WPT Capitol Report, August 29, 2017

News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin


We hope your week is off to a great start, and that you're looking ahead to the Labor Day weekend!

This week, the Capitol Report will bring you the latest on the state budget, including news about K-12 education funding, the elimination of the state-levied property tax/forestry mill tax, the farm to school program, and more. We are also proud to introduce our first Wisconsin Property Taxpayer of the Week, Mark Tobola, owner of Hank's Furniture & Carpeting in Thorp, WI.

As always, we hope you find this weekly report to be interesting and informative. If there are ever any issues that you would like to see included, or if you ever have any questions or comments, please reach out to us at

Have a great week,

WPT, Inc.



Our first Wisconsin Property Taxpayer of the Week brings us a few blocks north of Highway 29 in the small town of Thorp, WI -- Mark Tobola, owner of Hank's Furniture & Carpeting. "I grew up here in Thorp, and went to school for computer and IT work," Mark said. "I worked in public schools for a couple of years and then moved into private industry. After a few years there, it became clear that I was not the right person for that job." So what got him into the furniture business? After his father, a dairy farmer in Thorp, sold his farm, he decided to purchase a furniture store from a guy named Hank in 1997. "While I was in the midst of figuring out what to do, I was also helping at the store, which was extremely busy at the time. One thing led to another, and my wife and I decided that buying the store from my folks would be a good fit! So in January of 2010, we purchased the business." Luckily for WPT, Mark decided to join in 2003, and has been an active member of the organization ever since. "No month of mine is complete without getting an e-mail or phone call from Mark Tobola," John Jacobson, WPT's Government & Member Relations Director said. "He truly has his finger on the pulse of his community. Whether they know it or not, Thorp is lucky to have Mark paying attention." In addition to owning and running the business, Mark pays attention to the fine details, and knows that quality will keep customers coming back. "We strive to provide quality home furnishings and flooring, and have done so since 1955. We actively screen installation crews for excellent workmanship, communication, and ensure they are great to get along with on and off the job. We also actively weed out products that won't stand up, and do not offer them. We strive to do as much representation of companies that build product right here in Wisconsin, as well as right here in the USA. As with ANY other business, none of us are perfect, but we do strive to do our very best." On property taxation, Mark said he's glad to have a voice in the State Capitol. "WPT has been a great force to help the voices of us in small business be heard," he said. "This is an organization that allows many of us small town businesses to band with big city businesses and move forward. It takes effort to stay on top of what's going on. It takes our legislators hearing our voices, the voices of their constituents, and to keep hearing from us." Mark also believes it's important for people to stay in touch with their elected officials. "We, as business people, act as a mouthpiece for our area people, too," he said. "When we call, e-mail, or visit in person, it carries weight." "The other major benefit of being a WPT member are the newsletters. In this day and age, those newsletters break down facts into small bites...I also appreciate the fact that you can give some feedback in the surveys. I admit that some of the responses surprise me, and sometimes the comments get me to dig in deeper and learn more of the facts. That comment section is really a great feature." WPT is proud to have small business owners like Mark active in our common efforts in the State Capitol, and we're sure happy he loves WPT's Weekly Member Poll! We believe that it's the every day, Main Street, average Wisconsinites who have the strongest voice in making progress in the future, and we are proud to play a role in bringing people together. If you would like to be featured as a Wisconsin Property Taxpayer of the Week, or if you would like to nominate somebody, click on the link below, and somebody from WPT will be in touch.


