We hope you all had the chance to catch some relaxation time over the weekend, and enjoy the sunny and warm temperatures seen across much of the state.
This week, we will dive back into the transportation situation, bring you some news on a prison proposal in Wisconsin, share some news regarding milk production, farm land numbers, as well as numbers released regarding the manufacturing and agriculture tax credit, and more.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great week,
By: John Jacobson
Again, thanks for the members who called and e-mailed after reading last week's column, and for your comments regarding the budget process and DOT proposal.
A few weeks ago, WPT asked you to share your feedback on drug testing for public benefit recipients. As it happened, last week, there was a bill which was given a public hearing that would require drug testing for W-2 work experience program participants. Roxanne Bouland, who represents WPT's southern Wisconsin businesses traveled to Madison to bring WPT's voice directly to the committee room, and testify in favor of the bill.
We were very happy to have Roxanne provide this testimony, and share the small business perspective with the members of the legislature.
Last week was also a busy week for the Personal Property Tax repeal coalition, as we are diligently continuing to make our rounds in the Capitol and bring the voices of small businesses directly to lawmakers' offices. Co-sponsorship of Senator Stroebel and Representative Kulp's bills closed last week Monday, and the support for the bill is great.
The coalition has come up with a short video that explains the Personal Property Tax dilemma in Wisconsin, and I would ask you to take (literally) one minute to watch this fun and informative video. If you like what you see and agree with it, which I would imagine 9 out of 10 of you do, take a moment to share with your family and friends, and get them involved in this fight too.
Click this link for the YouTube video: https://youtu.be/A052NgK5rZs
I have also had several conversations regarding the dairy trade dispute with Canada. We were very glad to see Governor Walker solicit the help of the President, the White House, and Congress at this crucial time. Wisconsin's dairy farmers have been dealt a very tough set of circumstances in the past year, and the last thing they need is a bureaucratic trade dispute to cause any additional hardship. Myself along with WPT's entire staff are continuing to monitor the situation and vow to lend our help in any way that we can.
Last week also brought a close to the public input phase of the state budget process. The members were in Spooner, Ellsworth, and Marinette last week, and we were very happy to have a WPT member represent our views at the public hearing. He offered his testimony to the committee, and shared his viewpoints on the repeal of the PPT, and how it's long overdue in our state.
Now that public testimony has wrapped up, the committee will begin the long task of debating, amending, and passing the budget on to the full legislature. This process will begin sometime next month, and WPT will bring you weekly updates as the process continues to unfold.
As always, I hope you enjoyed reading a snippet about last week. If there are any issues that you would like to discuss with me personally, or any type of comments or questions you have, never hesitate to reach out to me directly at email@example.com or 608-255-7473.
Transportation "biggest challenge" for Joint Finance Committee
The Co-Chairs of the powerful Joint Finance Committee last week said at the final public hearing their biggest challenge will be transportation funding, even calling it a "balancing act."
As you may recall, of the Governor's $6.1 billion transportation proposal, $500 million came from borrowing, and a $40 million increase to local aids was also included.
But the finance committee, amidst much disagreement from the administration and lawmakers, scrapped Governor Walker's entire DOT proposal in an unusual and often unseen move, opting instead to write the plan from scratch. The biggest source of contention has been between Governor Walker and Assembly Republicans, whose plan has called for $300 million in additional revenue, which would be offset elsewhere in the budget.
JFC Co-Chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) that in their public hearings on the state budget around Wisconsin, the committee has heard calls for more local road funding over large highway projects.
With the ultimate decisions left now in the hands of the finance committee, it's a game of wait-and-see for many of those keeping a close eye on the debate, and for every Wisconsinite traveling these roads each day.
Pension fund managers to receive $14 million in bonuses
Wisconsin's pension fund managers will receive their highest bonuses ever this year, totally about $14 million, according to the State of Wisconsin Investment Board.
The totals were $11 million last year, and this year's $13.8 million was approved for 152 of 163 board employees. The 11 people receiving the bonuses did not meet job performance standards, or they were not eligible. Nearly 1/3rd of the employees received $100,000 or more in bonuses. David Villa, the board's chief, received over $580,000, piled on top of his $442,500 salary.
The board of trustees' chairman said "you get what you pay for," and indicated that Wisconsin's bonus system is working and showing results. Another board official said that board management is the reason Wisconsin's public pension system is strong.
The State of Wisconsin Investment Board manages $104 billion in state assets, with the largest portion coming from the Wisconsin Retirement System and its 600,000 contributors.
Wisconsin Ag News
Gov. Walker open to help from feds with Canada
Governor Walker is glad that Washington, D.C. getting involved in a large trade dispute that is impacting countless Wisconsin dairy farms, putting them at risk of closure, or financial turmoil.
A Canadian trade policy has stopped some imports from places in the US such as Wisconsin, which has caused at least one major Wisconsin distributor to stop purchasing milk from 75 dairy farms.
Governor Walker said he understands that this will not be an easy process, but he has met with President Trump and spoken of the ongoing issue. The Governor also said he would like to see Canada temporarily halt the policy until other solutions have been explored.
Wisconsin loses more farmland
Wisconsin has lost about one million acres of farm land in the past decade according to the US Department of Agriculture.
One UW-Extension employee said that as more farmers decide to exit the industry, land gets diverted to other sectors such as residential or commercial developments, based especially on the proximity to larger metropolitan areas.
Many believe that it's critical now more than ever for people to be learning of the importance of agriculture, both economically, and as a trade or means for employment.
