News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
We hope your Monday has gone well, and that you were able to enjoy some of the early autumn heat seen across much of the state! We also hope you were able to enjoy a nail-biting Packers victory last night!
This week, the Capitol Report will bring you the latest on the state budget, some new wheel and sales tax across the state, which state is leading organic farming, Gov. Walker's veto of the historic tax credit, relaxed hunting regulations, and more.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great week,
WISCONSIN PROPERTY TAXPAYER OF THE WEEK
RICK ELLIOTT · BELOIT, WI
JACKSON MONUMENT CORP.
For this week's Wisconsin Property Taxpayer of the Week, we'll travel all the way to southernmost region of the State of Wisconsin to Jackson Monument Corp in Beloit, where we'll meet and learn a bit about owner Rick Elliot.
Rick was born and raised in Beloit, and went to Parks College of St. Louis University, where he studied aerospace engineering. We know what you're thinking; "do you need a degree in aerospace engineering to own a company that specializes in customer personal monuments and custom headstones?" The answer is no, and it was actually a national tragedy that led Rick back to Wisconsin. "Shortly after graduating, the shuttle challenger exploded, causing me to shift career paths. I came back to Beloit where I worked for the police department for five years," Rick told us. "I left BPD in 1998 to join my father at Jackson Monument Corp, due to his health." The company has quite the lengthy history, dating back to an era long before Rick was even around. Jackson Monument was founded 150 years ago, in 1867 by A S Jackson, who operated the business in downtown Beloit until Rick's grandfather, B B Elliott bought it in 1923. "My grandfather ran the business in downtown Beloit until 1955 when he built a new building on the edge of town next to the 'new' cemetery. He built a new showroom sales area and a shop area where the memorials are created," Rick said. "We are still at this location, though many remodels and additions have taken place. My father joined the business in 1957 upon leaving the Air Force." As it turns out, this industry has its own set of challenges- "I want it now syndrome" is what Rick calls it. "aka Walmart syndrome," he said." "Granite is a difficult material to shape, carve, and letter. Its hardness is what causes this and also makes memorials last for centuries. The process to carve memorials takes time. Granite comes from all over the world and shipping can add numerous months to timelines. Our industry is looking for the best quality granite that can be found. Unlike a granite counter top, memorials are exposed to mother nature's best 24/7." And the demand for workforce is not as big as it once was. At their peak, Jackson Monument employed ten people, including sales and manufacturing. He said they would receive the block of granite and cut and chisel the block. "Your choice of colors was grey," he added. "Today we employ three people due to automation of many jobs and receiving sized markers and monuments from the quarry instead of large blocks." Not only does Jackson Monument face the challenges of "I want it now syndrome," but they are now facing competition, and from a very unlikely competitor, the City of Beloit government. "Cremation numbers have risen considerably over the past two decades," Rick told us. "There are many ways to inter and memorialize cremation burials. One popular method is an estate columbarium." A columbarium is a unit of storage that can hold 2 to 4 cremains and allows for engraving of the deceased's information. "These units are the biggest challenge for my business since the City of Beloit will be selling [them]. The [city-owned] cemetery believes they need to sell [the columbariums] because the cemetery is not self-supporting," Rick explained. "They have chosen to compete against private industry in an unfair manor since they are not required to pay sales or use tax. I pay 5.5% use tax to the State of Wisconsin, on memorials and equipment I purchase. Though my business is located in the Town of Turtle, surrounded by Beloit, I pay residential property tax." "So, the city is competing against me using my own property tax money, as well as [the cemetery] pays no state tax, so they compete on an uneven playing field since their costs are lower to begin with." Rick has tried to make contact with elected officials on the local level, but has not been successful. "I spoke to the city council about this in May and have seen no action. Phone calls are returned weeks to months later with little to no information shared," he said. And this isn't just happening in Beloit, according to Rick, "in Waukesha County in 2010 or 2011. The action was stopped by a memorialist and five funeral homes. [They] were trying to sell all cemetery memorials, caskets and burial vaults." Rick believes if Beloit is successful, they will also start trying to sell caskets and vaults, in direct competition with his and other businesses in the area. How are businesses supposed to survive when governments with relatively unlimited tax exemptions, perks and corner-cutting-abilities are undermining the private sector, even on the local level? This is a great question, with a real life example right here. WPT keep you informed of Rick's story in future as it unfolds. Our intent is to work with him and his company over the coming weeks to determine the proper course of action. We want to sincerely thank Rick for sharing his story and for his commitment to making a difference in Wisconsin. Have you or your business experienced direct competition from your local government? Do you have advice for Rick and his situation? E-mail us at email@example.com to share your story. What happened? Was it resolved?
