News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Members, Happy New Year to each of you! We hope that your 2017 is off to a productive start, and that you were able to find some time to ring in the New Year with family, friends, and loved ones! Along with a new 2017 calendar, a new legislative session also begins, as lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate were sworn in this afternoon. Along with all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the inauguration of the 103rd State Legislature comes many policy and legislative battles that will unfold between now and next year's elections. Today, we'll talk about the inauguration of the 103rd State Legislature, a property tax loophole being used around the state, new OWI laws, some optimistic news for the state's dairy farmers, 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.
WPT statement congratulating 103rd State Legislature on Inauguration Day
This afternoon, WPT issued a statement to the media, congratulating all of the current and newly-elected members of the State Legislature on their inauguration. While there are many issues that the legislature faces, and many challenges for communities across the state, today is generally a day of celebration in the State Capitol, as the families, friends, and constituents of each member of the legislature flock to the Senate and Assembly chambers to see the swearing-in ceremony and join in various festivities taking place throughout the building.
Big box retailers use loophole, lawsuits to cut their property taxes
Some big box retailers are suing cities such as Oshkosh and Fond du Lac, arguing that they should pay the same tax rate as closed or shuttered store properties. In similar lawsuits, big box retailers such as Walgreens have been able to cut their property tax bill by up to half. It's called the "dark store loophole," and when giant big box retailers are able to successfully slip into the loophole, homeowners and small business taxpayers end up on the hook for the remainder of the revenue. How does the loophole work? Well, to start, we all know about property tax assessors. The Department of Revenue sets out rules and guidelines that these assessors must follow to ensure that the assessment of a property takes into account fair market value based on the actual property value and its location. State statutes, however, do not define the guidelines that the Department of Revenue create, thereby allowing retailers to argue that they should be able to pay the same rate as a "dark store." In 2015, a court ruled in favor of Walgreens, and the property taxpayers in Oshkosh had to pay the corporation over $300,000. Lowe's, Menards, and Target are all suing for the same reasons. Municipalities are left in the lurch, wondering how far the loophole will go, and how the revenue will be made up. And if a huge corporation can sue the municipality, can a small business do the same? Homeowners in Wisconsin already bring in more than 70 percent of all property taxes in Wisconsin. If large businesses are backing out of their obligations, our annual bills will only increase. WPT will be working with lawmakers and other organizations in the coming months, as solutions and proposals come forward. We will keep you up to date as we take any action on the issue.
New year, new OWI laws in effect
Wisconsin remains the only state in the country where a first offense OWI is not a criminal offense- meaning misdemeanor or felony. Instead, it's a traffic forfeiture, with a hefty fine, license suspension, and possibly more. While that won't change, at least any time soon, there are some changes to Wisconsin's OWI laws that took effect as soon as the clock struck midnight, and the calendar flipped to 2017. A fourth OWI is now considered a felony. Governor Walker signed the bill into law in April of last year, and saw it as a means to crack down on repeat drunk driving offenders. The law also does not take into account how long it has been between the third and fourth offense. It will be a felony regardless. Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) authored the bill, and said that he does not want to see more people locked up, or paying bigger fines, but rather would like to see the behavior changed. The bill passed the the Assembly on a 95-1 vote. Ott would like to see the law even stricter- making the third offense a felony. With the new legislative session officially underway, it might only be a matter of time before OWI laws change again.
Highway 10/441 and other projects could be delayed, according to DOT
If the cash doesn't get added into the upcoming state budget, the massive Fox Valley project on Highway 10/441 could face a delay, pushing the completion date to the year 2022. That wasn't the only project mentioned in the DOT's recent report. Just a few miles to the northwest, State Highway 15 through Greenville and Hortonville could get pushed back to 2019. And for those Milwaukee travelers reading this, the Zoo Interchange would not be completed until 2020, and the I-94 project until 2029. The solvency report also outlines the good, bad, and ugly when it comes to toll roads. Keep in mind, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa all use toll roads. If tolls were opened in Wisconsin, by 2025, the state could bring in nearly a half of a billion dollars in new revenues. This is just the most recent in a series of reports, facts, figures, and argument yet to take place, as the billion dollar transportation hole lingers throughout the state. So far, republicans, who control both the executive and legislative branches, are at odds on gas tax increases for filling the transportation shortfall. Governor Walker said last week that he is not interested in toll roads for this budget, but did not rule out the idea for future budgets.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results: Budget items, proposed sand processing facilities, state agency job performance, DNR permits, and more.
Last week, we shared some of the budget items that Governor Walker said he hopes to include in the upcoming state spending plan. We also talked about a new DNR permitting rule that would allow large CAFOs to hire consultants and help write their own permits and plans for environmental permits. State agencies also set guidelines and objectives, and recently reported that they are running at 70% job performance. As always we wanted your thoughts, so let's get down to it! From what you've read so far, what do you think about the items Governor Walker plans to include in the budget?
