WPT Capitol Report, December 19, 2016

News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin


We hope your weekend was relaxing, and that you were yet again able to plow yourself out of the snowy mess that was seen across much of the state. With frigid temperatures still in the forecast before a slight warm-up, please make sure to check on your elderly and disabled neighbors, as sub-zero temperatures can cause dangerous conditions for vulnerable members of our community. Please visit the Wisconsin Emergency Management website for more information. Additionally, WPT would like to wish you and your families a very blessed and joyous holiday. We hope that you are able to spend quality time with family, friends, and loved ones, as we celebrate Christmas and other holidays, and prepare to usher in 2017. This week, we will discuss school districts around Wisconsin that use a loophole to exceed revenue limits, some potential changes to public assistance programs, a package of bills aimed at landlords who owe back property taxes, and the latest in Wisconsin employment numbers. We would also like to remind members that our Capitol Reports, Newsletters, and helpful resources are available on our website at 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 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 at Have a great week, WPT, Inc.

Governor Walker touts property tax accomplishments

In his weekly radio address, Governor Walker talked about his administrations massive strides on easing the property tax burden for Wisconsin families. Calling it "great news," Walker touted the $116 average reduction in property taxes for the typical Wisconsin homeowner, which is an estimated $1,700 savings when compared to the previous four year trend. WPT has been committed to working with elected officials from around Wisconsin to take on this enormous issue. Property taxpayers foot the bill for services that every single member in every single community around Wisconsin enjoys. It's with a great sense of pride in our members at WPT that we're glad to report that Governor Walker and the legislature will continue to make property tax reduction a priority in the upcoming legislative session. WPT will continue to push for property tax reduction wherever feasible. "In 2010, the property tax burden, as a proportion of personal income, rose to the highest level our state had seen since the mid-1990s," Governor Walker said. "Today, thankfully, it's the lowest it's been since 1946." We invite you to click here to listen to Governor Walker's weekly radio address, "Easing the Property Tax Burden for Wisconsin Families." If you'd rather read the text from the radio address:

Hi, Scott Walker here.

Great news for Wisconsin taxpayers! Estimated property tax bills for the typical homeowner this year will be $116 lower than they were in 2010. Over the past six years, the cumulative estimated savings for homeowners is more than $1,700 when compared to the previous four-year trend.

In 2010, the property tax burden, as a proportion of personal income, rose to the highest level our state had seen since the mid-1990s. Today, thankfully, it's the lowest it's been since 1946.

What does that mean for Wisconsin homeowners? Well, it means a few extra dollars that can be tucked away for a rainy day, used for a fun vacation, or reinvested back into our state's economy. And over the years, that money really adds up.

We've taken big steps to lower the property tax burden for Wisconsinites in the past, and we will continue to prioritize ways to ease the tax burden for hard-working Wisconsin families.

Wisconsin property taxpayers needed a champion, and our efforts over the past six years have put you first. Looking forward, we will continue to do just that by holding the line on property taxes in the next state budget

School boards statewide authorized $800 million in tax hikes without voter approval

A 2009 law allows for school boards to raise revenues beyond state limits if the funds will be used for building improvements and equipment that will lower the districts' utility costs. That law has put taxpayers on the hook for $753 million in the past eight years. $638 million alone were authorized in the past two years. The 168 school districts, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette, are using this exception to take the cash, and then pay off debts. The near-$800 million put taxpayers on the hook for a decade or more. Some of the school districts include Oshkosh, which has used this energy efficiency exemption the most- to the tune of $73 million. That has resulted in a 56 cent tax increase on every $1,000 of property value. And in Green Bay, every year since 2009, the exemption has been used, now totaling $33 million. The districts say that this tool allows them to catch up on maintenance that has been deferred, such as windows, heating, and the like. But two Wisconsin lawmakers, Sen. Frank Lassee (R-De Pere) and Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) will again push a bill that removes the 2009 law. Last year, Neylon told reporters that lawmakers could not seriously reduce property taxes if school districts were routinely finding ways around revenue limits. The bill, cosponsored only by Republican lawmakers, stalled in committee, but will hopefully gain traction early on in the legislative session.