While it came a biter later than scheduled, the state budget last week was signed into law, and began taking effect immediately. And while I have written several of these "last week" columns, outlining what the spending plan proposed to do, a co-worker of mine last week made a good point. I said "there's a proposed $639 million increase to K12 education," to which she replied, "yeah, but what's the overall dollar amount on K12 education."
That got me thinking; I haven't been clear about the full numbers of the state budget, and what our government costs look like with the whole picture.
Let's go through a bit of an overview.
First, you should know that Governor Walker and the legislature did not raise taxes on anybody. There were no property tax increases, sales tax increases, income tax increases, corporate tax increases, or the like. Additionally, several taxes were slashed or eliminated, including a massive reduction in the Personal Property Tax, the elimination of the state's portion of the property tax levy (forestry mill tax), and the alternative minimum tax was also eliminated.
In the "all-funds" spending category, this budget spends $75.7 billion That's a 2.1% increase from the previous state budget, or $1.53 billion
The total level of bonding (borrowing) in this budget is at $770.3 million, which is a 27.74% decrease in borrowing from the previous budget, or $296.6 million fewer dollars borrowed.
In general purpose revenue spending (GPR), which is the state's general fund from income, sales, corporate, and excise taxes, this budget spendings $34.6 billion, which is an increase of 3.89%, or $1.29 billion more.
Finally, this budget, with all funds, is responsible for funding 70,395 positions, which is down 16 from the previous budget. GPR funds 35,276 positions.
The top five spending programs in this budget were the Department of Health Services ($23.9 billion), the Department of Public Instruction (14.22 billion), the UW System ($12.18 billion), the Department of Transportation ($6.07 billion), and Shared Revenue & Tax Relief ($5.41 billion).
On property taxes, had previous trends continued, Wisconsinites would have paid $3,472 on a median-value home this year. Instead, due to ongoing freezes and reductions, a property tax bill will average out to $2,830 for a median-valued home.
This is a very large snapshot of the overall budget, but it's worth taking a look and pondering the costs of several programs. The Department of Health Services, for example, is a department with which most Wisconsinites need not interact, however it costs the most of any department. Or we could look at the cost of transportation, which is another Top 5 most costly department. We all pay at the pump, but some people are without adequate or safe roads.
Understanding and being moderately familiar with the finances of the state puts all of us in a better position to be informed, and if need-be, vocal on important issues as they arise.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, ideas, or concerns, feel free to reach out to me at any point directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you, and I hope you all have a wonderful week.
GOV. ISSUES PARTIAL VETO ON HISTORIC TAX CREDIT
Since the end of the 1980s, the State of Wisconsin has offered a historic tax credit to qualifying construction projects that help restore historic buildings. In 2014, the state expanded the credit amount to 20% from 5%, with a cap of $5 million per project.
Since 2014, the state has handed out $96 million in credits in the City of Milwaukee alone, whose total values equal about $477 million in development. The credit costs taxpayers more than $60 million per year.
In his veto language, Governor Walker said "The $5 million per parcel limitation does little to curtail the fiscal effects of this program, which has swelled to cause an annual tax revenue loss exceeding $60 million, making it one of this state's most expensive economic development incentives."
