Members, We hope your week is off to a great start, and that you had a chance to relax and enjoy some of the mild temperatures seen across much of the state over the weekend! This week, we'll get you up to speed on the newly-introduced two-year state budget, share some good news regarding bankruptcy filings in Wisconsin, share some of the changes that the agriculture community might see due to the budget, get you up to speed on a bill passed in the senate regarding project labor agreements, 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 email@example.com. Have a great week, WPT, Inc.
Last week at WPT
By: John Jacobson
As you can imagine, last week was very state budget-focused at WPT. Before I dive into that, I want to take a moment to address a concern about which I was contacted towards the end of the week. A WPT member from the Oshkosh area got in touch with me to discuss his thoughts on the unemployment insurance (UI) issues that his business faces, and I imagine many of you might face, as well. In years past, employees facing seasonal or temporary layoffs were exempted from many requirements that have been put in place for those applying for unemployment insurance benefits. A few years back, however, those exemptions were removed, now forcing thousands of individuals around the state to search for work when they face a temporary layoff from their job. To put this into context, imagine a construction or roofing company that can't work for a couple months out of the year due to inclement weather. Employees are now required to do weekly work searches, even knowing that their employer will bringing them back onto the job within a month or two. It sounds fine, right? Why should tax dollars go towards paying somebody's unemployment while they are off for a couple of months? Here's the catch: On every single paycheck for every single employee, that roofing or construction company has paid a hefty payroll tax to the Department of Workforce Development's Unemployment Insurance. It goes into a pot of money specific to that particular company to be used in the event that their employees get laid off or fired. In reality, it's by-and-large the company who is subsidizing their employee's time off. What makes matters worse, as confirmed in my conversation, is that the employees might be very skilled workers who are forced to look for other employment, and who might get offered a new job. Now the roofing or construction company is without one of their skilled employees, and has to go through the lengthy and expensive process of finding, training, and acquainting a new employee. It's time consuming, inefficient, expensive, and a massive burden for businesses all across Wisconsin. WPT will again be reaching out to lawmakers in an effort to, at the very least, streamline the process with the Department of Workforce Development, so it's less of a hassle for many companies' administrative employees who must deal with the red tape and compliance nightmare of the requirements. Now, onto the budget. Wednesday afternoon, I sat patiently and waited to read the Governor's proposal as it relates to property taxes in Wisconsin. In short, it's a great budget for property owners throughout the state. Not only does this budget leave revenue limits in place, provide more aid for school districts, and boost the school levy credit, but it also entirely eliminates the "State of Wisconsin" portion of your property tax bill, and closes a loophole that allows school districts to quietly bypass levy limits by claiming an energy efficiency exemption. That exemption alone has cost property taxpayers $212 million in the past eight years. All told, Governor Walker's proposed budget cuts property taxes over $300 million statewide. Now, it's up to the Joint Finance Committee and the legislature to make sure those provisions, in fact, stay in the budget. That's where WPT has you covered. We will be active in voicing our support for many of the tax reductions we've seen, and doing our best to make sure these proposals go untouched through the process. The state budget is a very long process, and many things can be modified, or even removed from the massive bill. But right now, we are in very good shape. I hope you have a great remainder of the week. If you wish to reach out to discuss anything you've read, or just to say hello, please don't hesitate to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gov. Walker introduces $76 billion state budget
The guessing game has officially ended, as Governor Walker last week introduced his two-year state budget proposal in front of a joint session of the state legislature. Many people have been surprised at the more moderate nature of the proposal, with even the Chicago Tribune calling it "surprisingly liberal." The all-encompassing nature of a state budget, will of course, leave many people pleased, and many people dissatisfied. And while the long and onerous task of debating, amending, and passing the state budget has yet to come, one thing is certain: Wisconsin's property taxpayers should be pleased with what has been introduced. The two identical budget bills, Senate Bill 30, and Assembly Bill 64, come out to about a $76 billion two-year spending and revenue plan. The plan increases state spending by $586 million, and has a projected $82.7 million surplus at the end of the biennium (2019). Many details are still emerging in the near-one-thousand page bill, but here are some of the larger details included in the plan. - $340 million property tax reduction statewide by fully eliminating the state-levied portion of property tax bills, boosting the school levy property tax credit by $87 million, increasing aid to school districts by $72 million, no increase in levy limits, and more. - $203 million in income tax cuts by lowering the income tax rate by one-tenth of a percent - $22 million through a sales tax holiday - $650 million increase to K-12 funding, also requiring school districts to fully implement Act 10 reforms, and having school district employees pay 12% of their health care premiums, before receiving state aid increases - $200 per pupil, per year tax dollar increases to voucher schools - $135 million increase to UW System funding - 5% tuition reduction for all UW System campuses - $10 million more for Tech College funding - Freezes Tech College tuition - $10.2 million increases in need-based tuition grants - $500 million in new borrowing for transportation - Halts East-West I-94 plan - Full re-implementation of Manufacturing & Agriculture Tax Credit - Shifts State of Wisconsin employees to self-insurance model The process for passing the state budget is quite long, and generally is not completed until the late spring, or early summer. The fiscal year for the State of Wisconsin begins on July 1st, so the race to pass the state budget by June 30th has now begun. But now that Governor Walker has officially introduced the budget, what happens next? Once the Governor concluded his speech, his budget bill was officially delivered to the State Legislature, and referred to the Joint Committee on Finance, commonly referred to as JFC. Once JFC accepted the budget, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) began the task of breaking everything down and writing detailed "budget papers" for each department and their programs. This process will take about 30 days from the time that the budget was introduced. After the 30 day period, JFC holds "agency briefings." This is when the heads of each department, various employees, and administrators appear before the finance committee and provide information about their department, its programs, and explain to the committee how the proposed budget will impact their individual functions. Once the agency briefings have concluded, JFC will hold "public hearings" in Madison, and at various locations throughout the state. Members of the public, advocates, lobbyists, and anybody else who wishes to testify can register and address the committee. These hearings are broken down by each department. This will happen sometime around April. After public testimony is received, JFC will then hold its Executive Sessions. Again, the committee will go department-by-department and add, remove, or amend provisions in the budget, and vote on each motion to do so. Once the committee has finished its work amending the governor's proposal, the bill is referred back to each chamber of the legislature. WPT will keep you up to date each week as this process continues to unfold.