Governor Walker looking at additional public assistance changes

Governor Walker late last week subtly hinted that more changes to public assistance programs might be coming in the next legislative session. Though no specifics were given publicly, the move would be in-line with previous moves from the governor and his administration. In the last state budget, Governor Walker pushed for a measure that would require childless adult FoodShare recipients to undergo drug testing, and seek employment through a Wisconsin job training program. About 12,000 people were able to find work using the state program, and 41,000 people lost their FoodShare benefits. The governor, while speaking at an Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce event said that public assistance should be more like a trampoline, rather than a hammock, for those who are physically able to work. The governor also said that getting people back to work will improve Wisconsin's economy. While no specifics were offered, Walker did suggest that some form of assistance for childcare for adults looking to re-enter the workforce might be included in his proposal

Lawmaker to introduce bills targeting tax-delinquent landlords

Many times when a property goes into foreclosure, the local sheriffs department will hold sales of the properties to various property owners. The properties might even be offered at extremely low rates, with the hopes that they are turned into rental properties. The problem is, according to one Milwaukee-area lawmaker, some landlords owe back taxes, allow their properties to fall into disrepair, and don't pay property taxes or fines imposed for municipal building code violations. This can often leave properties blighted and abandoned in city neighborhoods, a problem that Governor Walker along with lawmakers, and city leaders have already taken steps towards fixing. Under the proposals from State Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), his bills would authorize counties to advertise foreclosed properties, eventually opening up bidding and preventing the properties from falling into the possession of so-called slumlords. A bill would also require that individuals who purchase properties at sheriffs' sales disclose via sworn statement whether they own any delinquent property taxes or municipal fines. If any back taxes are owed, the sale would not be made. Another policy would require LLC's which purchase properties at the sheriffs' sales to disclose the names of the major owners of the LLC, and if any back taxes are owed, the sale would not be permitted. Finally, the changes would also make it easier for the city to put blighted and nuisance properties into receivership. The bill's chief sponsor, Goyke, has also invited GOP lawmakers to visit areas of his district, in the hopes of showing first-hand the problem in his urban district. At least one invited lawmaker, Terry Katsma, said he would not want to limit who is able to bid at the sheriffs' sales. Presumably, the bills will be circulated for co-sponsorship and introduced sometime after the January 3rd inauguration at the State Capitol.

Survey results: Gas tax, wheel tax, WEDC requirments, quality of live, and Christmas Trees

Last week we shared news about the split in the legislative leadership among GOP members regarding transportation revenues, tax increases, etc. We also asked you about wheel taxes, a new reporting requirement for companies receiving WEDC funding who cut jobs or ship positions out of the state, and the panel of Wisconsin experts who called into question quality of life in our state. As always we wanted your thoughts, so let's get down to it! The transportation debate continues with GOP leaders split on raising the gas tax as a long-term solution to our transportation funding shortfall. Are you in favor of raising the gas tax?

50 percent of respondents believe raising the gas tax is the best solution. About 25 percent believe that we should put projects on hold and borrow funds, and another 25 percent have not made up their mind one way or another. "5 cents a gallon wouldn't be bad." "Much easier to handle while energy costs are lower." "The more driving the more you pay." "You did not provide enough options for me. Indexing is what got us out of whack back in the day. All that is is a license to charge more and more by the Road Builders and Bridge Builders. It may need to be raised after all other options are explored but not back to indexing." "So if the gas tax goes up, where does the money go? Will a nickel go to roads, or part of it go to roads and the rest into a slush fund." To answer your question, all transportation fuel tax revenues are in a segregated fund. As you may recall, in 2014, voters decided on a 4-to-1 ratio to amend our constitution, so that all transportation funds collected must be used only for transportation purposes. "A solid working infrastructure pays big dividends, and I'm not a road builder." "Raise it, but within low amount every year." Wheel taxes are local means to raising money for local transportation and infrastructure costs. These fee increases are usually a "one size fits all" tax, for example $25 for all Marathon County residents. Do you think the tax should be tethered to the value of a vehicle, or to its weight on the road?

About 55% believe that wheel taxes based on a car's value or weight is a better way for local units of government to implement this type of fee. About 30 percent said no. "Possibly the weight but not the value." "Tough question. Preferable to raise the gas tax." "If you can afford luxury, you can pay more tax." "Tie to vehicle weight, but this is not an endorsement of wheel tax." "Weight on the Road. Larger, heavier vehicles do a lot more damage to poor or old roadways. In the spring, road bans need to apply to the big articulating tractors hauling 3 or 4 axle manure wagons - that is doing a ton of damage. In one rural community, a particular roadway has it's last mile destroyed every couple of WEEKS after a rebuild due to heavy traffic and semi traffic to and from a huge farm operation. Sometimes, economies of scale backfire. Those taxes need to be by weight. Same with licensing. I see way too many one ton trucks licensed as half tons..." "Weight on the road." "Gas tax, yes. Wheel tax, poor idea." "Bigger puts more weight on the roads." "One size fits all tax."