"Reducing the parcel cap to $500,000 per parcel leaves unchanged the incentives for many of the projects in smaller communities across Wisconsin, while reducing the state's fiscal exposure on large projects," he added.
The changes in awards will begin in FY2018, which begins on July 1st, 2018.
COMMITTEE PASSES CONSTITUTIONAL CARRY BILL
The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety voted 3-2 last Tuesday in favor of Sen. Dave Craig's constitutional carry bill, which would make carrying a concealed weapon without a permit legal in the state.
The bill would make concealed carry permits optional for people, except in some locations, such as schools. In his statement, Senator Craig said that Wisconsin has long allowed for open carry of a firearm without a permit, and that the rules don't need to be different for those carrying a concealed weapon.
"Further, 12 other states, including Bernie Sanders' own Vermont, allow their residents to concealed carry without a permit. Why should Wisconsinites enjoy fewer rights than those in other states," he said. Senator Craig also said that the current policy regarding carrying a firearm is an administrative and cost barrier to self-protection, though some argued the opposite.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett released a statement saying that he was asking the legislature for a dedicated revenue stream to fund and maintain Milwaukee's police levels.
NEW TAXES AND FEES PROPOSED, PASSED IN SOME AREAS OF THE STATE
If you reside in Calumet County, be prepared. Anything you purchase will now cost you a half a percent more out of pocket, as the county board voted last week to approve a new sales tax.
The issue was so unimportant to two elected officials, that they did not even show up to vote. Those "officials" were Mike Hofberger and Joseph Miller. One elected official showed up, but declined to do her job. Her name is Judith Hartl.
The new tax will take effect on April 1st of 2018, and is expected to rake in an additional $2-$3 million in revenue. According to the Department of Revenue, only Manitowoc, Menominee, Outagamie, Racine, Waukesha, and Winnebago Counties without a sales tax.
In Wisconsin, counties are permitted to authorize up to a half percent sales tax, on top of the state's current 5 percent sales tax. Counties and municipalities may also authorize a wheel tax surcharge on residents' vehicle registration, as well.
Which is why we next move to Waupaca County, where owners in New London will have to pay an extra $20 annually on their registration beginning in 2018. The city's council approved the measure on a 9-1 vote. Alderman Tom O'Connell cast the lone vote against the new tax, which will generate about $200,000.
The money will go toward municipal road repairs in New London, unlike in Milwaukee County, which is our next stop on our New Tax/Fee Tour, where County Executive Abele has again proposed a $60 wheel tax on the majority of the county's 958,000 residents who own a car.
Despite an advisory referendum earlier this year, where 72% of voters loudly rejected Abele's identical proposal, the county exec has proposed the new revenues go towards bridge repair and a dedicated funding source for the county's transportation needs. One county board member said that the proposal is "dead on arrival."
WPT WEEKLY MEMBER POLL RESULTS
Reimbursing National Guard members' tuition · A new manure digester · Supreme Court Justice Gableman possibly leaving for Trump post · Moving on from Foxconn and state budget · Constitution Day
A bipartisan bill would adjust the tuition reimbursements for National Guard members studying in the UW system to 100% for some more popular fields of study. Do you like that the state pays for 100% of the tuition of National Guard members?
It's good to encourage kids to serve but why single out the guards?
Members of the Guard put in several days of training a year. They are expected to leave at any time necessary. They deserve the education they want and earn.
Serving in the National Guard is hardly serving in the military. The pay/pension is over the top and free education too? Lower the tuition so that everyone can have access.
I appreciate their contributions to our country, but a free ride is too much. Everyone should have a personal investment in their higher education.
In order to curb environmental concerns surrounding manure, Gov. Walker's administration has OK'd the use of $15 million to go towards building a manure digester that would break down manure and use its components to create sustainable natural gas. Good idea or bad idea?
WI Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is being vetted for a position in the Trump Administration, which will likely render his seat vacant before the election next year. Do you generally vote in WI Supreme Court elections?
