News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Members, Happy Monday! We hope that your week is off to a great start. If you're in Southern Wisconsin, be careful, as road conditions will remain slick for the remainder of the day and into the evening. Predictions are that Madison will receive upwards of 8'' of snow, while Milwaukee will be receiving about 15''. This week, the WPT Capitol Report will focus on a bipartisan bill aimed at reining in corporate fraud, the latest news on the ban on project labor agreements, which three communities will receive lead pipe replacement assistance from the state, the move to eliminate the Office of State Treasurer, 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
A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail and an invite from a small business member in Thorp, WI.
"If you have never personally been to Thorp, I do suggest you come up here and see it sometime. See the little cluster of towns here from Abbostford to Cadott, all right off Highway 29," he wrote. "There's actually a ton of business, employment, and activity all occuring right here..."
As it happened, last week I had a meeting scheduled to speak in front of the Portage County Tavern League about our organization, and our efforts around both property taxes, and the personal property tax. The next day, I was scheduled to have a meeting outside of Chippewa Falls, and I thought it might be a good opportunity to venture north and visit Thorp.
I e-mailed back and said that I would be in the area.
"I will be in your general area on Tuesday morning. I have to be in Dunn County by noon. I'm considering swinging by your shop and saying hello for a few minutes," I replied.
Without missing a beat, the member responded, "If you're going to Dunn County...you can see one of the most beat up roadways in our area on the way there. Just take Highway X out of Thorp to Stanley. At the 4-way stop in Stanley, go West onto Maple Street, and continue west until you hit a stop sign. Turn left and enjoy the horribly beat up road..."
I attended the Portage County Tavern League meeting on Monday night alongside our business member manager Kathy Bean, and had great conversations about property taxes and the PPT. Not to my surprise, I had quite a few people come up and speak with me afterwards who talked about their property taxes dropping, either on their business, home, or both. It was time well spent with a great group of local job creators.
Well, as it happened, I did continue north from Stevens Point to Thorp the next morning. It was actually a beautiful morning, considering severe thunderstorms had ripped through Central Wisconsin the evening before.
After I departed Hank's Furniture in Thorp, I took his suggestion and drove down that road. Much to my car alignment's dismay.
I have seen some crumbly roads in and around Dane County, and on my frequent travels throughout the state. But nothing had compared to this. You could tell that new gravel had been poured recently along the road, and been packed down by cars, and undoubtedly from the massive implements I saw maneuvering around the mega-dairy across the street. But within no time, the newly-poured gravel hadn't done much to make travels any safer or more enjoyable.
Two things were certain after I got back onto Highway 29; I was glad to be back on pavement, and I am glad to be part of the transportation debate in Madison. Anybody who's forced to drive on roads in those conditions is certainly not getting their tax dollars' worth.
If any of you would like to share your thoughts or concerns, or have any ideas or invitations, I am always available. Just get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-255-7473.
Bipartisan bill to stop corporate fraud for WEDC dollars
Last week, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Representative Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem) introduced their plan that would make it a crime to commit fraud in pursuit of taxpayer dollars awarded by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The same legislation passed the Assembly last year, and had the support of Governor Walker, but did not make it through the State Senate. Rep. Samantha Kerkman said that this bill would create a crime for committing fraud to receive WEDC dollars, just as there are already penalties and laws in place for fraud against Wisconsin Works, Medicaid, FoodShare, and others. The bill would essentially create a crime for defrauding WEDC to receive money, or using money or benefit from WEDC in a manner other than its specified use. It would result in a Class E felony, meaning imprisonment up to 15 years and/or fined $50,000. It would also make those convicted ineligible for WEDC benefits for 7 years. "State taxpayers should be confident that both their tax dollars and their interests are being protected and that economic development fraudsters face stiff penalties for their actions," Senator Dave Hansen said.
Sen. Cowles, Rep. Summerfield introduce bill to crack down on credit card skimmers
With the credit card skimmer scams popping up around the state at an alarming rate, two lawmakers last week introduced a bill that would modernize and update the law to criminalize possession, and trafficking, and use of the skimmers. The device is a small electronic piece of equipment that is easily attached to a card reader at a gas pump or ATM, which secretly collects your credit/debit card information as soon as you swipe. "It's bad enough that hardworking Wisconsinites have to worry about having their identities stolen when going to fill up at the pump or withdraw money from an ATM; worse still is our state has no laws on the books to address the full spectrum of this crime. This is a statewide issue that needs a statewide solution," Rep. Summerfield (R-Bloomer) said. Believe it or not, Wisconsin is in the minority, as one of the states who has not already enacted new statutes that provide criminal penalties specific to skimming fraud. "These devices are popping up all over the place. Wisconsinites need the protections from these criminals and our law enforcement agencies need modern laws that accurately reflect the dangers that are impacting our communities," Senator Cowles (R-Allouez) said. Cowles added, "As the prevalence of these devices are increasing so is our diligence in addressing these crimes." So far, skimmers have been obtained in Appleton, Brookfield, Camp Douglas, Deforest, Eau Claire, Edgerton, Elm Grove, Fort Atkinson, Franklin, Green Bay, Janesville, Juda, Kenosha, Lake Delton, Madison, Marshfield, Mequon, Milton, Oak Creek, Oshkosh, Random Lake, Shawano, Wausau, West Salem, and other communities.