About 44 percent of respondents like what they are seeing so far. That's great news, considering the process has only just begun, and there are sure to be some contentious items included in the budget in the months to come. "We need to inject more dollars for bridge and highway repair. NOW!" "ROADS!!!" "Glad he is opposed to toll roads." "I have not seen a preliminary budget." "Need more efficient DOT." "I'm betting his K-12 'top priority' is mostly lip service. He says that, but then will increase the per pupil cap less than inflation, forcing districts to continue to starve." An Atlanta-based company wants to build a pair of sand processing facilities in Western Wisconsin, which would mean the elimination of 16 acres of protected wetlands. What do you think?
About 55 percent of respondents think it's a good idea to move ahead with the sand processing facilities, despite the need to remove protected wetlands. "We can co-exist with nature. It is a tiring battle. Don't put it in my back yard." "Jobs are needed but the environment must be protected as well." "I hope mitigation (create new wetland) is an option available to Meteor Timber in approving this significant opportunity." "Sounds like baloney to me." "The environment will survive. We need jobs!" "As long as they get proper permitting." "How long will this last? In our area, sand mines are closed." "There are thousands of acres of land better they can mess with. Leave this wetland alone." "About time we use wetlands and its only 16 acres. Put it to use." "Bad for the environment which ultimately is bad for the economy." "It is always a tough decision to see a pristine piece of land have to be the only option available. There has to be some other alternative. I am leaning heavily on the side of not allowing such a move."
Wisconsin's government agencies are meeting 70% of their objectives for job performance. Is this number too high or too low?
Over 70 percent of respondents think the 70 percent job performance mark of state agencies is good, and leaves them the opportunity to do some good work. "Performance is difficult to measure in government. They are strapped in many ways the private sector are not." "Some are better than others, depending on the prevailing political wind, budgets, and employment practices. Performance is a journey- there is always room for improvement." "Barely a passing grade." "I haven't any idea of how they measure performance much less me" "There is always room for improvement." "Would our bosses be happy with a 70% job performance? Heck NO." "Most governments are not efficient." "At least taxpayers are hopefully seeing some sort of accountability from the agencies." The DNR may allow large dairies to hire consultants to help them write their own permits, and submit them to DNR. Does this give too much power to the industries?
About 55 percent think this is a good move, and that the industry should have the ability to hire a private consultant to help with permitting. "Who is ultimately responsible if things go astray? I work with the DNR as a waste handler and most of the regulations safeguard the community." "The state has ownership of the water resource and it is their duty to protect it for us and future generations. As long as CAFOs comply with state and possibly federal law, it really doesn't matter who is writing the applications. I'm sure consultants are already doing this!" "If the consultants are skilled in writing such permit applications, why not? Other businesses hire consultants all the time." "The educated consultants should do a good job." "Bigger dairies are not the answer. Bigger dairies are causing more issues than the small, family-operated farms. The big farms ARE the problem." "These so-called consultants will just be making more "new" jobs because they will probably have to be regulated, and I see these consultants making out at the expense of tax payers and those who will need their services. Another can of worms as far as I'm concerned. Please don't go here!" How do you celebrate New Years?
About 65 percent stay home, and about 20 go out to celebrate! "In someones home with friends, we take turns hosting." "Family members come New Years Day." "Spend it with family safely at home." "Hard to stay awake til 12!" "Four couples rotate each year going to one home to play cards and snack." "Its just another year!!!" "The older I get, the harder it is to stay up past 11pm. :-) Happy new year to you all!" "I practice writing the new year on my checks."
With 2016 officially in the past, some are optimistic about dairy farming
Last year was one of the worst in memory for farmers around the state, namely dairy farmers, who struggled with terrible margins, among many other things. But according to at least one agriculture economist at the University of Wisconsin, 2017 should be a much better year for dairy farmers, in fact, a strong year. With climbing milk prices and lower feed costs, Mark Stephenson thinks that prices could rise as much as $2 per hundred. Stephenson, who is the director of UW-Madison's Center for Dairy Profitability, said he based his numbers on strong sales here at home, better numbers in the exporting side, and increases in national production while competing nations' production drops. He believes the revenue-over-feed costs could go over $11.50 per hundred by the middle of 2017, which is higher than 2014 and 2015. This is very optimistic considering the average milk price hit a low of $14.70 per hundred in May. According to the State Journal, some experts are having a hard time figuring out how milk prices are rising, even though there is a massive surplus of cheese and butter due to more production. We hope that Stephenson's predictions are correct, and that 2017 is a record-profitable year for farmers throughout Wisconsin and the nation.
Gov. Walker announces a quarter million dollars in grants to organizations serving vets
Governor Walker today announced $250,000 in grants, awarded to 42 nonprofit organizations that serve veterans and their families. "Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country and they deserve the bust when they conclude active duty service," Governor Walker said. "These grants will fund things like emergency financial assistance, transitional housing, and service dogs for veterans with disabilities. I thank all of the grant recipients for their commitment to serving Wisconsin's veterans." The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) nonprofit grant program was signed into law by Governor Walker in April 2014, as 2013 Act 190. The bill received large bipartisan support, and was authored by Representative Warren Petryk (R-Eleva) and Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon).