News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Members, Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers, who beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-31 last night to advance to the NFC Championship game next week in Atlanta! What a nail-biter! We would also like to take a moment today to recognize Martin Luther King Day, and Dr. King's work and accomplishments in the fight for civil rights, as many people and communities around the nation celebrate his life. In this week's WPT Capitol Report, we will again talk about the so-called dark store loophole, a move to ease licensing of teachers by DPI, and bring you more recent substance abuse statistics throughout the state. We will also share the recently-introduced DAIRY PRIDE Act, introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin in the U.S. Senate, and tell you which communities are the latest in the ongoing wheel tax trend. 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.
Last week at WPT
By: John Jacobson
I was really glad to hear in last week's survey that most of you (who responded) were interested in a weekly article. I'd first like to respond to a couple of comments that some of you left on the weekly survey. "It is helpful to hear what others are thinking about current issues..." For me, the best way to formulate an opinion is to hear what other people are thinking about a current issue. Even if I don't like what I hear, it at least gives me a different perspective. That's why, even when I disagree with somebody on an issue, I always respect them for at least paying attention to something, and expressing their opinion. Each week, as you read this article, there might be times when we disagree, and I truly expect you to take me to task when you have a difference of opinion. "Would be nicer to know of proposed legislation so we can contact our legislator. Yet new/proposed administrative rules by State Agencies affect us as much (or someones more) and we need to know there too. How do we learn of those as well?" Now that the legislature is back in session, lawmakers will begin circulating pieces of legislation that they write, and asking lawmakers to "co-sponsor" bills. The same thing goes with proposed administrative rules changes. Now that the legislative session has begun, there will be more activity. As bill are proposed and rules are changed, each week, we will be adding a section at the end of each WPT Capitol Report which will outline various bills that might impact you. "More of everything. I subscribe to a newspaper 7 days a week, and your e-mails add to the meager political info that comes out of the papers. Thanks." I am glad you like the WPT Capitol Report. One of the great things about writing this column is precisely that we are NOT a newspaper, and we don't have to be meager. We hope we do a good job bringing you topics that you're interested in, and you can truly always e-mail email@example.com to send us your story suggestions. Let's talk about last week! On Tuesday, our office had procured tickets to attend the Governor's annual State of the State Address, held in the Assembly Chamber in the Capitol. It was a pretty rainy day, but members should know that WPT's president, Mike Marsch, traveled 171 miles ONE WAY (and then immediately 171 miles back home) just to attend the annual speech. If you recall, much of the state received rain, snow, and ice conditions on Tuesday, and although he had to travel about 35MPH on the interstate, he made it Madison safely, and in time for the speech. We settled into our seats in the west gallery, reserved for the guests of Governor Walker, and got ready for all of the pomp and circumstance. I took out my phone at one point to take a quick video, but I got yelled because photography is prohibited in the Assembly galleries. I was able to take a quick picture before I got yelled at, so I might as well share it with you! It was taken while the Assembly Chief Clerk gave a roll-call of the Assembly members.
We heard a lot of information from Governor Walker about the State of the State. His theme was that "we are working and winning for Wisconsin." From "substantial" tuition cuts for UW students, to the transportation budget, where in the speech, he reaffirmed his commitment not to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration. Governor Walker also highlighted the fact that more Wisconsinites are participating in the workforce than ever before, and that our unemployment is the lowest it's been since the 1990s. There was a clear emphasis on workforce in this speech, as the state will begin to shift focus on workforce training, and closing the skills gap. The governor was very clear that he wants people working in Wisconsin, and his administration will do what it takes to make that a reality. There were many topics that he covered. And when WPT attends the Governor's biennial Budget Address, we will have many more fiscal specifics to share. Our organization was especially proud that Governor Walker gave a large portion of his speech to his work on property taxes. Currently, the total reduction for a median-valued home, of nearly $500, since 2010. The governor also shared a statistic that garnered a round of applause; property taxes as a percentage of personal income, is the lowest it's been in Wisconsin since the end of World War II. All-in-all, it was a great speech, and it was an honor to attend. WPT was proud to be there on your behalf, and to get a glimpse at some of Governor Walker's agenda moving into the next legislative session. Every two years, in a similar way, the Governor addresses a joint session of the legislature to present his 2-year budget. That speech will take place in mid-February, and we'll bring you all the details at that time.
DPI considers easing licensing rules
If there is anybody out there who has thought that they would be a good teacher, it might get a whole lot easier, as the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is considering a move that would ease the requirements for obtaining a license in the state. The potential move would help off-set shortages of teachers in various districts, most notably those in rural areas, where shortages of educators often impacts school districts' abilities to offer certain courses, or meet the needs of the students in the area. The new rules would make various changes, and among them, allow for somebody who is at least 55 years old to apply for a license without having obtained the professional development requirements. They would also more-than-double the number of days in which a short-term substitute can teach courses from 20 days, to 45. DPI has held public hearings at their Madison headquarters on the proposed changes, however, the window for public comment is still open. People can also email or mail their opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Carl Bryan, budget and policy analyst and administrative rules coordinator, DPI, 125 South Webster Street, P.O. Box 7841, Madison, WI 53707-7841.
Dark Store Loophole questions continue to linger
Over the weekend, even more information was published about the so-called Dark Store Loophole that is allowing for big box retailers to off-set their property taxes bills by suing municipalities, and claiming that they should not be obligated to pay as much as "dark stores," which are stores that have closed their doors and remain vacant. Menards alone has filed more than a dozen lawsuits against various Wisconsin municipalities since spring of last year, and has left those communities baffled as to whether or not this move is allowed, or even justifiable. The answer, so far, based on court rulings, is that the big box retailers are correct, and are winning their suits to pay less taxes, due to the loophole uncovered by the retail giants. Others store such as ShopKo and Lowe's have also taken to the exact same tactic. The actual argument is that if a store is open for business and is profitable and busy, actually has nothing to do with the value of the real estate that the store is sitting on. They argue that the best way to assess the real value of the real estate is to look at the sales of comparable properties, so for their comparison, they turn to emptied and abandoned big box retail spaces. According to the Journal Sentinel, these types of suits began popping up in Michigan, and gaining traction just across the lake, where stores have been successful in cutting their taxes in half. The first stores to give it a try in the Badger State were Walgreens and CVS. WPT has reached out to several organizations that have proposals which would close the loophole and stop these retailers from shifting countless millions of dollars onto homeowners around the State of Wisconsin. As always, we will keep you informed as to actions we take on any such proposals.
Senator Tammy Baldwin introduces DAIRY PRIDE Act in the U.S. Senate
In the United States Senate last week, Senator Tammy Baldwin introduced the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which would sharply prohibit products from being labeled as milk, cheese, or yogurt, if they are not made with actual dairy products. In other words, products such as soy, almond, or rice "milk" would no longer be able to call themselves "milk." This is coming off the heels of recent reports showing that sales of milk alternative beverages are skyrocketing in the United States, and a sizeable chunk of the consumer market for milk beverages has been imposed-upon by the alternative drinks. "Dairy farmers in Wisconsin work tirelessly every day to ensure that their milk meets high standards for nutritional value and quality," said Senator Baldwin. "Imitation products have gotten away with using dairy's good name for their own benefit, which is against the law and must be enforced. Mislabeling of plant-based products as 'milk' hurts our dairy farmers. That's why I've authored the DAIRY PRIDE Act to take a stand for Wisconsin farmers and the quality products they make." In her media statement, Senator Baldwin listed quotes from various dairy farmers and organizations throughout the State of Wisconsin, supporting this move. What are your thoughts on the DAIRY PRIDE Act? Share your thoughts in this week's WPT Member Poll below.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results: Property tax errors, special session on heroin in Wisconsin, legalizing the possession of CBD oil, and cream puffs.
Last week, we brought you a recently-aired news clip featuring WPT that outlined a tax error in the City of Wausau, which will have residents paying more out of pocket in calendar year 2018 than the previous year. We also talked about the new article that we would feature each week from our Legislative Director, as well as news of Governor Walker calling a special session of the State Legislature to combat the use of heroin in Wisconsin. So let's get down to it! Has there ever been an error on your property tax bill?
We were certainly glad to see that a majority of respondents haven't had an error on their property tax bills. About 51 percent said there was no error. "Must be, it's always too high." "Was high" "Never been advised there was one." "Grand Chute. 2016. Wife went with certified check and had to pony up about $25 additional. It would be nice if I was able to do that to my customers :)" "Yeah, they said that in one year, my property value went up 68%, and had a fit when I challenged it. When the city assessor came back to review, he discussed how he based the property values in our city...He's basing it as though we live in a major city like Milwaukee or Madison...Not middle of nowhere farming community! My home appraises for less than I pay taxes on!" "Too high. I did not get the lottery credit one year." "Too high. I went to a hearing and had it changed to what comparable property was being taxes at." Wondering if this response came from Menards or Lowe's! "Not that I'm aware of." WPT will be featuring a new article each week from our Legislative Director. Are you interested in this article, and reading each week what our organization is focusing on?
It looks like 90 percent of respondents like the idea of reading this type of article each week. "I already enjoyed his first effort- keep it coming." "It is helpful to hear what others are thinking about current issues that affect us, it's probably something on my mind as well, and it helps to know you are not the only person feeling the way you do." "Would be nicer to know of proposed legislation so we can contact our legislature. Yet new/proposed administrative rules by State Agencies affect us as much (or someones more) and we need to know there too. How do we learn of those as well? "How government is being held accountable." "More information like in this last report, talking about the Personal Property Tax repeal hold up. That type of information is what ISN'T being reported in the news very often. It's critical info that is needed to find a way forward." "More of everything. I subscribe to a newspaper 7 days a week, and your e-mails add to the meager political info that comes out of the paper. Thanks."
Governor Walker has called a special session of the State Legislature to combat the heroin crisis in Wisconsin. Has this drug impacted your community?