Assembly Minority Leader and WEDC Board member Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) is proposing tighter reporting requirements for Wisconsin companies that receive taxpayer assistance but eliminate positions or ship jobs out of the state. Do you think this is a good idea?

65 percent of respondents agreed, and believe there should be tighter reporting requirements for companies who accept public assistance. "Aren't these requirements in place now? "Quit regulating and making new requirements. Give an INCENTIVE to keep jobs here instead." "If you accept public money, there's a consequence for not fulfilling your agreed upon commitment." "Requirements should be tight on taxpayer assistance companies." A diverse panel of experts in southern Wisconsin found that the quality of life in some areas is the reason for, not only a decline in population in many rural areas, but also part of the reason for a worker shortage in the state. Are you happy with the quality of life in your community? (I.E. Access to high speed internet, entertainment, transportation, other amenities.) Also, share in the comments below something you wish your community would have but currently does not, or something you are very happy your community currently has.

We were happy to see that 70 percent of people are happy with everything that their Wisconsin community has to offer. Just over 20 percent of respondents are mostly happy but there might be one or two things missing. "High speed internet would be nice along with cable instead of DirecTV. These are very costly right now." "Only issue is quality high speed internet." "Need better quality internet access." "Walmart could leave and then bring in the man store- FLEET FARM! lol" "A medical facility is lacking. Lost it this past July." "We need jobs that pay something. We need more businesses in our small towns, and in our rural areas, north of Highway 29. We need more effort to ensure that the ENTIRE state can be great place to be, not just the major metro areas. Need more focus on bigger companies that pay and hire decent amount to come into the north half of the state. Big time...More jobs, more pay, better for everyone." "Higher speed internet and TV service." "Business in the small towns are leaving, the people leave to be closer to another job. Small towns are becoming retirement communities." "Better internet access" "My internet is my favorite!" Have you decorated your Christmas Tree yet?

"Before Thanksgiving we decorate (the weather is better), and then turn the lights on after Thanksgiving." "We decorate 10 days before Christmas" "My great grandmother made a Christmas ball with her hand print and each finger a snowman in 2013. I decorate the 2nd week of Dec."

Wisconsin unemployment unchanged at 4.1%

According to Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development, the state lost 5,200 private sector jobs in the month of November, outlined in their data released late last week. The seasonally-adjusted data showed that the state's employment increased overall by 3,900, and the labor force participation rate remained the same at 68.4 percent. Ray Allen, the Secretary of DWD said that employment is at an all-time high, and unemployment is at its lowest point in fifteen years, with an increasing labor force. "Wisconsin's economy is headed in the right direction," he said. Wisconsin's unemployment rate is a half-percent lower that the national average, and our labor participation rate is a whopping 5.7 percent higher. Manufacturing, particularly non-durable goods, lost 2,200 jobs.

Wisconsin's 10 electors cast votes for Donald Trump and Mike Pence

This afternoon, Wisconsin's 10 Electors officially cast their votes unanimously for Donald Trump and Mike Pence for President and Vice President, respectively. No major demonstrations took place, but immediately following the vote, one woman in particular stood up and began screaming at the ten electors. Many in the crowd repeatedly chanted "shame," as well. The woman was removed from the committee room by the Capitol Police. In recent days and weeks, there have been multiple attempts to get republican electors to change their votes to an alternate candidate. Electors are, in most cases, not bound by any law to follow the popular vote in their respective states, so many opponents of President-elect Donald Trump thought it was feasible that some electors may switch their votes at the last minute. Wisconsin has no law against an elector casting his or her vote against the popular vote. Interestingly enough, in several cases around the country, it was Democratic electors who refused to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton, despite her loss, and instead voted for Bernie Sanders. In at least one case, one elector was relieved from his duties and an alternate elector was used instead. Donald Trump will be sworn into office on Friday, January 20th at 12PM Eastern Time.