?
47 percent said they like to be left alone! 43 percent said the more the merrier. And a combined 10 percent of non-Packers fans responded. "Let's go Packers!" "PACKERS!" "Packers of course!! Why the need to even ask?" "Uh, Green Bay Packers?" "Packers and Badgers!" "It's all good." "Too intense for me." We asked who your favorite team was because the last time we implied that all of our members were Packers fans, we got e-mails from Vikings and Bears fans as well. But WPT's official stance is: GO PACK GO!
Lottery & Gaming Property Tax Credit numbers filed with Joint Finance Committee
The Department of Administration has filed a report with the Joint Finance Committee, showing the total funds available for distribution in the Wisconsin Lottery & Gaming Tax Credit. The report show the total funds available stand at $185,311,212, and will be available for distribution in December. So, what exactly is the Lottery and Gaming Tax Credit? The credit is applied to eligible property taxpayers, and a credit is applied to reduce property tax bills. To be eligible, you must be a Wisconsin resident, own a property that is your primary dwelling or place of residence as of the January 1st certification date. To apply for the credit, you must file paperwork with the county or city treasurer where the property is located. For more information on this credit, click the link here. All of the forms and information is available for printing and filing with your local treasurer.
Governor requests FEMA assessment in wake of flood, mudslides
Governor Walker late last week called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct a preliminary assessment of damages to public infrastructure caused by massive flooding and mudslides across 12 Wisconsin counties. The damage from the flooding and mudslides is estimated at more than $14 million. The request from FEMA is following Walker's declaration of emergency, which he issued nearly immediately following the events. There have been two confirmed deaths in Vernon County because of mudslides literally washing away homes. Governor Walker requested FEMA assessments in Adams, Chippewa, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Eau Claire, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Richland, Trempealeau, and Vernon Counties.