Late last week, I asked that the Capitol Report be sent out today (Tuesday) rather than our normal Monday, so we could address yesterday's meeting of the Joint Finance Committee, where they voted on K-12 education funding, and the building commission budget. (Please also note that next week's Capitol Report will likely be sent Wednesday, as the committee will meet Tuesday and we'll want to fill you in right away.) With many of you writing and asking about education funding, this is your answer. Yesterday, the powerful budget-writing committee got together, debated, voted on, and passed their K-12 education funding package, and it caused quite the push-back from some. Overall, K-12 will see $639 million over the next two years, which is about $10 million less than what Governor Walker originally proposed. The committee also expanded school voucher eligibility, put limits on when school referenda can be held, and also raises revenue caps for low-spending school districts. Those are the broad strokes, so let me explain some of the minutia! This means that the overall spending on K-12 education in Wisconsin will hit $11.5 billion in this budget, including the $639 million increase. The committee dropped the $10 million from Gov. Walker's number because of reductions to rural school district boost- the $18 million was not included. The $639 million still keeps the per pupil increases across the board. The committee rejected Gov. Walker's plan that would penalize school districts that do not comply with Act 10, and require their employees to contribute 12 percent of the cost of their healthcare premiums. One WPT initiative was to eliminate the "energy efficiency exemption," where school districts could borrow past their limits if the money was used for "energy efficiency" projects in the district. The committee prohibits school districts from using that exemption in 2018, and will presumably re-visit the issue in the next budget. The plan that passed the committee also allows school districts that spend less than $10,000 per student (because of the caps) to raise property taxes to get their per-student spending to $9,800 by 2022, if they so-wish. This has been a long-standing problem since 1993 when the revenue caps were set in stone based on 1993 levels, and have not been changed since. School districts would also receive up to $1.6 million for special ed services. With voucher schools, JFC voted to raise the income limits for those who can participate in the program, to 220 percent of the federal poverty level. The new limits would mean that a family of four with a combined income of $53,826 would be eligible to send their kids to private schools with a voucher. For every child that leaves a public school, that public school district would lose an equal amount of cash to pay for the voucher. The committee also eliminated the expiration dates for teaching licenses for teachers and administrators who have worked in the profession for more than three years. It also opens teaching licenses up to anybody with a bachelors degree who has completed a teacher certification program and has passed a background check. Check back next week for more updates on the state budget, as the committee is likely to take up the lottery tax credit, school levy tax credit, personal property tax, and other major issues regarding taxation after the Labor Day holiday.


For the first time since the 1920's, homeowners and property owners around Wisconsin will not see a "State of Wisconsin" portion on their property tax bills, as the Joint Finance Committee last week voted to eliminate the tax on property owners. The money, which equals about $90 million per year, and equals about 16-cents per $1,000 of value, goes towards funding the state's forestry program. Those dollars will not be back-filled by the state's general purpose revenue, which comes from income, sales, corporate, and excise taxes. The tax was enacted in the 1920s to restore forestland lost by fires, and to prevent catastrophes from taking place again. The State of Wisconsin is now currently 49 percent forest land, with a robust and healthy 17 million acres of forests statewide. Republicans praised the move by Joint Finance, applauding the idea of eliminating an entire tax, and further reducing the tax burden on Wisconsinites. WPT joined in a list of organizations and individuals applauding the action by the committee. Democrats were more skeptical of the plan, and whether future state budgets would maintain the funding to keep the program intact. Democrats also motioned to send the $180 million into public education, rather than reducing property taxes. The final vote was 12-4, with all Republicans voting in favor, and all Democrats voting against.


The Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously last week to restore funding for Wisconsin's Farm to School program in the state budget, which had been eliminated under Governor Walker's budget proposal earlier this spring. A broad coalition of groups sent a letter and actively worked with lawmakers, trying to save the program. Farm to School in Wisconsin spurs over $9 million in purchases of locally grown foods by Wisconsin schools every year. According to the Wisconsin Farmers Union, "the Wisconsin Farm to School Program connects K-12 public and private schools, early care centers, hospitals, universities and other institutions with Wisconsin-grown and processed fruits, vegetables, dairy products, proteins, and other nutritious foods. Created in 2009, Farm to School has a strong track record of maximizing local food purchases and is estimated to benefit 500,000 students across the state each year." While the vote to keep the funding is good news, the committee's vote is not the last action on the budget. The bill still needs approval from both chambers of the legislature, and final approval from Governor Walker, who could veto the funding before signing it into law.


Property values at an all time high · How would you vote on Foxconn? · Easing mining restrictions · Religious high schools paying property tax on dorms ·Your Labor Day plans

Wisconsin property values are at all time highs. Has your property value increased in the past year?

