News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Happy Monday to everyone.
We hope your weekend was enjoyable, and that you were able to avoid some the frigid cold weather seen across much of the state. With an impressive 38-13 victory over the New York Giants last night, the Pack heads down to Dallas this week to take on the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
This week, we'll talk a bit about what WPT has been doing in the State Capitol over the past week, share our survey results, and a news piece from Wausau that featured WPT. We'll also bring you up to speed on Governor Walker's calling of a special session of the legislature to address heroin and opioid abuse, and share some news on marijuana in Wisconsin, and some changes coming to the State Fair.
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 publicly slams City of Wausau's costly error
The City of Wausau last year actually forgot to report $40 million in new construction to the State of Wisconsin, which then led to property tax bills being substantially lower than they should have been.
A resident with a $100,000 home saw their bill drop by over $60.
Usually a lower property tax bill is something to applaud, but any elation was short-lived. The city sent a note to residents with their bills saying they would have to make up the difference next year. While it might not seem like a big deal, since technically the government is getting no more money than they would have originally, the problem is that it will now cost a family substantially more out of pocket within a calendar year- all due to a bureaucratic mistake.
WPT released a statement late last week to some Wausau media outlets. Reporter Daniel Keith with WAOW ABC News Wausau reached out to our organization for an interview.
Click here to see the two-minute story from WAOW, featuring WPT.
You can click here to read WPT's official statement.
Last week at WPT
By: John Jacobson
Last week, Mike Marsch, the President of WPT, came to me with an idea. Nearly every day, I get calls from members around the state who either want to share an idea, tell me a story, or inquire about WPT's actions surrounding a certain issue in the state legislature. Whenever I get calls that pique my interest, I give Mike a call and fill him in. After I fielded one-such call last week, he came up with the idea to have me pen a weekly column for the WPT Capitol Report, where I could share some of my weekly activities, stories, or things we're working on.
It's no secret around here that Mike works around the clock on behalf of WPT's members. Whether he's diligently watching the news from around the state, devising solutions for our members, or working with our statewide field representatives, there's no secret that he's aware and hard at work. Since becoming Legislative Director, Mike and I have both sought different ways to keep you up to date, not only on current events, but what we're doing on your behalf in Madison. I look forward to the opportunity to talk to you each week in this column about various topics and happenings!
With that, here's a story from last week.
A call came in on Wednesday afternoon from a man named Chris, a small business owner in the Fox Valley. He wanted to talk about the Personal Property Tax. Like many of you have, Chris recently received a call from his accountant, who said that they would need to go over compliance costs, as the accounting fees for filing the PPT would be going up.
"John, I'm just a small shop in Menasha" he said. "You wouldn't believe how much I pay just to file the damn paperwork. The compliance costs are almost as much as the actual tax itself!"
I hear these stories pretty often from small business owners around the state, so I could sympathize with Chris' story. He went on to tell me that he needs to buy a new stump grinder as soon as possible. Right now, he's thinking about purchasing a used piece of equipment, as a way to lower his tax burden, he said. That really shocked me.
"Is anything truly being done to get rid of this PPT, or is it all just b.s.?" he asked me.
As it so happened, the next morning, I would be attending a meeting of the Coalition to Repeal the PPT. It took me a minute to convince Chris that I wasn't just handing him some BS story about a PPT meeting the next day, so I promised I would mention the meeting in the Capitol Report, and give him a call personally.
As many of you are faced with this burdensome and unfair tax, I thought this would be a great event to share from last week's events.
The meeting took place at 10AM in downtown Madison, and several lawmakers were also in attendance. We heard from Republican State Representatives Dale Kooyenga and Bob Kulp, and also from Senators Howard Marklein and Duey Stroebel.
At this point, the main concern with the repeal of the Personal Property Tax is back-filling the loss of about $260 million in revenue. While the Personal Property Tax is a state-imposed tax, some 70% of those dollars stay in local communities, and never reach the state coffers.
With local governments always looking for new sources of revenue, our fear is that repealing the PPT would result in local governments raising the property taxes on homeowners. In short, that is the reason that the repeal cannot move forward by itself, without finding an alternative revenue source.
In the meeting, we also learned that raising the sales tax by 0.25% could, in fact, make up the revenue costs. That strategy also has a large downside: the general public, who would feel as if the costs of cutting taxes on businesses would be passed directly onto consumers. The public, however, often doesn't consider that Wisconsin's sales taxes are among the lowest in the nation, while our property taxes and small business taxes rank in the top 10.
In the coming weeks, the coalition will continue to meet and work diligently to find alternate revenue sources, or strong policy strategies that allow for either a PPT exemption on all newly-purchased equipment, or a multi-year phase out. It is our hope that we can still push to have the PPT repeal in the upcoming two-year budget. After all, isn't it time that small business owners became a priority?