Assembly passes project labor agreement ban
Along party lines on Thursday, the State Assembly passed a bill that would bar state and local governments from requiring contractors enter into labor agreements with unions on publicly-funded projects. Since the bill passed the Senate last month, it now heads to Governor Walker's desk for his signature. The bill's supporters say that the ban would compel more construction companies to bid on projects, which would result in tax dollar savings. Opponents of the measure say that the bill is another effort to weaken labor unions, and that it would put worker safety and wages at risk. Assembly Democrats spoke our against the bill for extended periods of time during the debate last week, including Rep. Amanda Stuck of the Fox Valley, who said that lawmakers with "soft hands and round bellies" could not do the work that her steelworker husband does. Speaker Robin Vos said that quality of work will not suffer under this bill, since a a local government can still choose union contractors for these bids, if their contract is high quality and comes in at a reasonable price. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Walker.
Voters will decide on eliminating State Treasurer in April 2018
The legislature has done their part, and now it will be up to Wisconsin voters to decide whether or not to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to eliminate the Office of State Treasurer. The State Assembly on Thursday voted 68-31 to put the measure on the April 2018 ballot, and some lawmakers are expecting a pretty high percentage of voters to be in favor of the move. Rep. Michael Schraa expects that 65 percent of voters will cast their ballot to eliminate the position, and even the current Wisconsin State Treasurer himself is in favor of the move. Opponents of the bill would like to see the position given more power, so the office can serve as a check-and-balance on Governor Walker.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results: GPR for transportation needs, reining in utility profits in Wisconsin, Assembly Democrats' tax plan, balanced budget amendment proposal, voluntary commodity check-offs
Last week, we talked about proposals from Senator Fitzgerald that would use general purpose revenues for transportation projects, rein in utility profits in Wisconsin, create a new tax bracket and repeal the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax credit, require Wisconsin to join in calling on Congress to amend the US Constitution to include a balanced budget, and commodity check-offs. As always, we wanted your thoughts. Senator Fitzgerald has said that he would consider using general purpose revenue to fund transportation. This would mean using money from sales and income tax. Do you support this proposal?
About 43 percent support this idea, and 41 say no. "Good source for roads. Gov't uses taxpayer money for items gov't wasn't intended to provide." "Stop big projects like I-39 south of Madison @2B!!!" "We need to try something. Our roads need help." "Put tolls on people from the cities or Chicago can drive through the state without putting gas in, so no gas tax from them." "Use the gas tax, leave general revenue alone." "Money for transportation infrastructure should come largely from those of us who use the infrastructure. The more you use, the more you pay." "Frankly, wheel taxes are foolish because it's double tax. Raising the gas tax a few pennies will help...BUT...I think you need to tax vehicles on the road that do the most damage. big, heavy loads should pay more. "Vehicles of Husbandry" should have to be registered if they are used on the roadways- same for huge implements. Bicycles and buggies that are the primary sources of transportation should also have to bear a registration sticker. I wonder how much revenue THAT would return? Especially seeing as those huge 3 wheels per corner and towing a 3 axle honey wagon..." "I'd need to know what programs would be affected." "We need to quit borrowing for roads and repair" "LOCAL ROADS IN DIRE NEED OF MAINTENANCE" "I simply do not understand the aversion to increasing the gas tax or registration fees. They are perfect mechanisms to tax those who use the roads for the roads. It is the GOP's absurd commitment to dogma that prevents them from doing what is eminently logical." "Yes, if cuts can be made so our sales, income & property taxes don't go up." "I am OK with this just so something else is cut in return. If tourism requires the use of our roads, maybe the venues that are tourist attraction could have an extra 1% collected for our roads, just like the local "room tax" we now pay almost anywhere you stay in the state." Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at reining in Wisconsin's utility company profits. Do you support this proposal?