Value is up but the tax bill declined slightly. Value of real estate going up does not mean a bigger tax bill. We own 230 acres of Ag farmland. Increased less than $100.00 About 5% You did not have a box for "my property value has remained about the same." I do not trust these values. In our area, which is very rural, the city hires a person from Minneapolis/St. Paul markets to come and value our homes. So they are valued WAY over market! My home is being taxed for over $40,000 more than it is worth. I do not trust these values...You would be wise to also question them. 144 acres Hunting land, 2 acres Commercial where our business is ans.5 acre where our house is. BY $100 The biggest factor in how well your schools are performing. Our public school district is one of the best in WI, and our property values reflect that.

The $2.85 billion Foxconn incentive legislation passed the Assembly last week, with three Democrats voting in favor, and two Republicans voting against the plan. If you were a member of the Assembly, when the roll was called, would you have voted...

I worked with the old Forward Wisconsin in the 1980s and getting any help for a home grown business that needed to expand was like pulling teeth on a running horse. Took forever and by the time the approvals came through the window of opportunity was often times past. Economic development's focus in Wisconsin is on the "home run ball" not on helping grow businesses that are already in our State. I find that rather penny wise and pound foolish. Also I am thoroughly tired of party block voting. If a Republican has a good idea all Democrats are almost immediately against it and vice versa. Why can't the politicians become Statemen and look after the welfare of the State? Too much corporate 'welfare'. You can't fill jobs now. What about funding schools, local extension offices for the younger generation. I don't have enough information to make a yes vote. State can't fix our roads but can bet nearly 3 billion of our tax dollars on a risky investment Aye, reluctantly, lots of money with a long, long payback Difficult decision without having all the unfiltered details. I would vote aye, as there are times when we must take some risk in order to achieve the greater good in the end. It is my hope with the deal may be a great windfall for our state and area for many years to come. Way too much money out with not enough guarantees Even if the Foxconn deal is revenue neutral, the spinoff revenue and jobs would be huge While growth is important, at what cost do we draw the line? I think we are giving too much for what we may get in a volatile industry. Jobs that pay are king. We need those jobs. Environmental regulations are already in effect. Let's get the ball moving! Giving too much before getting anything. Think the package for Foxconn should be scaled back a bit. This will be a huge boon to Southern Wisconsin Have not yet studied the specifics Not if they are going to increase my taxes to get more money. Jobs, additional revenue for state and area where it's built, there is no good reason for voting against something that will benefit our state and people except pure cussedness on the part of those who did. Anything to bring jobs to our state is good. Too many perks in the bill. ABSOLUTELY NOT! This is a fleecing of WI taxpayers! It's unbelievable! Doesn't' seem like a sound investment.

A bill has been introduced that would relax some regulations surrounding the mining of sulfide-producing metals. Good idea or bad idea?

There was a mine proposed and actually passed in Rusk County back 3 decades ago. According to the anti-mining activists there would be no fish left in the Flambeau River below Ladysmith and it would take out all the fish in the Chippewa river and hur fiishing on the Mississippi all the way down to the Wisconsin River joining the Mississippi River. The mining is over and close and NONE of that ever happened. Also the anti-mining lunatics said many of the wells in Rusk County would be polluted. Guess what? that did no happen either. Mining can co-exist with environmental responsibility I think Tommy was right on this one! As long as we're not too relaxed That law was passed almost 20 years ago, one would think there are safer ways to mine these elements, so let's put more people to work. Fresh water is way too important let them stand Hopefully as group of technically qualified persons has vetted the science behind this I'm not fully educated to where I am comfortable taking a stance More mining I think mining can be done in an environmentally sustainable manner, so yes, go ahead As long as it doesn't mess up the area lakes, streams and groundwater Presumably, the rule Gov. Thompson put into effect was sound. What has changed? The science? The politics? The desire to protect the environment? It's not the economy, WI has more jobs today than in history. It's the politics, stupid. Of course. The GOP can't turn down big money corporate donors and need to heed their masters. Number of jobs created by mining is not enough to offset the possible damage to the environment.

One Milwaukee-area Lutheran high school claims that the property which houses their international students should be exempted from property taxes because housing is intrinsic to providing religious education. Do you think religious high schools' housing properties should be exempt?

