News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
We hope that you all enjoyed your holiday gatherings and festivities over the weekend, and that your week is off to a great start. With many more holiday parties still on the books for the upcoming week and weekend for many families, be mindful of travel conditions around Wisconsin, as some slick conditions are forecast for the week! WPT would also like to wish you and your families a Happy New Year! We wish you and your families, farms, and businesses a prosperous 2017, and a joyous celebration over the weekend as you usher in the New Year! This week, we will discuss air quality in Wisconsin, plans for a new sand plant in Western Wisconsin, CAFO permitting, Governor Walker's year-end interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week, WPT, Inc.
Governor Walker talks budget
Very few things are certain in state budgets, but we now know at least a few things that will be included in the upcoming spending, as Governor Walker shared in an interview with WSJ late last week. Toll roads in Wisconsin will not become a reality- at least not any time soon. Governor Walker ruled out the possibility for this budget, but perhaps not future spending plans, if Congress eventually authorizes the use of such roads in the state. Walker also hinted at lowering tuition for UW students, but said he would not decrease any state funding for the university system. Walker also outwardly rejected a plan to withhold state funding from UW-Madison if a course entitled "The Problem with Whiteness" isn't dropped. Walker said that as a parent, he would raise concerns, but the state's focus should not be on individual class offerings, but rather overall performance of the system. As far as K-12 funding, the Governor said it was his top priority. According to the State Journal, Walker said he would increase state-imposed school district spending limits, and then provide enough state aid to cover increases, in order to keep property taxes lower than where they were in 2010. No specific details were given on how much of an increase is expected, but it's likely to be lower than the Department of Public Instruction's request for a $200 per pupil increase. Also, in the education discussion, Walker said he has not yet decided on whether or not to life the statewide one percent cap on the number of students who can participate in school vouchers, and that he is not interested in drug testing high school students in extra curricular activities. Finally, a sales tax is likely to be established in this budget, likely in the later part of the summer, and for particular items such as school supplies to help alleviate those costs on parents, and a modest increase in state park fees is likely to become a reality for the second budget in a row, as that department increasingly searches for new revenues. The full budget proposal from Governor Walker is expected in June. He'll send the budget bill to the legislature and address a joint session of both houses before the the bill is referred the the finance committee. The bill should be passed sometime in late June, if not earlier.
Timber company wants to build two sand processing facilities in Western WI
Meteor Timber, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Timberland Investment Resources, is looking to build two sand drying plants in Monroe County, along I-94 that would eliminate more than 16 acres of wetland in the process. The plants would carry a value of around $65 million and create 100 new jobs. The plan would be to truck the sand from a mine to the new plants. From the new drying plants, the sand would be loaded onto trains, where it would be transported ten miles to a Union Pacific railroad line already in existence, where it would be carried to Texas oil fields and used in the fracking process. The 10 mile trip from the new drying plants to the Union Pacific line would also mean that Meteor Timber lays a new railroad track. At least one Army Corps of Engineers chief called this particular piece of land pristine, saying that it's never before been touched. In order to proceed with the plan, the company would need both DNR and Army Corps approval. The company is in the process of convincing the DNR that no other sites are suitable for construction of their plants, thereby making the elimination of the wetlands a necessity.
State government agencies at 70% job performance
You hear their names when there's a major headline or some political red meat, but do you pay attention to state agencies and their goals otherwise? The Department of Workforce development is in the news monthly to talk about recent jobs numbers. The Department of Public Instruction is in the news often talking about school funding. And there's the Department of Corrections which seems to be in the news to either talk about problems at their juvenile facilities, or proposals to build new prisons. Earlier this year, Governor Walker, through executive order, mandated that state agencies create "dashboards" on their websites in order to show taxpayers if the agencies are meeting their intended goals, and to create more transparency for those of us that foot the bill. The agencies are meeting a combined 70 percent of their goals, according to the latest numbers. The metrics that each of the departments use are chosen by those departments, so it begs the question; are these metrics really fair? Others argue that if the metrics were easy, all departments would be running at 100%, including Governor Walker, who said "we have really high goals. If we set low goals, we'd hit them all the time." Some agencies, such as the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is hitting only two of the seven metrics that it chose for itself. The Department of Children in Families is only hitting 50 percent of its marks. The same is true for the Department of Transportation. The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is hitting 90 percent of its marks, and the Department of Health Services is meeting 100 percent. "If we were 100 percent on everything, I wouldn't have much of a compelling case to even think about running for re-election," the Governor said.
Wisconsin air quality getting better, according to DNR
Does the air seem cleaner to you? Maybe not, but technically, air quality is on the rise on the state. According to the DNR late last week, pollutants that are regulated under the Clean Air Act are decreasing. And to make it an even better story, that trend has been happening for about a decade in every part of Wisconsin. It's all due to a significant drop in fine air particle pollutants, according to a DNR spokesperson. Since a 2007 regulation on fuel, fine particle pollution dropped 30 percent since that time. Combustion engines in vehicles are the driving factor in that type of pollution. In fact, there has not been a time since the Clean Air Act of 1990 became law that Wisconsin saw such a low number of counties not meeting the criteria for clean air.
Survey results: Property tax, energy efficiency loophole, tax-delinquent landlords, and more.
Last week Governor Walker touted his work on property tax reduction in Wisconsin since his taking office nearly six years ago. We also brought you the news that some school districts are using an energy efficiency loophole to bring in more revenues, and a plan from a Milwaukee lawmaker that would bar tax-delinquent landlords from purchasing more rental properties. As always we wanted your thoughts, so let's get down to it! Governor Walker outlined Wisconsin's major accomplishments in property tax reduction in the past six years. Have you seen your bill go down?