About 72 percent of respondents support the bill to rein in utility profits. "Such a monopoly, they need reining in." "This might be a way to keep them honest since we can't "shop" for our utility supplier." "We have very good power source." "Many farms have spent millions of dollars to create electricity from manure. They have turned off their equipment because the money received from the electric utilities is lower than the cost to produce it. Where is the out cry for renewable energy?" "I don't like the $24.00 reoccurring fee just because I use Clark Electric. I also don't want to pay for someone else's electric bill- called a community fee, I prefer to donate to whoever I want and not have this reoccurring fee on my bill every month." "Sounds like a good populist idea, but what what the consequences of such a move be? Has that been looked at? What would the utilities response be to such a move?" "Good and bad. When utilities make money, they pay for people, they fund benefits, they build and expand...Rein in profit TOO much, and that all gets reined in too." "Regulating" the 'profits' is the problem to a solution." "The fact that we have no choices and there is no competition is my biggest complaint." "Energy bills have been about the same. Climate change has made Wisconsin's winters more mild." "The only way my bill goes down is if I use less. Rates are too high." "Bill has been the same- high. Would doing this cause a decline in service and quality of electrical infrastructure?" "Utility bill continues to climb, needs to be reigned in."
Assembly Democrats introduced a tax plan that would raise taxes on higher-income-earning individuals and families, lowering the income tax for middle-income-earners, and eliminating the manufacturers and agriculture tax credit. Good or bad idea?
About 20 percent support the proposal. Over 60 percent are opposed. "How about high earning Democrats write an additional check at tax time to the state. Money in taxpayers' pockets is indefinitely better than any gov't coffer." "The agriculture tax credit is a life line for many family businesses in these times of no profit margins." "Not sure how this will affect me, but I don't think GE needs any tax credits." "Though this article is highly slanted to make the reader believe it is a bad idea, if a person were to look at this issue and the issue of Republicans constantly trying to lower taxes for the rich, maybe the Dems idea wouldn't be "bad" or could at least be moderated...if there was a moderate republican in a gerrymandered state." "I basically think that if you make a lot, and I mean far from the average US income of $53,000 annually, then you simply should pay more income taxes. All during the last presidential administration "rich" people had said they were willing to pay more taxes. Maybe we should let them?" "What's considered high income and what's considered middle income?" "This will drive companies out of Wisconsin and put a knife in the back of manufacturers and farmers that choose to live here." "Manufacturers and ag tax credit give then initiative to grow and expand their businesses." "Flat tax. That way everyone pays the same. It's easy." "The Ag and Manufacturing tax credits were designed to make the GOP's corporate masters happy, so any repeal would be good for the rest of us." "Only raise tax on higher income only and lower tax for middle income earners. But eliminating the manufacturers and ag tax credit just plain stupid. Manufacturer and Ag is the bread winners of this State." "Why do politicians love to penalize success? Sounds like they are inciting more class envy and are desperate for votes." "I usually do not agree with democrats too often, but some of their ideas have merit. If a person is making well over a mid range 6 figure income, they can afford to pay more. The property tax on farmland has become upside down. The values have risen immensely the last 7 years, if those purchasing all the farmland can justify paying $10,000 an acre, they should be paying more than $10 an acre in property taxes." A Wisconsin State Senator would like our state to join nearly 30 other states in calling on Congress to amend the US Constitution to include a balanced budget amendment. Do you support adding this to our constitution?
Over 60 percent like the idea. About 15 percent do not. "The current path is unsustainable. You don't pay off debt with more debt." "Can we afford to cut everything?" "Not sure, but think they'll just fudge the numbers." "Government is not a business...Government's job is to ensure that it's people are safe (safe being more than military) and reasonably well off. If government is constrained by a strict mandatory balanced budget amendment, who will be hurt when times are troubled? Balanced budget is a good idea in a perfect world, but it is anything but..." "I do think a balanced budget is a good idea. However, there are times when getting out of balance can be beneficial or necessary. A balanced budget must also include the option to pay for things in installments, and have that accounted for in the budget." I'd have to know the details before I could answer that." "In difficult time it maybe near possible to balance the budget in a certain year." "Have to stop the federal spending sickness." "This is a frightening prospect. I believe the US will not have 50 states by the end of the century, and a constitutional convention will throw gasoline on that prospect. Naturally, that may be the purpose, to split the country in two." "Good idea, of course, but Washington pays no attention to the constitution now, a new amendment would be just one more to ignore." "What if we are in a time where we have to run a deficit such as a war or depression? Why don't our politicians run a balanced budget in good times? No guts?" "Absolutely."
Many agriculture industries pay a mandatory fee to interest groups that are designed to market and promote that industry sector around the country and world. For example, dairy farmers have to pay a mandatory 15 cents per hundred pounds of milk. Do you think these commodity "check-offs" should be voluntary?
