News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Happy Monday to you all! We hope you had a great weekend, and that all Badgers fans out there had a chance to see UW beat Villanova 65-62 on Saturday afternoon, to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the Marquette Golden Eagles were not able to make it past the first round, falling to South Carolina on Friday evening.
This week, the WPT Capitol Report will share with you a bill from Senator Craig regarding property owners' rights and assessments, the latest developments in the debate over high capacity wells, a new agenda unveiled by legislative Democrats, how the plan to switch to a self-insurance model for government employees is shaking out, as well as federal plans that might impact the Great Lakes region.
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,
Last week at WPT
By: John Jacobson
Last week, a bill that you will read about in the first article of this week's Capitol Report was brought to our organization's attention. I spent some time over the week looking into the problem behind the bill, and a legal case in Wisconsin dealing with the same issue.
It deals with property tax assessments being hiked up when a homeowner exercises their rights to refuse entry into their home.
It plays out something like this. You are given notice that an assessor would like to view inside of your home. You refuse. Your assessment is handed to you, and more likely than not, you see that your property value has miraculously risen, and you owe more property taxes. But guess what? Under current law, if you refused, you aren't allowed to contest or appeal your assessment to the Board of Review.
That doesn't sound too constitutional, does it? And the current law is surely rigged to let assessors run rampant with their numbers, because they know that legally, there's really nothing you can do about it.
Just take a look at the case of the Milewski family from the Town of Dover.
Vincent Milewski and his wife, Morganne MacDonald live in a subdivision in the Town of Dover called Lorimar, where they own a home. In 2013, local officials made the decision, as is relatively normal, to reassess local property values. To complete this task, they hired Gardiner Appraisal Service, LLC.
Vincent and Morganne refused to allow the interior of their home to be assessed, which is a right granted to all property owners by law.
Gardiner Appraisal then issued them an increased assessment, without inquiring about any types of building permits, or any evidence or information that would point to any changes being made to the interior of their home.
Looking for answers, and believing that their raised tax assessment was unjustified, they wanted to appeal the decision, but found out that Wisconsin law prohibits them from doing so.
They got to digging for information locally. It turns out that 39 parcels in their subdivision decreased in value by nearly 6 percent, and only four homes saw their assessments raised, by around 10 percent. Those homes had one thing in common- you guessed it- they refused to allow entry into their home.
The Wisconsin Insitutude for Law & Liberty (WILL) sued the Town of Dover on behalf of Vincent and Morganne, and the case has made it to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where the highest court in the state will decide on whether or not an assessor is allowed to base his or her decision to increase taxes on somebody's home, if they exercise their right to refuse entry.
These are the types of issues that WPT is monitoring and working on each week. I hope that you will take a moment to read the next article, which outlines a bill by Senator David Craig which would do several things to address these same sitautions from happening to countless, likely tens of thousands, of families and homeowners each year.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, ideas, or concerns, feel free to reach out to me directly at any time by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 608-266-7473. I hope you have a great week ahead.
Sen. Craig circulates bill to expand homeowners' rights
Senator David Craig and Representative Rob Brooks last week introduced a bill that would expand both homeowners' rights, and provide some much-needed due process to the property assessment process.
Under current law, property owners are given the right to refuse entry to the interior of their home by an assessor. But one little known fact; there is also another law on the books that forbids the property owner from contesting their assessed value to the Board of Review.
As you can imagine, this often leads to homeowners assessed values being raised arbitrarily, as they have no right to appeal the official assessment. In fact, a case that was argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court (Milewski v. Town of Dover) is currently awaiting a decision. The court will decide the constitutionality of an existing law that prohibits property owners from appealing to the Board of Review.
The bill being circulated (LRB-2285/1) by Senator Craig and Rep. Brooks would do three things; 1) expressly provide that homeowners have the right to appeal to the Board of Review even if entry by the assessor has been refused; 2) Provides than an assessor may not increase property's valuation based on the property owner's refusal to allow entry; and 3) requires that property assessors provide a notice of "Property Owner Rights" to the property owner when requesting to view the interior of a residence, informing them of their rights.
Additionally, this bill says that a property owner does not forfeit their right to come before the Board of Review to contest an assessment if the property owner does not provide income information to the property assessor.
Imagine if an assessor showed up at your door and you did not allow them into your home. And since you have no legal rights to appeal any decision they make (because you refused entry), they can assess your property at whatever levels they deem fit. Where are property taxpayers' and owners' rights in this situation? We feel that this bill is a giant leap in the right direction for home and property owners in Wisconsin.
High Capacity Well bills receive joint public hearing in Capitol
There were no shortages of speakers and testimony on Wednesday, as a public hearing was held in the State Capitol in front of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Labor, and Regulatory Reform regarding the latest high capacity wells bills in the legislature.
The swift nature by which these bills have been introduced and brought before a committee for public testimony might indicate the inevitability of the bill's passage. But you know what they say about assumptions; and there was plenty of testimony that might lead to amendments.
The testimony, for the most part, were smaller farms and environmentalists against the proposal, with larger agri-businesses in favor of the bill. Also testifying were many property owners who spoke both in favor and opposition.
