News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Members, We hope your week is off to a great start, and that you had some time to relax and enjoy the weekend. With a nasty mix of rain, ice, and snow last week, it looks like temperatures are going to become a bit more mild this week, at least for the southern portion of the state. This week's WPT Capitol Report will bring you some news topics, including a legislative proposal regarding high capacity wells, some anti-fraud initiative results from the Department of Revenue, the latest developments on Wisconsin's farm-to-school program, how much money the state plans to spend on government building projects, 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.
Last week at WPT
By: John Jacobson
I'll start off by again saying thanks to the people who e-mailed, and the few people who gave my office a call last week, mainly to discuss the Personal Property Tax in Wisconsin. A few other people who got in touch also wanted to discuss an evolving story regarding the so-called dark store situation that the media has been reporting on over the past few months. WPT also sent out an article in an earlier edition of the Capitol Report that ran through what the media reports had been saying. The media is reporting something like this: big box retailers are suing municipalities over their property tax assessments and want to pay the same as a shuttered storefront, and the courts are ruling in the retailers' favor. The municipalities will have to pay refunds to these retailers, and coupled with the dark store tactic, property taxpayers could see an increase on their assessment. We all know that property taxes in Wisconsin are already high. Heck, that's the reason our organization was founded; to fight for lower property taxes. And while we've achieved a good deal over the past 30+ years, and continue to advocate for reductions, we are always paying attention to situations like these that threaten increases to the local levies. But the story on the local news is failing to tell a very crucial side to this story, and it was brought to my attention as I spoke with other business and tax groups here in Madison. The newspapers and TV stations are leaving out the part of the story that the "fix" being proposed in the legislature would truly impact small business owners, and even residential property owners, and inadvertently change the way that every single assessment is conducted in Wisconsin, ultimately raising property taxes on everybody. Currently, how this whole debate is shaking out, is between assessors and local units of government who want to change the law, and retailers and businesses alike, who want to maintain the current law. Keep in mind, the courts, including the state Supreme Court, have repeatedly ruled in favor of affirming the current method to assess property, which has been in place since 1970. The courts have forbidden the use of above-market rent and financing arrangements to be factored into assessments of property. Assessors are increasingly setting higher values on properties and assessing retailers based on inflated numbers. The proposal to "fix" the "dark store" situation would assess the value of lease agreements rather than actual property, and exclude by law comparable sales of vacant properties. In other words, imagine if you owned a rental property and your assessor was now able to factor in the rent that your tenant pays into the value of your property. Or, imagine if you are a small business owner who rents your work space, and your landlord now raises your rent because his property tax increased due to your rent rate being factored into his valuation. I have no perfect solution for this ongoing situation, however, I wanted to make sure that you were all aware of both sides of the story. While nothing is ever simple as it sounds, one thing is certain: when a bill is hastily pushed through the legislature to "fix" something, and not all angles are considered prior to the bill's passage, often times it results in some very unforeseen consequences. In this case, those consequences could mean higher property taxes for everybody. While our organization has not yet taken a position on the proposal, we will continue to monitor its movement, and work with other organizations to ensure that property taxes are not raised on families or businesses. I've provided two links for you to take a look at. The first link is an informational paper from Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce, which outlines the tax impacts the proposed legislation would have on retailers and small businesses alike. The second link is from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which is lobbying their proposal to the legislature. I hope you will take a moment to scan through both articles, and familiarize yourself even further with this issue. And, as always, we want your thoughts and opinions, as well. Our legislative agenda and actions come mainly from our members and the information we gather from them. Please don't hesitate to reach out at email@example.com. Have a great week ahead, John
Governor Walker announces capital budget
Governor Walker last week introduced his capital budget, or the spending plan for state buildings across Wisconsin, including new construction, renovations, and repairs. In his proposal, Governor Walker recommends spending $803 million on state building projects over the next two years, and borrowing $450 million of that sum to help finance the projects. In the last two-year period, the state spent $848 million, and in 2013-2015 building projects expenditures were over $1.5 billion. Of the projects, some of the more notable projects are a $75 million replacement for the Wisconsin Department of Justice Crime Lab in Milwaukee, $2.4 million to improve water quality at the King veterans home, $33 million to repair Sandburg Hall at UW-Milwaukee, $5 million for a Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Innovation Center in Green Bay, $11 million to replace the Little Falls Dam at Willow River State Park, $5 million to remodel and expand the La Crosse Center convention space, and $3 million to create a new treatment building near wells with high iron and manganese levels, with drinking water improvements at Fox Lake state prison.
Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald introduces high capacity well bill
Senator Scott Fitzgerald last week introduced a bill dealing with the regulations of high capacity wells. The bill focuses replacement, reconstruction and transfers, and also includes provisions for the Department of Natural Resources to study several watersheds in the central part of the state. If the bill were to pass, once a high capacity well is approved, without any additional approvals, the owner of the well would be able to: - repair, maintain, or make improvements to the well - construct a replacement well, if the purpose of the replacement is to prevent contamination, or if the replacement will be the same depth as the existing well, and has to be either within a 75-foot radius of the existing well, or farther from the nearest groundwater protection area than the existing well - reconstruct a well to the same depth - transfer well approvals at the same time land ownership is transferred The owner will need to comply with the conditions of their specific well approvals, and notify the DNR if any changes are made to the well, and continue to comply with the conditions once the changes are made.
Funding for farm-to-school program cut in budget
Eight years ago, Wisconsin was one of the first states in the nation to create a farm-to-school program coordinator, which has helped ensure that locally grown foods are being brought into local schools. The program's three main areas are getting locally grown food into schools, building school gardens, and promoting agriculture education in schools. Under Governor Walker's budget proposal, however, that program's funding would be cut, including its coordinator, and the 15-member council, consisting of agriculture, health care, and education professionals, who help guide the state's Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection and legislature on farm-to-school issues statewide. The total savings from the cut would be $86,200 annually. On the flip side, local farmers saw $9.2 million in sales from 164 Wisconsin school districts in 2015 alone. Helen Dombalis, who is the programs director for the National Farm to School Network, said that Wisconsin is the gold standard for this program, because of our state's committed resources. Because of our state, she said, the National Farm to School Network is growing.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results: Proposed 46 additional tax auditors, eliminating daylight savings time, federal funds audit, structurally deficient bridges, and sunny warm weather.
Last week, we talked about the new tax auditor positions being proposed that will track down tax cheats in other states. We also talked about the idea to eliminate daylight savings time in Wisconsin, a requested audit of all state programs and projects which use federal funds, a report that showed Wisconsin has 1,232 structurally deficient bridges, and the sunny and unseasonably warm temperatures in Wisconsin last weekend. As always, we wanted your thoughts. The state budget includes a provision that creates 46 new tax auditor positions, which are reportedly to chase out-of-state tax cheats. Do you support this move?
About 50 percent of respondents think the new auditor positions sound like a good move, while the remaining 50% of respondents were split between not liking the idea, or not knowing enough to cast a vote. And what are your thoughts on the issue? Have you ever been audited? "Understanding the idea of going after out-of-state tax "cheats" but maybe the department needs to look within itself for better efficiency. This will be 46 more state employees that taxpayers have to support (e.g. pensions)" "Need to go after all tax cheaters, not just the out of state ones." "Don't need more government employees" "A sales tax audit years ago, not fun" "What they say and what they do are often two different things" "Our returns are done by a professional with honest figures. We don't need bureaucrats who are going to harass us and cost us more money to defend ourselves." "Yes, Glad we use an accountant for our taxes!" Two lawmakers are floating around an idea that would eliminate Daylight Savings Time in Wisconsin. Good idea or bad idea?
About 50 percent of respondents think eliminating daylight savings time is a bad idea. But those who dislike it came in a very close second at 42 percent.
"School buses are safer with daylight savings time. Picking up and dropping off kids in the dark is dangerous." "Unless they can get neighboring states to go along with it, it seems like a huge pain in the..." "Sounds like a waste of time and energy unless all states were doing it" "Either leave it DST all year...or split the difference (1/2 hour)...Nationwide!" "Leave it one way or the other all year" "Leave it alone!" "NOT important now" "This is ridiculous" "Convince the entire country or upper Midwest to go along, but seems folly if Wisconsin is the only one in the region." "Out of sync w/ neighboring states, We have more time in summer for leisure time activities after work" "If neighboring states are not going to do the same, I'd be against it" "Stupid proposal. All because Wisconsinites can't bear to lose an hour of sleep and are (apparently) easily confused? If these legislators have trouble setting their watches ahead 1 hour perhaps they should have their grandchildren do it for them. Kids are really good with electronic devices!" "Our state would be different than our neighbors" "Sunlight in the morning is for farmers. Most non-farmes would swap an hour of sun in the morning for a more reasonable sunset at night. Wisconsin would be better suited extend DST all 12 months. Here's a great website that explains: http://bit.ly/1PCPkTM "Leave the time change one way or another." "It interrupts my pattern of sleep and weeks to get back in a routine."