Recent WMC poll shows Wisconsinites split on gas tax for transportation funding
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the influential statewide chamber of commerce and business group released their poll today, showing that Wisconsin residents are split on whether or not to raise the gas taxes in order to fill a billion dollar transportation budget hole in the state.
The poll was conducted by a Washington, D.C. polling group, and talked to 506 Wisconsin residents about transportation and other issues, such as healthcare, the economic climate, and more.
49 percent of respondents support raising the gas tax, while 48 percent oppose it.
Similarly, in a poll on December 12th, WPT asked our members whether or not they supported a gas tax increase. 50 percent supported an increase. 25 percent opposed an increase, and 25 percent had not yet made up their minds.
Like any hot button issue or political topic, polling is likely to shift as more details are made known.
Currently, Governor Walker is opposed to raising the gas tax, at least without any other cut in taxes to correspond with the hike. Other Republican leaders, like Speaker Robin Vos, would like to see an all options approach, and leave everything on the table.
President of WMC, Kurt Bauer said that his organization supports a gas tax increase, about 5-cents per gallon. "We see the need. That's important for us." Bauer told UpFront with Mike Gousha. "If you look at transportation, it's important to service our three major economic sectors, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, so we believe that's an important investment."
Governor Walker calls special session of legislature to battle state heroin epidemic
Last week, Governor Walker called a special session of the legislature to battle heroin and opioid addiction in Wisconsin, a move that is receiving praise from around the state.
Traveling around the state to announce the special session, Governor Walker made stops in Green Bay, Chippewa Falls to announce executive orders that he would also be issuing, centered around a report issued by Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch and Representative John Nygren.
Nygren, a republican state lawmaker from Marinette, has been active in the fight against opioid abuse for years, often heading up key tasks forces, and authoring critical legislation to help curb this widespread problem in Wisconsin.
Governor Walker also ordered the Department of Health Services to apply for a $7.6 million in federal dollars through the CURES Act. This federal legislation is available to states who will be proactive in the fight against heroin.
The Governor is expected to speak more about this issue in his annual State of the State speech, which he will deliver Tuesday afternoon in the State Capitol. WPT will be in attendance for the speech.
Wisconsin's heroin death toll reached 281 in 2015, which is the ninth straight year that the death toll has risen from this drug.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results:
Dark store lawsuits, stricter OWI laws in effect, dairy farming optimism in 2017, DOT project delays, and New Years resolutions
Last week, we talked about news from around the state where big box retailers such as Target, Lowe's and Menards, are successfully suing against their local property tax assessments, arguing that there is no stipulation in state law, mandating that they pay any more tax than shuttered storefronts. We also talked about major DOT project delays, dairy farming optimism in the upcoming year, and the new OWI laws in effect in Wisconsin.
As always we wanted your thoughts, so let's get down to it!
Should big box retailers have to pay the same property taxes as the rest of the community and its businesses?
97% of respondents believe that big box retailers should pay the same property taxes as the rest of the community and its businesses. WPT will be monitoring any efforts at the state level to plug this loophole, and will keep you informed as we take any action on such legislation.
"If you're asking if this 'loophole' shojdl eb closed. A loaded question. Who says it's a loophole? It may be they have come upon the fair way of valuing property."
"But please eliminate the loophole ASAP."
"Ridiculous that they should be allowed to get away with such things...that is something that gives all businesses a bad name hurts our locally owned businesses even more."
"They have already been the demise of small independents and now they want us to pick up the balance of their property taxes?"
"I own and run a small business, and we pay PLENTY of taxes. NO other retailer should be able to get out of them, that gives them unfair advantage. The rules need to be the same whether it's Menard's or a mom and pop hardware store. SAME rule set. Don't get me started on "assessors." The area we are in is WAY over-assessed, and NOTHING is selling at the assessed value. I'm paying taxes on a home value that's well over what the home is truly worth already!"
"I can't believe this can be done? Once again the small businesses have to carry the load!"
"If you want small business you have to be fair to them also. Keep the tax rate the same for all."
"Will the GOP legislature close the loophole or are they beholden to big money donors? We all know the answer to that one!"
The OWI laws in Wisconsin have changes, and the fourth offense is now a felony. Should OWI laws be even stricter in Wisconsin?
Nearly 80 percent of respondents think that OWI laws should be even stricter in Wisconsin.
