News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
Happy April to you all, and a special Happy Opening Day to all Milwaukee Brewers fans. We hope that you all had the chance to relax over the weekend.
This week, we will update you on some of the issues in the impending state budget, as well as a new proposal from Governor Walker regarding recipients of Medicaid, and the ongoing debate on long-term solutions for Wisconsin's transportation needs.
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,
By: John Jacobson
Last week, I ventured into the Capitol for many portions of the Joint Finance Agency Briefings.
The hearings went from 9AM to late into the evening on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of last week. I listened intently to the issues that most impact small business owners, and property owners throughout the state.
I've said it before, and I will say it again: Nothing is certain in this budget. We are very supportive of Governor Walker's willingness to cut property taxes by $340 million in this budget, and we will continue to urge lawmakers to support the provisions that would accomplish this massive goal. But, as you will read later in the Capitol Report, just because Governor Walker proposes something, does not mean that all lawmakers, even in his own party, will support it. And those disagreements span across multiple issues.
This is why I felt the need to send out two reminder e-mails late last week, urging your participation in this process. I know that it seems like you are far-removed from Madison and the taxspenders making the decisions in our Capitol. And I know that each day you wake up focused on providing for your family, paying your bills, keeping your business afloat, maintaining your farm, and everything else in your life that requires your attention at every waking moment.
But I can't stress enough the importance of being involved and being in touch with your lawmakers through this process. If your elected representatives don't hear from those they represent, often times they might not consider various unique perspectives that you might possess. They might not consider that you read the Wisconsin DNR magazine, or that your school district needs more money. They might not consider that various regulations impact your business each year, or that certain tax credits help you keep people on your payroll.
So, I will say it one more time; if you are in or around one of the public hearings that the Joint Finance Committee is holding around the state, you should attend. If you are new to this type of thing, we want you to give us a call at WPT and we can help prepare you for what to expect, how the process works, or anything else you might need to know.
Again, I know that this all seems very far-removed from your day-to-day life. And I definitely understand if you can't make it in person to participate. I want to use this as an opportunity to remind you that you can visit our website at www.WPTonline.org and under "current members" you will see a section that says "contact your lawmakers." Click on that section, enter in your address, and send your state senator or state representative an e-mail. Let them know which priorities matter to you, and your family. Share your experiences, your thoughts, and your perspectives with them. It's invaluable information that they will appreciate receiving, and information that they might not otherwise consider.
As always, if I can be of any type of assistance, or provide you with any information, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 608-255-7473. I am glad to help out in any way that I can.
I hope you have a great week. Below, I have again listed the dates and times of the upcoming public hearings around the state.
* Wednesday, April 5, State Fair Park Expo Center, 10AM-6PM
* Friday, April 7th, Berlin High School Auditorium, 10AM-5PM
* Tuesday, April 18th, Spooner High School Auditorium, 10AM-6PM
* Wednesday, April 19th, Ellsworth High School Gymnasium, 10AM-5PM
* Friday, April 21st, Marinette High School Auditorium, 10AM-5PM
Wisconsin could be first state to drug test Medicaid recipients
If Governor Walker gets his way, Wisconsin could become the first state in the nation that would drug test those Wisconsinites who receive Medicaid (BadgerCare.)
Under the plan, if a person tests positive for drug use, they would be required to undergo treatment.
Governor Walker has said that his plan is for people in Wisconsin to be healthy so they can get back into the workforce, which is consistent with what he has said in the past regarding other proposals that mandate drug tests for various state benefits.
Most health advocates in Wisconsin are opposed to the plan, and believe that the drug testing would cost more than it saves, which has been the case with other welfare programs with the same requirements.
But since the funding comes from the federal government, Governor Walker would need to secure permission from the Trump Administration in Washington, D.C., which might be very likely after the unsuccessful attempt last month to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Governor Walker plans to submit his plan to the federal Department of Health and Human Services by the middle of this month.