Bankruptcy filings down in Wisconsin
It's generally not a statistic that you hear much about, but there's certainly some good news to report, as Wisconsin's bankruptcy filings hit a near-decade low in 2016. According to date from US Bankruptcy Court, there were about 16,800 filings in Wisconsin in 2016, down 9% from 2015, and the smallest number since 2007, which had 15,600 filings. At its worst, 2010 saw about 30,000 bankruptcy filings in the Badger State, but experts say that as mortgage foreclosures subside, so do bankruptcy filings. Also shown in the data was that about two-thirds of the filings in Wisconsin were Chapter 7. These types of bankruptcies wipe out debt such as credit cards, medical, and utility payments, designed to give individuals as fresh financial start. Many also file Chapter 13, which allows those with regular incomes to pay off their debt within five years, by developing a plan. With Wisconsin's lowest unemployment rate since 2001, which is also a factor. Let's hope both the unemployment and bankruptcy trends in Wisconsin continue to move downward.
Milwaukee Bucks announce another new arena...in Oshkosh
There's no doubt that the Bucks arena debate from a few years ago stirred a lot of conversation around the state regarding the future of the team, funding, the fiscal impacts on the state, benefits to the economy, and whether or not tax dollars should go to fund such an operation. But some much-welcomed news made its way into the Fox Valley, as the Milwaukee Bucks announced last week their plans to own and operate an NBA Development League team in Oshkosh. Part of that major announcement was the Bucks' deal with Oshkosh businessman Greg Pierce, who will build a new 3,500 arena to house the NBA minor league team. The Bucks are the 20th team in the NBA to own a minor league franchise. The President of the Milwaukee Bucks, Peter Feigin, said that the new arena will also serve as a means to drive further economic development in the area, which could see a hotel development in the near future, and additional dining and entertainment venues. Right now, the current arena plan will have a bar and team store inside. BMO Harris bank has agreed to be the first major sponsor of the new Oshkosh development.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results: Rural school aid, school year start dates, Earned Income Tax Credit increase, cheese production streak, and Super Bowl.
Last week, we shared the some information on Governor Walker's plans to increase aid to rural schools, a bill from lawmakers that would give school districts the authority to begin the school year before September 1st, Governor Walker's plans to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for low and moderate income families, Wisconsin snapping its 26 month cheese production streak, and more. As always, we wanted your thoughts. Governor Walker has introduced his plans to offer more state aid to rural schools. After looking at the outline of the plan, what do you think so far?
Nearly 50% liked the Governor's rural schools plan, and over 30% of respondents said their schools need more. "Our schools receive enough funding. Teachers and school districts need to be held accountable for the product they put out. I.E. Student test scores." "I'd prefer elected school boards figure out what they need to educate their citizens, and create a tax levy to support the community's goals. The only reason they cannot is due to the per-pupil revenue limit that handcuffs them. The more Madison does, the less local control there is, and that should end." "About time!" "More would be nice but there is only so many dollars to allocate" "Rural schools losing enrollment need to merge to cut overhead." "Some rural schools are 'property rich' with expensive homes near resorts...yet have large geographic districts, and small numbers of students." Two Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow school districts to change the start days of their school years before September if they choose. What do you think of the plan?