"I have a problem with a lower limit for CDL drivers even non-commercial vehicles"
"Better enforcement of our existing laws would be a good place to start! It is not uncommon for the local paper to have someone being arrest for multiple OWIs daily, and they only get county jail time or probation. Tavern lobby is too powerful obviously.and Wisconsin unfortunately has an unhealthy mindset about the use of alcohol to begin with. Many parents of high age kids make their home available for parties thinking their kids will be safe this way and "we did it when we were their age". This is a sick reality that must be somehow reversed. I know too many people how justify 5 to 6 mixed drinks a night to "take the edge off". I have multiple family members who are alcoholics and I have seen many lives ruined because of this fact! It is no longer a laughing matter at all."
"Felony first offense. Tavern League needs to realize that irresponsible drinking is a problem in this state and needs to be addressed."
"My family and I were hit by a drunk driver going the wrong way on a four lane highway in October of 2015. It would have been the at-fault party's 6th alcohol related offense at age 22. How was this guy on the road? I think it's one strike, heavy measures. 2nd strike, you're DONE. OH - and MORE needs to be done to stop the underage and college age drinking problem in THIS state."
"Why 4? How about 2?"
"OWI should be treated exactly like the crime of randomly shooting a gun on a public street."
Are you concerned with any major DOT project delays in your community?
40 percent of respondents are concerned, and 40 percent have no projects that will impact them.
"All are 'concerned'- being concerned and ponying up the money are two different matters."
"Raise the gas tax a little so we can fix more roads."
"Hwy 23 needs to be done, too many accidents on it."
"Every time I see an overpass that is lined with brick or some other unnecessary upgrade, I no longer question why are roads and the projects take so long and cost so much. What a waste of my hard earned money that I must pay in taxes for such waste!"
"The delays don't have to be in my specific community, road construction delays anywhere in the state is a problem that will effect us all, personally and in our businesses. If we want to use our vehicles on the roads, then we need to be prepared to pay for them."
"Wisconsin needs to work on it's roads, period. But we cannot cut our throat in the process either."
"They impact all of us at some time or other in various ways."
"The delay in the Zoo interchange is GOP governance at its worst."
Are you optimistic about the dairy industry in Wisconsin for 2017?
About 55 percent are optimistic about the dairy industry in 2017.
"Yes, we own a dairy. Only a marginal increase over last yr average."
"Dairying has and will always be a roller coaster ride, I rode that ride for 30 plus years and finally got sick of it in 2012"
"I am a retired dairy farmer"
"Yes I own a dairy farm. It will be the same as any other year. Up and down prices no matter what. Deal with it. The better managers will always succeed."
"Retired dairy farmer"
"The big will probably get bigger. Have you seen the price of tractors and equipment lately?"
"We own a dairy farm. When our prices were cut in half, why did the prices in the stores drop only a few cents? The middle men were lining their pockets. How are sales going to increase by lower prices if the prices do not go down? If this year the higher prices do come, it will take more than 1 year of higher prices to recover all of the debt. It is the love of the animals and love our land that keeps our family in this business."
"Yes. Cautiously optimistic for the same reasons the experts cite. It would be nice if our (US) production numbers would level off for the next year. But what do I know, I'm just a farmer."
Do you have a New Years resolution this year?
Just over 20 percent have a resolution for 2017.
"To meet new and amazing personalities."
"Better health, increased business."
"Not having any resolution is by new resolution!"
"No new resolution. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks."
"Spend more time thanking the Lord for all we do have."
"To care less about Wisconsin's disastrous governance."
"I resolve to eat better- more cheese and ice cream!"
State Fair Cream Puff Pavilion to get a $6 million facelift
Governor Walker on Friday announced that the upcoming state budget will include a $6 million Capital Budget Request to give the old Cream Puff Pavilion at the Wisconsin State Fair Park some much-needed renovation and expansion.
"On this chilly Wisconsin day, we can all enjoy the thought of a family trip to the fair in August," Governor Walker said.
According to the governor's office, the facility will be used by the Wisconsin State Fair Park, and the Wisconsin Bakers Association. The expansion will allow for better visitor space inside the pavilion, additional areas for product lines on a year-round basis, and a new training center for bakery internships.
The funding for the renovation will come entirely from private gifts, and the project design and construction will be overseen by the State Building Commission and the Department of Administration. The project is expected to be completed by the time the 2019 State Fair.
Until then, you can pick up the best-selling cream puff at the Wisconsin State Fair from August 3rd through the 13th this year!
Republican lawmakers reach agreement on marijuana extract
Two members of the state senate have reached a deal that would make possession of marijuana extract legal in cases used to treat seizures. Last session, a similar bill did not pass the legislature, as some worried that it would open the door to a full legalization of marijuana.
But now, Senator Leah Vukmir, who originally opposed the bill, is in support of the newly-drafted proposal, and according to her spokesperson, is working with Sen. Van Wanggaard's office on advancing the legislation.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said that ensuring access to CBD oil is a priority. With that nod of approval, it's likely this substance will be legalized during this session.