I vote in as many elections as possible.
Always vote, if you do not vote, then you have no reason to have an opinion on political matters.
If you don't vote, don't complain.
It's important who sits on our Supreme Court. I want a say in it.
I am beginning to vote more and more. It's becoming apparent that the more people who vote, the better things are for Wisconsin and our Nation.
Use your right to vote or lose your right to vote.
Vote in all elections.
Vote in every election or shut up.
With the Foxconn bill having been signed into law, and with the state budget taking effect later this week, are you glad attention is finally shifting away from these two topics and towards other legislation?
Education, Transportation, Taxation.
Long term solution for roads.
Sick of hearing anything having to do with our broken, corrupt governing bodies. The only thing that would excite me is SERIOUS talk about term limits for any elected or appointed positions, I am tired of career politicians at all levels, right down to the school board.
Maybe they can get it done on time next time with less borrowing.
Even though I picked no, I did get important information from reading about the budget. Still not sure about Foxconn. Where are the people going to come from? No one in this state who is not working wants to work.
If we don't hear about the REAL news issues....we don't know what's going on. And as constituents, if you don't' have any information, you may believe that all is just fine...and it may be a disaster. I think we have to keep the clear topics out there and "on the radar" so folks can keep the issues in mind.
Agriculture, and to a lesser degree, business has enjoyed the benefit of WPT. Homeowners would like to see some relief. (Property tax for homeowners will drop an estimated $700 million in this budget. That's the largest tax decrease for anybody in the budget.)
Tax reform and a solution for road repair long term.
All the aforementioned.
They should revisit the problem they failed to fix, like road funding.
Religion and the right to bear arms. (fire arms)
No "favorites"...should add the right to die with dignity!
All of the above!
The freedom of speech and religion, both of which have been under attack by the Obama administration and now the far leftist in our country. If they get their way, we will no longer be a democracy, or a republic which is actually the correct term for our form of government. People like Madison's mayor wanting to remove all confederate cemetery memorials to appease the vocal minority hate groups is one example. Trying to erase our history isn't going to change things, acknowledging our history and all the faults we as a nation have or had at a time in our history and trying to move forward rather than always looking backwards is much more productive.
Great leaders, great document, we don't have leaders like that, we just have politicans.
Religion...to say Merry Christmas, praying in schools, the traditions we were brought up doing.
The Right to Bare Arms
Right to Bear Arms
All of the founding fathers were very wise, I wish present officials would stop changing what is written in the constitution to suit themselves.
It's all in there for a valuable purpose. Thanks to all of them.
Big fan of the 21st amendment, repealing the 18th!
NO MORE TAGS FOR DEER AND TURKEY
With the budget signed into law, that means that some new DNR rules will be implemented, a few dealing with hunting. Because of some provisions in the budget, if you hunt turkey or deer, you won't have to stick a tag on your carcasses any longer. Waterfowl hunters will no longer have to register their Canadian geese kills any longer, either. Hunters are still required to have the proper licensing, and must register their harvests for accurate data tracking. Though many were concerned by this provision, which was inserted by the Joint Finance Committee at the request of State Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), because it would end decades-long regulation that allow for concise harvest data by wildlife management.
WISCONSIN #2 NATIONALLY FOR ORGANIC FARMING
According to a new report from the USDA, the number of organic farms in Wisconsin has increased by around six percent between 2015 and 2016. That brings the total number of organic operations to 1,276 in Wisconsin, keeping us in the #2 slot in the nation. Though 2nd place is a tremendous honor, stagnant statistics from one year to the next are never exciting. What makes this story truly special is that other states have been exploding in organic farming, and Wisconsin is still 2nd in the nation. Last year, the State of New York's organic farms jumped 13 percent alone, at 1,059 operations. It was the first time that a state other than #1 California and #2 Wisconsin jumped above 1,000 organic farms. Some experts are applauding the giant leaps made by states like New York, because the more the market grows, the more the organic community thrives, according to them.