Just over 60 percent support allowing school districts to change their school year start date, and nearly 40 percent disagree with the move. And when did you start and finish school? "Started in August and was usually done around memorial day. I honest feel the tourism industry in Wisconsin has done a great job offering so many more opportunities for all enjoy the state everyweek of the year! Times have changed and families take time to play on weekends much more than they did in the past. I personally think it works better for the fall high school sports to begin school before Labor Day." "August to June. Local control should dictate these academic calendars. Mandate the Friday before Labor Day be a school vacation day, it's a 4 day weekend, and the corporate masters in the Wisconsin Dells will be appeased." "September" "Usually the first Monday after Labor Day" "The children will miss school with all the County fairs going on, such as Sheboygan, Walworth Counties." "August and the last week of school was always the Friday before memorial weekend." "last week in August." "August and May" "Began in August, dismissed for the summer in May."
Governor Walker is proposing an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which benefits low and moderate income families. What do you think?
About 55 percent support the EITC increase. 20 said they do not support it, and about 25 percent said they didn't know. "Thankfully never needed the EITC." "My wife used to be able to claim it before we were married. It was a huge sum of money that was nice to get, but we didn't need it and we've done just fine without it. It certainly doesn't need to be increased." "It certainly has been a blessing for our family." Wisconsin's record cheese production streak has ended after 26 months. Some are worried that this is an indication that cheese demand or production is dropping. How often do you buy cheese?
Nearly 70 percent of respondents purchase cheese every time they're at the grocery store. We were glad to see that not a single person chose "I don't buy cheese." "I eat cheese daily and hand it out at meetings I attend." "4# whenever we go to Sam's Club. A couple of pounds from Kramer Cheese in Watertown." "Grocery stores get way too much of the dollar from dairy, it's their most profitable department. When farmers only get about $1.50 a pound for the price of cheese, it's not fair to them, when grocery stores charge $5 per pound." "Does head cheese count?" "I bought Wisconsin cheese to take on my trip to Florida next month. I am sharing my goodies with friends there. Spread the wealth!" "Buy one or two pounds, Colby, Cheddar." "Swiss" "We have a mid size cheese manufacturing plant. This December was our busiest ever." "A lot of cheddar, some prick and limburger" "Love fresh Colby and cheese curds!" Did you watch the Super Bowl last night?
Over 60 percent said they watched the entire Super Bowl! "Wow. Mr. Clean" "Not a Gaga fan but the show was entertaining. The commercials, not so much." "Too many weird commercials, Halftime- overdone as usual." "Didn't watch the halftime show. Just the game." "With the Pats winning, this Superbowl will go down as the one that disgusted the most amount of people, ever." "Not one memorable commercial! Enjoyed the halftime but not the outcome of the game." "Half time show great. Commercials too political." "Commercials were blah- but halftime show was great!" "Too many game & show commercials, creativity seems to be lacking in comparison to the fun commercials of a few years back" "Commercials sucked- again. Halftime was okay." "Commercials generally lame for a Super Bowl. Halftime show was very good." "Fair commercials. Show over-done." "A talented artist/performer doing their "thing." Not a whole lot to 'write home to mom' about." "Gaga rocked and commercials were abundant but low-grade." "Commercials no good, half time show was ok if you like Gaga."
State Senate passes bill on project labor agreements
On a party line vote Wednesday, the State Senate passed a bill that bars local governments from requiring contractors hire union workers for public projects. The bill bans local governments from requiring project labor agreements on public contracts, which include requirements that workers on the projects are union members, minorities, or veterans. These type of labor agreements can also include rules regarding strikes, overtime, and working conditions. Republicans say that the bill equates to government remaining neutral in the bidding process, and Democrats argue that the bill attacks local control and could result in lower wages for workers. With 19 Republicans in favor, and 13 Democrats against it, the bill now heads to the State Assembly to debate and pass the measure. If no changes are made by the Assembly, it would then advance to Governor Walker's desk for his signature.
Authority over large farms might see shift from one agency to another
One of the many proposals in the budget bill includes a study that would look at potentially shifting authority of large farms in Wisconsin away from the DNR, and instead putting it in the hands of the Department of Agriculture (DATCP). DNR and DATCP officials would be given a directive by the budget bill to conduct a study by the end of 2018 to see if both agencies find merit in transferring authority from one agency to the other. The provision includes a directive that they look through both funding and staffing, and receive approval from the EPA, which now gives the DNR authority over CAFOs in Wisconsin. Environmental groups believe that the state needs to provide more manpower to regulate CAFOs, who now pay a $345 permitting fee, and can produce as much waste as a medium-sized Wisconsin city. To compare that permitting fee, a municipality in Wisconsin pay more than $100,000 per year for a similar permit. Currently in Wisconsin, DATCP is in charge of regulating farm operations, which also includes aspects of manure spreading practices. But under state law, the DNR is in charge of reviewing permit applications for new CAFOs and those who are expanding their operations. Proponents of the bill believe that moving this oversight and regulatory duty to DATCP would make sense, as the department is already well-equipped to deal with agriculture-specific issues. This change is being lobbied on and supported by both the Dairy Business Association, and the Farm Bureau Federation.