Some republicans disagree with Walker on key budget provisions
Even though Wisconsin Republicans control nearly every facet of the state government, that does not necessarily mean that every single item in Governor Walker's budget proposal will make it through the months-long process of debating, amending, passing, and enacting the $76 billion plan.
Last week, the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee met in the State Capitol Tuesday though Thursday to receive testimony from each state agency. The members of the 16 member committee (12 republicans, 4 democrats), also used this time to ask very pointed questions from each of the agency secretaries, who are appointed by the Governor.
Among some of the more notable disagreements were Walker's proposals for self-insurance, road funding, sales tax holiday, Act 10 compliance, the Historic Tax Credit, and the elimination of the DNR magazine.
As you might recall, the Governor's budget would move Wisconsin into a self-insurance model for providing healthcare for its employees. Currently, the state contracts with various HMO's throughout the state, who receive a premium from the state and employees, and then pay out claims as they come in from hospitals, doctors, etc. Under the plan, the state would basically provide its own insurance, and pay out medical claims directly. While the plan might mean the state assumes more risk in the process, Governor Walker's projections show a $60 million savings for taxpayers, which would then be used to fund the increases in K-12 education, and UW System funding. Some republicans are questioning that $60 million savings, and believe it could end up being much less.
The sales tax holiday would designate a weekend in August where Wisconsinites could purchase particular school supplies under $75, and computers under $750, and be exempted from paying sales tax at the register. Lawmakers on the committee often found this particular proposal to be too gimmicky, and also brought up a major concern; what about the local communities' loss of revenue from this proposal? The current bill does not require the state to reimburse local governments for their projected losses in sales tax revenue over that weekend, which could negatively impact local taxpayers.
Under the budget bill, the DNR magazine would be eliminated. The outdoors magazine is widely popular around the state, and has no partisan affiliation. The backlash seen from the proposal to eliminate it has been huge, and even some members of the committee questioned why this would be included in the budget proposal. It's rare, but this is one of those circumstances where the public, environmentalists, sportsmen, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were united in disagreement.
The state's Historic Tax Credit, which provides tax credits for the historic preservation of certain buildings and sites, would be limited to $10 million per year. This same proposal was included in the last state budget proposed by Governor Walker, but did not make it through the process. It's seeing similar opposition this time around.
Act 10 compliance was another point of disagreement in this budget, which would require teachers having to pay at least 12 percent of their healthcare costs in order for their school district to receive the large bumps in state aid proposed by Governor Walker. At least one Republican senator questioned whether or not the legislature was trying to force something upon local school districts, and whether the state should allow school districts to make their own budgetary decisions.
Last, but certainly not least, were disagreements on road funding. On late Wednesday evening, the committee heard testimony from the Department of Transportation. Not surprisingly, many members of the committee questioned the Governor's proposal to borrow a half billion dollars and delay major projects, in the fact of a $1 billion shortfall in the transportation budget. In another display of bipartisanship, Republican members of the committee along with Democrats, are asking Governor Walker to consider raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fees as part of a longer solution to the massive funding issue. Additionally, Governor Walker has promised to veto a provision that raised the tax. At least some Republican leaders believe their chamber could override the Governor's veto.
Current status of gas tax increase
It's the debate of the year, or years technically, and it is not going away. And now, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is cranking up the heat even more, in an already contentious debate.
Thursday, Speaker Vos publicly slammed Governor Walker for changing his position on a gas tax increase in the state budget, calling the DOT secretary's position on road funding "delusional," and saying "I'm waiting for an actual rock-hard position I can trust people to stick with and I haven't seen that yet. The Senate doesn't have a position. The governor gave his position and then he switched it, so I just want to make sure the current one is the one he's going to stick with."
The reference to Governor Walker changing his position is referring to a statement in 2015, where he said he was open to a gas tax or vehicle registration fee increase, if the tax increases were offset by a tax cut elsewhere in the budget. Then, in January of this year, Walker's office said that Governor Walker would veto any overall tax increase.
The Speaker went on to say that if the legislature were to get a gas tax increase inserted into the budget, he would support overriding the Governor if he were to veto the measure.