About 60 percent of respondents have seen a reduction in their property taxes. For those who have seen increases or stagnation, often times, this is due to referenda in your local communities. "I believe an equitable tax structure should be the goal. Property taxes target property owners- period. Consumption taxes I believe are the most equitable and least debatable." "It has gone down, but so inconsequentially minor is it that one has to wonder to what use is it for the individual middle class person and to what harm does it lead to in state services. Economic benefit for the political ploy for the ideologically pure?" "Our schools continue to cost property owners a lot." "With budget shortfalls, no, I don't. I don't want them to go up, but if a decline means there's not enough money, it's obvious that something is not right." "Yep, up until this year." "First time it has gone down in years for us." "I guess I should be thankful that the bill didn't go up more than it did." "Madison should let the local governments decide their tax levies. If local pols overspend, they will be voted out." Has your local school district used the "energy efficiency" exemption as a way to exceed revenue caps?
Over 60 percent weren't sure if their local school districts are using this loophole as a way around state-imposed revenue limits. "Schools are starved, so sure, let's find a new way to take revenue from them. In case you missed it, I was being sarcastic." "I am not sure. I don't mind if they do."
Do you oppose school districts having the ability to skirt revenue caps in the name of energy efficiency projects?
60 percent of respondents are opposed to the use of this tactic for bypassing revenue limits. "If it saves money in the long run, why keep with old and less efficient technology?" "The entire formula for school funding needs to be revamped. The discrepancy of funds going to similar school districts drives the creative funding." "I spend a few years working for the public school system as a service provider. I could not believe the poor decisions and wasteful spending that seemed rampant in many of the districts I worked in. In several cases, I watched schools approve costly projects that then increased maintenance costs and caused nothing but headaches. One school in particular built a lavish new building that was rife with roof leaks- the architect was from Florida and knew nothing of snow loads or how to handle ice in the roof valleys. There are PROBLEMS in the decision-making process of these districts, and the school boards seem to not be catching them." "Was not aware of the raised amount." "I'm glad to hear there's a way to get more revenue to the schools." One lawmaker is introducing bills that would restrict landlords from buying more properties at sheriffs' auctions if they are delinquent on property taxes. Good idea or bad idea?
Over 90 percent of respondents like this proposal- the idea to restrict landlords from purchasing more properties if they are delinquent on their property taxes or municipal court fees. "It's a no-brainer! They have to pay their taxes! Period!" "If they are already delinquent, how can they pay the property tax on the new purchase???" "From reading on this issue in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, not only should these slumlords not be able to purchase more property, they should be put in jail." "Good idea...the landlords should not be able to buy up more than one and prove it's being fixed up and rented out or sold in a certain amount of time." "Perhaps if everyone paid their property tax, my bill would go down!" "Kudos to the Milwaukee Journal for covering this issue and putting pressure on these slumlords. Finally, a legit target of evil to regulate." Are you traveling for the holiday?
About 20 percent planned to travel for the holiday, and just under 70 percent said they were staying home. "Steaks for Christmas Eve after the Packers beat the Vikings!!! Go Pack Go!" "Heading North to beautiful Minocqua to spend time with family!" "Kids & grandkids here on Christmas Eve." "Driving in the sleet to Grandma's House." "Family will be here on the farm, someone has to milk the cows!" "Having Christmas with Kids and New Years at home." "Going to our cabin in the "Northwoods." Can't wait!" "Other than going to church and taking a bit of time to watch the kids open their gifts, I will be doing the same thing that I do the other 364 days of the year- Milk, feed, and clean up after our cows." "I'll be gone, but my dog will be hungry, so don't rob me." "Only travel about 8 miles. Family is close. Merry Christmas."
Large dairies may get more power in permitting process
While they will not be allowed to write their own permits altogether, the DNR does however want large dairies to have a bigger role drafting their own pollution permits, along with private consultants. The permits, or the plans that outline exactly how CAFOs will prevent discharge and manure from ending up in lakes and streams, would be written with the help of consultants that each CAFO would hire, and from there, that would become the baseline for the permits issued by the DNR. Conservationists obviously hate the idea. They argue that the plan would threaten water quality and basically allow for the industry to write the rules. The industry, however, says they would like a bigger role in the process. As the State Journal points out, much of what goes into permits is already written by the industry, and the DNR basically oversees it. Under the program, the DNR would review credentials for private consultants who are hired by the large dairies, and then create a list where the DNR and dairies can be "assured" that the consultants would do good work and could be approved quickly with little review or revision. This plan comes on the heels of DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp announcing last week changes in providing relief to overworked employees in the agency's water quality program, by doing something very similar. Like the proposed CAFO process, the new plan would give private contractors more power in writing of government permits pertaining to lakefront construction, and regarding pollution discharges.
DOT Secretary Mark Gottleib resigns
With the transportation debate raging on, and lawmakers unable to find consensus, at least publicly, the Secretary of the Wisconsin DOT has tendered his resignation, effective January 6th. It probably didn't help matters that a few weeks ago, Gottleib told members of the Assembly Committee on Transportation (and thereby, many members of the media) that roads would get worse under Governor Walker's plan. Gottleib has served as transportation secretary since Walker's inauguration, nearly six years ago. Dave Ross, the former Mayor of the City of Superior will take over as the DOT head. Ross currently works as the secretary of Safety and Professional Services.