The bill would allow, once a high capacity well receives approval, that without further permitting, the owner would be able to:
- Repair, maintain, or make improvements to the well without a permit
- 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' radius of the existing well, or farther from the nearest groundwater protection area than the existing well
- Reconstruct a well to the same depth without a permit
- Transfer well approvals at the same time land ownership is transferred, without a permit
These are the exact specifics of the bill.
Additionally, there would be no re-approval time periods, and wells would not be required to have a meter detecting how much water it's drawing over a period of time.
The testimony was very thorough, with both sides expressing their thoughts or concerns respectfully. Committee members asked very pointed questions of many members of the public.
The bill could be passed through the legislature and sent to Governor Walker for his signature as early as next month.
Republican leadership not sold on shift to self-insurance for state employees
Included in the massive two year budget bill introduced by Governor Walker last month, one provision would shift Wisconsin into a self-insurance model for its employees.
There has been a bit of confusion about what exactly "self-insurance" is, and what it is not.
What it's not; a plan that would drop state employees' health care plans, and have them purchase their own insurance. It sounds like that might be the case, but it's not.
What it is; a plan where the state would enter into contracts with various health insurance companies, and then pay medical claims directly, made by state employees.
What the current plan is; the state pays a portion of insurance premiums, state employees pay a portion, and one of the 17 insurance companies the state uses pay out medical claims.
While shifting to this model might mean the state assumes more risk in paying out hefty insurance claims, the projections coming out of Governor Walker's office amount to a $60 million savings. The plan, which is purported to have been studied extensively, has been approved by the state's Group Insurance Board, which oversees state benefits.
But top Republicans in the Legislature aren't so sure.
With Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke stating publicly that there is skepticism about the savings projections, and not much support for the idea, it's likely this provision could get scrapped from the state budget once the Joint Finance Committee begins its work later this month.
January local employment and unemployment estimates released
The state's Department of Workforce Development last week released its local employment and unemployment numbers, based off of figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As far as metropolitan areas, January unemployment rates decreased in all areas over January 2016 numbers. The largest decline from January 2016 to January 2017 was the Fond du Lac area, which saw its unemployment drop by 0.6 percent. The lowest unemployment was in the Madison area, which sat at 3 percent, with the Racine metro area coming in with the highest, at 5 percent.
January 2016 to January 2017 numbers also saw decreases for 32 of the state's largest municipalities. The lowest was 2.7 percent in Fitchburg, with the highest unemployment at 5.7 percent in Racine.
Finally, unemployment in counties also decreased or stayed the same from January 2016 to January 2017. The largest declines were in Bayfield and Sawyer Counties, with a 1.6 percent drop in unemployment. The lowest was Dane County with 2.9 percent, and the highest was Bayfield County at 8 percent.
A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Wisconsin shows our state at 3.9% in January, which is the lowest level since January 2001. The data also showed Wisconsin's total employment increased by 20,500 in the past year, meaning more people were employed in Wisconsin in January 2017 than ever before when compared to 2016 estimates.
Initial unemployment claims ended 2016 at their lowest levels since 1988. So far, 2017's initial UI claims are at their lowest since 1989.
Wisconsin's January 2017 Labor Participation Rate increased to 68.1 percent, which is 5.2 percent higher than the national rate.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results:
Credit card skimmer scam, elimination of the Office of the State Treasurer, projected income tax savings, "aid-in-dying" bill introduced, and NCAA's Big Dance
Last week, we shared a proposal in the legislature that would crack down on the ongoing credit card skimmer scam taking place around Wisconsin. We also shared the news that the legislature has placed the elimination of the Office of the State Treasurer on the ballot for April 2018. We also asked you about your thoughts in the proposed "aid-in-dying" bill that would allow a terminally ill individual choose to terminate their life with the help of a physician, in certain cases.
**SPECIAL NOTE** One respondent last week repeatedly commented on water issues, and requested that WPT include a "neutral box" where thoughts could be shared on other topics.
We would like to relay that we are available to address your comments and concerns directly, by e-mailing email@example.com, or by reaching our Legislative Director in Madison directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To clarify: Our comment boxes are always available for any comments regarding the given topic. If our staff asks a pointed question like "how does this impact you," they are meant to guide the discussion, but are not mandatory by any means. Additionally, we remain committed to being responsive to all members, their thoughts, and concerns.
A bill has been introduced that would crack down on credit card skimmer scams in Wisconsin. Has this scam recently hit your community?
About 35 percent of respondents said yes, 25 percent no, and over 40 percent said they don't know. We then asked if you make it a point to check if there are any skimmers when you use your card. Commonly, the skimmers are just a shell that mimic the outer plastic area where you insert your card. If you try to wiggle and it comes off easily, it's likely a skimmer.
"Best I can."
"I don't use my credit card except in the stores."
"Not that I've heard about."
"Not that I know of."
"No. I don't know what to look for. I never use my debit card at the gas pump."
"I live in a rural community. Really don't know what to look for."