Some federal dollars carry the burden of requirements, regulations, or contingencies. One lawmaker has requested an audit of all state programs that use federal dollars, in order to fund out the regulatory impacts on Wisconsin. Good idea or bad idea?
74 percent of respondents think it's a bad idea. 4 percent don't like it, and 22 percent don't know. "The audit will be another burden and requirement, regulation, or contingency." "I would check to see if some of this work has already been done." "I've worked for the public education system. I've worked for county government. I've dealt with local/county/state/federal funded projects...I cannot believe the foolish waste, rampant everywhere...And how badly the US Taxpayer is taken advantage of. Maybe audits are a good idea. But those auditors need to be BUSINESS people. SMALL business people..." "It's not a bad thing to understand how policies from "above" effect things." A study found that there are 56,000 "structurally deficient" bridges in the U.S., including 1,232 in Wisconsin. Is there a bridge in your community in need of some attention?
55 percent say they don't know, and over 30 percent think there are bridges in their communities that need work. You can click here to see an interesting interactive map using the data from a similar study. You can also visit the DOT's website to view bridge safety and inspection reports at http://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/safety/safety-eng/brdg.aspx. "A local bridge damaged in a storm has left a business with a long detour. Private groups tried to pay for repair to open bridge and they still can't get it repaired. Bridge has been closed for nearly a year." "Did they tell us which ones?" "One a few miles from town is over 100 years old. Cobban Bridge" "On town roads" "Not sure a citizen knows sufficient engineering requirements to know which bridge(s) in my township fit this definition." "Nothing will happen until more people die on the bridge collapses like 35W in Minneapolis/St. Paul." "I think it may be too late for our bridge; I just saw it floating down the river" "Of course there is. If you think you don't have any deficient bridges in your area, you aren't looking." "Not sure because all the bridges have been fixed in the last few years." "Hwy N & F in Town of Lyndon. Bridge was built in 1932." Some areas in Wisconsin saw temperatures in the mid-60s over the weekend. Did you spend any time outdoors over the weekend?
Nearly 80 percent of respondents spent some time outside last weekend. Just over 20 percent did not. What did you do? "Ride bike, run, exterior yard work." "Cutting brush to cleanup a property line." "Yes, lots, but in Florida." "Went for a walk- no snow or ice on the country roads." "Still went cross country skiing...for the last time this season" "I'm always outdoors on the farm. Like the warmth. Not the mud" "Burned some dry grass and trimmed trees along a fence line" "Our farm animals loved the sunshine." "I sadly removed the remains of our ice skating rink. Bad season this year." "Yes some of the time but this weather reminds me of 2012 if you remember. Major drought for us farmers." "Only good sinus weather."
Department of Revenue's initiative have saved taxpayers big
From 2006 to 2010, the Department of Revenue saved taxpayers a total of $71 million in tax filing and return fraud prevention initiatives. However, that number has skyrocketed, and from 2011 to 2016, additional emphasis on these initiatives have saved Wisconsinites $255 million. $63 million of that total came from fraud prevention last year alone. Governor Walker said protecting Wisconsin's taxpayers is a top priority. "This includes protecting them from waste, fraud, and abuse. I applaud the Department of Revenue for their efforts to safeguard our citizens from fraudulent activity. We want to continue to work with them and remain vigilant so we can prevent identity theft and other forms of fraud." This time of year especially sees heightened fraudulent activity, often times individuals will file taxes using another individual's information, and then collect the refunds. A useful guide with frequently asked questions and other information on how to tip-off DOR is available by clicking here.
JPMorgan Chase survey finds Wisconsin business leaders optimistic on economy
According to a survey by banking giant JPMorgan Chase, Wisconsin's middle-market business leaders are optimistic about the economy, and about improving company performance in the near year. 88% of business executives in the Badger State said they were optimistic on national economics, compared to 80% nationwide. Last year, only 39% surveyed said they were optimistic. Also, 77% of Wisconsin's business leaders surveyed said they expect revenue increases in the next year. All of this information puts Wisconsin's private sector at an advantage when it comes to optimism, moving into the final month of the the 1st quarter of the year. The survey, called the Chase Business Leaders Outlook, polled about 1,400 middle market businesses, and 950 small businesses. Middle market was defined as revenues between $20 million and $500 million. Small businesses were defined as companies $100,000 and 20 million. All told, there were about 80 middle market companies surveyed in Wisconsin.