65 percent of respondents said this drug has impacted their community. Thank you to those who took the time to share, and our thoughts are extended to anybody who has a loved one dealing with these types of issues. "I have to family members who I pray for every day dealing with heroin." "EMTs I know are happy to see Narcan available to general public." "I personally know several individuals that have lost their lives to heroin overdoses. This is a sad crisis. Addiction is so hard to break. My heart goes out to families that have lost loved ones because of this horrible drug. I applaud Gov. Walker for making this a priority." "A very large problem here." "Not sure. I don't get myself involved with these kids of people." Do you support the legalization of possessing marijuana extract/CBD oil for treating seizures?
Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they support the legalization of the possession of CBD oil for the treatment of seizures. Nearly 20 percent do not support legalizing possession, and nearly a quarter of respondents don't know how they feel yet on the topic. "I think marijuana should be available through your doctor only who is treating seizures." "Science proves CBD and some other Cannabinoids HAVE medicinal and therapeutic benefits." "I personally know a family that is contemplating moving to a state that will allow the use of the extract to treat their son's seizures. It would sure make things easier for them, if this oil would just be legalized." "Only if it has medical basis." "I think it's time to allow all marijuana for health and recreation. Not personally into it, but why are we restricting it and let alcohol be a regular part of life around here? "If it is Dr. prescribed and it helps, why not." "There are plenty of drugs to treat seizures. Why open that door for illegal use?" "It's only a matter of time before all 50 states legalize marijuana. WI should get it done, start enjoying new tax revenue stream sooner rather than later." Have you ever eaten a cream puff at the Wisconsin State Fair?
Wow! Only about 55 percent of respondents have had a cream puff at the Wisconsin State Fair! You're missing out! So what are some of the other crazy foods you've tried at fairs? "$6,000,000 if I read this right of State money will be spent to design and oversee the Cream Puff project. How many bureaucrats does it take to oversee a project? Cut the bureaucrats and hire a project management first to oversee the construction and save about 4 to 5 million dollars. Did I read this right? We built a major addition onto a school for less money." Let's jump in and clear something up! Yes, you got the price tag correct. This will be in the governor's budget, however, this particular project will be funded entirely by private gifts, according to Governor Walker's office. The line item in the budget is to merely show the state's intention of completing this project. No tax dollars will be used for the project. "Corn dogs." "Giant pickle!" "Still haven't been to the WI State Fair, and I'm over 50!" "Deep fried Rat on a Stick!" "Fried alligator on a stick!" "Pickled eggs and of course BEER!" "Krispe Kreme cheeseburger" "Deep fried Mac n Cheese on a stick!"
Green Bay and Baraboo latest in wheel tax trend
Both the City of Green Bay and the City of Baraboo are the latest to continue the trend of local wheel taxes to pay for local road maintenance. While several WPT polls have showed that our membership support the wheel tax as a way to gather revenues necessary for filling potholes, it certainly doesn't mean that anybody is happy about more cash going from one pocket, into the local coffers. In the City of Green Bay, city council members are proposing the tax as a way to not only bring in additional funds for road repairs, but to do away with the current method of street repairs in their city- if you live on the street, you and your neighbors get the bill to fill the potholes. As you might imagine, the bigger your property, the more you'll pay for road work. The City of Green Bay is somewhere between $8 million and $24 million behind on road projects. A little bit farther away in the City of Baraboo, local government is seeking input from residents on whether or not they support a $20 wheel tax to cover costs. The $20 fee would generate somewhere around $270,000 for road work. Most recently, the city has borrowed nearly $500,000 per year for repairs on its 65 miles of roadway. Some council members in both cities expressed frustrations that politicians in Madison try to score political points by promising not to raise taxes and fees, and then the cost gets passed onto local taxpayers to foot the cost.
In addition to heroin epidemic, meth usage tripled in Wisconsin
One thing is for sure, we hear a lot about heroin and opioid abuse in Wisconsin. The problem with heroin and its accessibility is that it is no longer confined to the stereotypes or subgroups of society that most people associate it with. It's impacting communities all around Wisconsin, and in a big way. From urban areas in Milwaukee, to the most rural places in our state. Even scarier is that another drug has been creeping onto our streets, and its usage has tripled in the past four years, according to FBI data. "The rise of methamphetamine use in Wisconsin is troubling. The FBI is committed to working with Wisconsin DOJ and other local and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the state to rid our communities of this harmful drug," Special Agent in Charge Justin Tolomeo of the Milwaukee Division of the FBI said. According to their study, which lasted a year and a half, meth has actually matched heroin in Wisconsin, as far as number of cases that law enforcement see with each year- including both arrests and charges. According to the report, Wisconsin's meth is produced in Mexico, and trafficked through California and Minnesota. The prices of the drug are low because it is so widely available, and its highest usage is in Northwestern Wisconsin. The FBI has offered its assistance to any agencies that need help, including rural areas, which they feel are ill-equipped to handle the rise of this drug's use, or the resources to help mitigate the problem.