About 60 percent believe that commodity check-offs should be voluntary, over 25 percent do not. "If the individual sees the merit in the organization they'll contribute. You saw what happened with the teachers union when it was no longer mandatory." "We do pay the $.15, I'm okay with that if they use it wisely." "I think a better program is needed." "I thought union dues were done away with." "Yes, I pay into the check-off, but the amount should be adjusted for times when the margins are tight as they were in 2016." "All farms benefit from the promotions." "Sounds like union dues; commercials don't make people consume more dairy; more people are avoiding dairy because humans are the only specifies drinking milk past the infant stage, and its from a different species." "The question here is, yes no one likes mandatory but it is voluntary who will actually pay? If no on pays, or not enough pays what will happen to the interest groups who are promoting the products? If promotion and other serves have been degraded, will the long-term business suffer?" "Starting to sound like a cartel...You are "guaranteed" funding off someone else's labor? And for advertising? I don't think so...." "Again, I'd like to know more details about this rule." "When promotion and advertising is done on a large scale, all producers in that industry benefit from it." "If they reap the benefits, they should help pay the cost." "If they are voluntary who will actually pay into it?" "Right-to-work made union dues voluntary look what happened. Let people keep their money if they don't see a benefit" "If voluntary most would opt out of paying the check-off but yet want all benefits from promotion." "Perhaps keep it mandatory but cut the rate. With the sheer volume of milk being produced in this state, dairy promotion can be funded with less than $.15/hundred" "No should not be voluntary. Why? Because who else is going to help advertise your product. I sell grain now and used to sell milk and this is where your money goes for research for your products you sell and advertise. And yes I do pay into a commodity check-off." "If the commodity producers vote to have one it shoul dbe mandatory as long as it is run right. The beef checkoff has done a lot to increase research and promote their product. The one dollar per head sold is going to be repaid many times over in the long run." "The milk marketing plan is so out dated, it is grossly unfair to the smaller farmer. There are good things that happen through the advertising and promotion, but the industry ie the cheese makers, fluid bottlers, etc should be kicking the same amount. The farmers advertise the generic product for those who manufacture the product with the farmers raw materials. Unfortunately for farmers, the dirty little not so secret, secret is cheap food makes for "good" politics."
70 percent of tax filers would see $44 savings under Walker proposal
According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Governor Walker's budget proposal, which includes reducing the lowest income tax rate, would save 70 percent of tax filers an average of $44. Under the proposal, nearly every tax filer with an adjusted gross income of $30,000 of more would see a reduction in their income taxes. That's about 2.2 million Wisconsinites. One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Dan Riemer of Milwaukee, has proposed adding a fifth tax bracket to Wisconsin's code, of 8.88 percent for those making more than $1 million annually, with an additional $200 non-refundable credit that would phase out between $100,000-$150,000 adjusted gross income. As the State Journal reported, that scenario would result in 62 percent of tax filers receiving an average $172 tax cut, and 0.4 percent of tax filers seeing an increase of over $13,000. The new tax bracket for those making over $1 million would see an average increase of roughly $27,000.
Aid-in-dying bill introduced
Three lawmakers, Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains) and Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) introduced a bill last week that would allow Wisconsinites facing terminal illness to end their lives with the assistance from a physician. The bill would require that the terminally ill be a Wisconsin resident, is at least 18 years old, and is of sound mind, and not incapacitated. An attending physician would also need to approve the decision. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he has some serious questions about the idea, as the Assembly on Thursday passed a bill dubbed "right-to-try" bill, allowing terminally ill patients access to experimental procedures and treatments. Similar bills have been passed in states such as Oregon, called "death with dignity." Other states including Montana, Washington, Colorado, California and others have passed similar laws. A similar bill was introduced last session, which would have allowed patients to choose to end their life, but received opposition from organizations such as Columbia St. Mary's, Ministry Health, Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Pro Life Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Right to Life.
Three Wisconsin communities to receive state aid for lead pipe replacements
Governor Walker announced that Racine, Clintonville, and Florence have completed financial assistance agreements with the Wisconsin DNR, under a new program to replace lead service lines to qualifying private properties. The assistance amounts total $1.135 million, and will cover the work needed on lead pipes which service 496 Wisconsin residences, two day cares, and two schools. The City of Racine will receive $500,000, and will replace about 200 lead service lines. Homeowners can apply for up to $2,500 in rebates for work done on their properties. The City of Clintonville will receive $310,000 to replace 140 lead service lines. The city will pay plumbers up to $2,000 directly for the cost of the work. The Town of Florence will receive $325,000 to replace about 156 service lines, as well as the two day cares and two schools. The town's utility commission will pay approved contractors 90 percent of the cost, with the homeowner paying the remaining 10 percent.