But Senate President Scott Fitzgerald said that's not going to happen, and cited Governor Tommy Thompson making nearly 2,000 vetoes, and never once being overriden. Fitzgerald said that the dynamic does not exist in the Republican-controlled legislature to override Governor Walker.
Speaker Vos said it's "irresponsible" to say that [a veto] would never happen.
It looks like this debate is not over, and with the clock quickly counting down to July 1st, when the budget will need to be passed and the state's fiscal year begins, the fight will likely come to a boiling head at some point in the coming weeks.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results:
Following the state budget, DOR field auditors, Community Development Block Grants, raw milk sales, Badgers loss, and filing income tax
Last week, we wanted your thoughts on the state budget, and how closely you're following the process. We also asked you about DOR field audits, your thoughts on the Trump Administration's plans to cut Community Development Block Grants, the sales of raw milk by farmers, the last-minute loss for the the Badgers men's basketball, and if you filed your income tax yet.
Let's get down to it!
Are you planning on following the state budget proceedings over the next few months?
About 80 percent of respondents will somewhat pay attention to the budget proceedings in the Capitol over the next few months. Nearly 20 percent said they follow the process closely.
As a reminder, many proceedings are streamed live at www.wiseye.org.
"Interested in transportation funding. Hopefully they will cut off funds to public buses and let bus riders pay their own way as opposed to siphoning money out of the gas tax we all pay."
"The future of our state depends on education funding. That's the story WPT should follow intently."
"I get a lot of legislative feedback that tells me 'Budget concerns are outside the purvue of budget discussions.' I call, talk about budget, and get told budget talk has no place here. Uh...what? I don't feel that the voice of the People gets taken seriously enough even at the 'lowest levels' of government."
"Health, children and families, and highway funding."
WPT members have been reaching out regarding DOR field auditors showing up at their businesses. Have you ever dealt with a DOR field auditor?
Thankfully, about 2/3rds of respondents have not dealt with a random field audit from DOR.
"They were doing their job very kind and professional. We actually learned a lot from our audit- it was helpful to our MFG business. Sometimes people just want to complain or have something to hide?"
"It was many years ago...nothing recently. The auditor did contact us ahead of time and made an appt for the audit. The whole process was relatively painless."
"I have not. But we work with our accountant to ensure that we are set if they ever do. I guess I and my staff believed this was the proper way to do things."
"All I am going to say is I was 'guilty in their eyes' until I proved I was innocent. I have no respect for these people at all! Very unprofessional!"
"This process was a nightmare."
The Trump Administration has proposed eliminating community development block grants (CDBG) funding, which would result in both rural and urban communities in Wisconsin losing funding for homelessness, job training, after-school programs, meals on wheels, etc.
Governor Walker has come out against the plan, and has said he will personally lobby Congress to continue the funding. What are your thoughts?
Nearly 70 percent of respondents do not support the plan to cut CDBG funding from the federal budget. Over 15 percent of respondents support it. Just under 15 percent are not sure or would rather not respond.
"We have to cut somewhere."
"Meal on wheels is a good program, lot are single people who would not eat or have a good meal. Keep the programs we need all of them."
"Nearly every Trump deal is awful."
"As with any omnibus bill that covers many, many things...it should be broken down into its individual pieces. Some should go. Some should stay."
"I think that the funding should continue, but there should be clear rules on what types of services are funded."
"Wisconsin does a good job using block grant funds."
"I'm with Gov. Walker on this subject."
"Its time those with skin in the game make a sacrifice of their time to see things like this happen. Excellent ways to volunteer time and talents to make a difference in someone else's life!"
A WPT member suggested we begin a dialogue about the sales of raw milk. Legalize the sale?
Over 40 percent think raw milk sales should be legalized. Just over 30 percent do not. About 25 percent don't know or preferred not to answer.
"Milk is collected in a clean system, not sanitary system. The danger of illness is very high. Why do people want to drink raw milk? Pasteurized milk has a lot of the healthy nutrients we need. I drank raw milk as a child, we have learned from our mistakes."