The election in April 2018 will ask Wisconsinites whether or not the Office of State Treasurer should be constitutionally eliminated. Do you think you will support this ballot initiative?
About 65 percent of respondents think they will support the ballot initiative to eliminate the office. About 10 percent would like to see the office given more authority, and a quarter of respondents don't know yet.
"I wish you had a neutral text box allowing us to relay our concerns. The high capacity well situation is disastrous to WI future. Lakes and wetlands will be seriously impacted, our wells will have little future. Tell me how hi-cap wells are an economic necessity."
"It is a step in the right direction. More should be done throughout the State bureaucracy."
"One less office."
"Seems like a treasurer would be a good idea, especially in these times, but small government is better government."
It is estimated that about 70 percent of tax filers in Wisconsin will see a $44 reduction in their income taxes if Governor Walker's plan passes through the budget process. Are you sold on this plan, or hoping for a larger reduction?
About 55 percent of respondents don't support this provision in the budget. Over 25 percent think it's the right move.
"Save our water!"
"Let's pay for our roads, public schools, and healthcare."
"Taxes are too high in Wisconsin all the way around."
"Gas for our car."
"$44. Annual savings? How about we take that $44 and dump it into transportation. How much would that add up to be?" About $97 million.
"More funding for infrastructure. Would gladly give up the $44 to fund road/infrastructure projects."
"A tank of gas."
"How moronic. Our roads are crumbling, our schools are decaying. Take the $44 and invest in these two areas."
"I would rather not see this go through. Take the 44 bucks for infrastructure."
"Property tax reduction is what we need." There is a proposed $340 million property tax reduction in this budget.
An "aid-in-dying" bill has been introduced which would allow for terminally-ill patients of sound mind, and not incapacitated, to choose to die with a physician's assistance. Do you support this proposal?
Over 60 percent of respondents support an aid-in-dying bill. Over 30 percent do not, and less than ten percent are unsure.
"Put priorities in right perspective--we'll all die without good water."
"Even though the patient wants to die, any way you look at it, the physician would be committing murder."
"Slippery Slope-some things should be left out of our hands!"
"If you have cancer and its terminal, end it now."
"I don't like it. But if the bill has come up, there are enough people asking for it that...at some point, I think it's time to "give Caesar what is Caesar's!"
"Let people make their own decisions."
"Yes I would support it but how decides if the person is of sound mine."
The NCAA basketball tournament (began last week). Have you filled out or are planning to fill out a bracket?
Under 30 percent are filling out a bracket, under 20 percent haven't decided yet, and nearly 60 percent don't watch the big NCAA Tournament!
"Too much attention on athletics--pay attention to our impending water crisis."
"It depends on which WI team shows up. If they can't make a basket, out by the second game. Marquette doesn't play defense, out by the second game if they're lucky."
"I watch college hoops but do not fill out a bracket"
"I watch college hoops but have no interest in brackets."
"Wisconsin got screwed in seeding. But they'll make it to the elite 8! Go Badgers! I just hope Minnesota chokes :-)"
"No bracket but do watch games."
"The badgers are not the team they've been the past few years. I just don't see them going that far this year."
"I watch college hoops (it's more real basketball than NBA) but I never filled out a bracket."
"Both UW and MU will win one game, lose the next."
"Not sure on who will take it all but Wisconsin got screwed on #8 place. Second place in conference when all other big ten teams get a higher seed. Do not understand the login on this one. GO BADGERS"
Gov. Walker at odds with Pres. Trump on cuts to Great Lakes funding
The Trump Administration late last week unveiled a large portion of their budget proposal, namely the provisions that deal with discretionary spending on the federal level.
Within that budget plan was a provision that would cut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the program responsible for billions of dollars being poured into the area, including Wisconsin, to protect the lakes.
Governor Walker referred to Lake Michigan, Superior, and the rest, as "one of the greatest assets of fresh water anywhere in the world," and he wasn't alone. In an unlikely or perhaps rare coalition, Walker joined environmentalists, and scores of bipartisan lawmakers spanning multiple state, publicly opposing the cuts.
It's unclear whether or not the funding cuts will make it through the entire federal budget process. The debate on Capitol Hill has yet to take place, and with the Great Lakes states standing in bipartisan opposition to the bill, the proposal might not stand a chance.
Legislative Democrats introduce their session agenda
Reducing student loan debt, increasing funding for schools, child care, paid and paid leave are among some of the items outlined in the legislative Democrats' policy agenda released this week.
Dubbed "The Wisconsin Way Forward" agenda by the legislature's two top Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, nearly four months after the start of the session, the plan outlines why their agena matters to Wisconsinites, their commitment to building an economy that works for everyone, and an effort to keep citizens engaged and informed in state government.
You can read the plan for yourself by visiting clicking here.
Responding to the plan on Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' office sent out an e-mail, again sharing the Assembly Republican's agenda; the "Forward Agenda," which was released in advance of the start of the legislative calendar for the year. The Speaker cited Democrats' votes this session in favor of GOP bills, and said, "even with the liberal media who wrote the headline 'Wisconsin Democrats Unveil Doomed Agenda.'"
You can read the GOP plan for yourself by clicking here.