Part and parcel of having those students in the high school is having housing for them! Would you want your high school age student going to a foreign country and having them find housing on the open market? I think that any normal parent or grandparent would have to say NO! My opinion is that if this is the case then all our State Universities should not have any subsidized housing for students. all those dorms should be self supporting and no part of them should be in the university budget!! They "enjoy" the benefits all other taxpayers help provide. "Police/Fire/Ems, Road maintenance, etc. Its just an attach on religious freedom given to all in our constitution, maybe public buildings hsould start paying property taxes as well if the courts are going to open this can of worms, politically correct groups are trying to put Christian institutions at a disadvantage If other schools are given the exemption then they should too. All church property should pay property taxes Would this same theory apply to religious based colleges too then? They are a for profit organization As long as they are part of the schools property, this would be no different Religious property is supposed to be exempt. They already pay a "sewer service charge" If Barrett wouldn't be putting in his stupid streetcar to nowhere he might have more money Not only should their house be taxed, everything should be. All property should be taxed the same. The students should pay their own housing. Get a job.

Plan to go to a Packer game with cousins from South Carolina and Arizona on Thursday and Sunday have family reunion. Family events and relax. Last hurrah for the summer. Cookout by the pool with friends! Get the day off work to relax. Attend the 55th Annual Community Corn Carnival in Randolph. Activities start with an FFA Breakfast, parade, entertainment, FREE SWEET CORN in the village park after the parade and some great homemade pie! At home, but will talk about labor and what it means. Not focusing everything ot big business in hopes of jobs. Life as more to offer when people group as a union. If you're in retail who has time for that stuff? What is this "Vacation" you speak of? I've not see one in 17 years. I am going to the Calumet County fair to watch my grandson show his steer. Staying home getting much needed work done. Head to the cabin! It's always hard to get away because of the cows, but our family enjoys gettring to the Rock River Thresheree held over Labor Day weekend. Spending time with family Just get together with family and a small cookout. Other than that not much of nothing Relax! Make the last crop of hay We are dairy farmers, never get away Camping Have family get together and go to the Calumet County Fair No, will work Ridgeland parade I'm going to get a big bag of Arby's and eat it all weekend Relax, work around home. Love this time of year, kids are going back to school, love to watch them get on the bus too. Getting ready for fall. Golf.


Governor Walker has accepted the resignation of the head of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Cathy Stepp, as she has been offered and accepted a job within the Trump Administration. Stepp has served under Governor Walker since 2011, and is a former state senator. In her new role, she will be the deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA for short. Stepp will be working from the EPA's Region 7 office, overssing Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine tribal nations. In his statement, Governor Walker said, "Cathy is a strong, trusted reformer who will serve the country well at the EPA." He also called her DNR staff an "outstanding workforce committed to preserving and promoting our natural resources while placing a strong focus on customer service and common sense."


Governor Walker last week announced the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority will utilize two capital products to help small businesses expand through a new WHEDA fund and additional lending opportunities representing $11.1 million, which will provide new financing opportunities for small businesses statewide and for Transform Milwaukee. The $11.1 million in small business financing is made up of the following: - The newly created WIsconsin Business Opportunity Fund ($5 million) which will finance construction, equipment purchases, and other types of hard assets for small businesses through the federal New Markets Tax Credits program. Loans can range from $100,000 to $1,000,000. - An additional $6.1 million to support WHEDA's existing Participation Lending Program, which was approved in 2012 by Governor Walker, and can be used for purchases such as land, facilities, equipment, long-term working capital, equipment, materials, and facilities for the production, packaging, processing or distribution of raw agricultural commodities. For more information, contact WPT at 608-255-7473, or


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate dropped or stayed the same in all 72 Wisconsin counties when compared to the previous July (2016.) The figures are not seasonally adjusted, but showed that unemployment dropped in Wisconsin's 12 metro areas last month, and those rates also stayed the same year over year from June. Statewide, unemployment was at 3.2 percent, lower than 4.2 in July 2016, but higher than June's 3.1. With the lowest unemployment rate, Dane and Iowa counties came in with 2.5 percent. Menominee County had the highest at 7.4 percent. Wisconsin added 26,500 non-farm jobs and 25,000 private sector jobs from July 2016 to July 2017. Fitchburg had the lowest unemployment at 2.4 percent in July, with Madison and Sun Prairie in second place at 2.5 percent.