"I was raised on whole milk, never had problem with it and yes I would buy raw milk. At least its not watered down like some milk is today."
"Rely on science for the safety."
"The dairy industry has worked decades to produce quality milk. A high liability and health risk to consume raw milk. There are no known benefits to consuming raw milk. All milk in the marketplace is hormone free, antibiotic free and natural. Raw milk can not make those statements."
"If you don't drink it, don't buy it. Simple as that."
"Who cares. Let the buyer beware."
"Yes, I would buy raw milk. I ALREADY buy raw milk! Why would NOT let farmers sell their product?"
"I am 79 years old and drank raw milk all my life until I sold my cows nine years ago."
"Too many health risks."
"Yes but must have some kind of disclaimer included if you decide to buy raw milk."
How many times did you rewind and rewatch the last 4 seconds of the Badgers game on Friday night?
About 40 percent said they did not rewind and re-watch. About 45 percent said they re-watched the last four seconds one time, and over 10 percent said they watched it repeatedly in disbelief.
"I'm still shaking my head- its all over if you do the simple thing- MAKE FREE THROWS"
"I didn't watch it at all, not interested."
"Thank goodness it's over."
"I didn't re-watch, it's just a game, no tears."
"Excellent game except for the outcome! Thanks to the entire team and coaches! Especially thank you to seniors for going the distance, you made Wisconsin proud! I appreciate the character role models you all are to the younger generation!"
"Not the worst kind of loss, but was hard to believe it. Never ruined our weekend. That's NCAA basketball. Enjoyed watching the game. Not the end of the world. Still enjoyed watching other games. Better than watching other trash on TV."
Bonus question: Have you filed your income tax yet?
It looks like nearly 65 percent of respondents have filed their taxes, and just over 30 percent are waiting a couple more weeks! And are you getting a refund or paying?
"Getting a refund, paying outstanding debt."
"I am putting my refund toward my Roth IRA."
"Received a SMALL refund...I am OK with allowing the Feds/State a SMALL interest free "loan" (under $125.00)...Better than being caught having NOT paid in enough (could result in a penalty."
"Receiving a small refund and applying it to 2017 estimates."
"Refund. Going towards fixing the house...always fixing the house..."
"I'm getting a state return, that will help pay for some of the Fed tax I still owe."
"Have to file by February 28th cause of being a farmer. Both ways pay into federal and refund from State. The refund put the cash back into the community. Only make sense to me."
Provision in budget would drop hours of instruction law
A law that requires schools to provide a minimum number of hours and days of instruction in a school year would be eliminated in this state budget.
Governor Walker said that report cards are the best indication of schools performance, and the best way to hold schools accountable. Other supporters of the change say that it gives schools more flexibility and more ability to be innovative with their time.
But opponents of the measure feel that this could really hurt districts where there are students who need additional help or time in the classroom.
Under current law, Wisconsin schools must provide 1,050 instructional hours in 1st through 6th grade, and 1,137 hours for 7th through 12th grade. Also, 437 hours must be provided to kindergarten students.
Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), who sits on the Joint Finance Committee also expressed concerns over a proposal in the budget that would drop requirements for virtual school teachers to be available in-person for their students, should they need to meet. Olsen also indicated he is fine with dropping the required hours of instruction for schools.
The changes would apply to both public and private voucher schools.
Oscar Mayer plant to now close in July
You might remember the headline from last year; Oscar Mayer plant in Madison to close down, move to another state.
The closure was originally slated for March 31st, but the massive plant in Madison will instead close four months later, on July 31st, according to its parent company Kraft Heinz. A spokesperson for the corporation said that more time is needed to ensure production at their new locations is operating smoothly, and they will continue to transition their Oscar Mayer meat production to other factories in the United States.
About 300 people in Madison are currently still at work, assisting the company with their transition. At its peak, the plant had 4,000 employees in the 1970s, and had been operating in Madison since 1919.