This is on top of the same report showing that the United States has also lost about 8,000 farms from 2015 to 2016, a staggering statistic, and certainly something that is felt right here in the Dairy State, where the average size farm continues to tend upward, and the number of smaller family farms continues to drop.
Milk production continues to climb
Wisconsin dairy cows are producing more milk than ever before last month, showing state output totaling 2.59 billion pounds. That accounts for a 1.5 percent increase year-over-year in March, and more than February's 2.32 billion pounds.
On the national level, 17.5 billion pounds of milk were produced in the 23 major dairy states, posting 1.8 percent increase from 2016, and higher than the 15.7 billion in February.
California comes in at number one with 3.5 billion pounds.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results:
Changes to school district referenda, repeal of the state prevailing wage, Wisconsin Veterans Farm Bill of 2017, elimination of sales tax on beekeeping equipment, and Memorial Day weekend
Last week, we brought you the specifics of a proposal that would make many changes to local school district referenda and the processes, as well as the proposal in the legislature to fully eliminate the state's prevailing wage law, a bill aimed at employing military veterans in the agriculture sector, and the elimination of beekeeping equipment from the sales tax. We also asked you to share your favorite activities for Memorial Day weekend.
Let's get down to it!
Various lawmakers introduced a set of bills that would make changes to local school district referenda. What do you think of this proposal? (The full details are in the article)
About 60 percent of respondents like the idea. 20 percent said no, and 20 percent said they weren't sure or did not want to answer. Let's look at some of the written responses.
"State government has already reduced funding for schools during this administration. Local school districts need to ask local people for their opinion on funding. I do agree that the referendum should be held at a general election."
"Seems like more money we throw at the schools, the poorer the education & the more staff numbers increase. Get back to basic education!"
"The school systems should have to disclose their financials if we are going to give them more!! I agree with this."
"School districts have gotten more sophisticated and are hiring PR firms to run referendum public relations campaigns."
"I'm sick of seeing referenda that focus on sports, leisure activities, and the like. When we will get upgrades for the purpose of the school, which is to teach and help students learn? And, as a local district just did, sometimes if the referendum fails, the District Administrator simply worms around it and does what they want anyways!"
"Restricts referenda to regular elections."
"These proposals are absured. Let the LOCAL taxpayers elect their own LOCAL school board neighbors to make LOCAL decisions. Keep Madison out of it."
Two Wisconsin lawmakers are pushing for a full repeal of the state's prevailing wage law, which mandates a wage for workers on construction projects using state dollars. Good move or bad move?
Over 90 percent of respondents feel that repealing the prevailing wage is a good move.
"Too much tax payer waste. I fix autos & trucks for a living & everyone is always looking for the best value for the dollar. The same applies when I repair a state owned vehicle: I can't & wouldn't double or triple the price just because it's owned by the state."
"We have bid many of those jobs. Their 'prevailing wage' is very HIGH. I always wonder why..."
"Outdated law that was born of union cronyism & racism in the 30s. Repeal will save countless millions."
"Should reduce cost of state projects."
"Well, the GOP is all about making sure laborers are paid the lowest possible wage and further erode the middle class."
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the "Wisconsin Veterans Farm Bill of 2017," with the hopes of recruiting military veterans to work in the agriculture industry. What do you think of this bill?
About 65 percent of respondents like the idea of this legislation.
"We need to help our vets, and keep Ag growing stronger in WI."
"Advantage to the Veterans and makes for more unfair competition."
"Let's help our Veterans when they return!"
"Ed Brooks is right on."
"Unfortunately farming is only moving toward the corporate model. Bigger and bigger all the time. The small farmer is being pushed out by mega farms. Too bad I see young families trying to make a go of it on a true family farm, but they are at an unfair advantage and will not be able to beat the system."
"Yes, this could get young people in again but here's the deal. You really have to have farming in your blood and love to work hard. I realize this is a broad idea but if you want in dairy you better be ready to work 24/7."
A Wisconsin lawmaker has introduced legislation that would eliminate sales tax on all beekeeping equipment purchases. Good idea? Bad idea?
A bit over 65 percent of respondents like the idea of eliminating sales tax for beekeeping equipment in Wisconsin.
"Let's try to build up the bee population."
"Isn't all equipment that is used in production tax-exempt?." No.
"More bees = good for agriculture & gardening. Beekeeping is a business. Why not? Makes sense to me!"
"Will help beekeepers in business and we need more bees."
"Beekeeping is an agricultural activity."
"Another loophole? No way."
"We will do what most farmers are doing, make hay when the sun shines."
"Graduations, cookouts, family, Memorial Day services."
"It is the busy season on our dairy farm. Our family will be working together caring for our animals and crops. We will attend a service to honor the day."
"We will make sure to fly our flag, go to church services, and connect with our family for a cookout- weather permitting!"
"Catch up on yard work; perhaps travel north (depending on the weather); visits to relatives' burial sites; and take time to remember those who sacrificed for the rest of us & our freedom!"
"Going north to my cabin"
"Work. Busy week end in the retail trade."
"Graduations to attend."
"Most entrepreneurs haven't got a lot of extra time. Will see as we get close."
"Stay Home! Or visit local family."
"Too soon to think of Memorial Day." Is it ever really too soon to think of Memorial Day?
"Cabin/camping, Good friends and Great food on the BBQ! And plenty of Leines Canoe Paddler!!!!"
"Memorial Day services."
"Honor veterans who have passed."
"Plant some stuff in the garden and hope no more frost (if it ever stops raining)."
"Usually just work on our lawn and landscape over the long weekend."
"Don't really plan on too much cause I never know for sure what is ahead for grain farming. Had to still plant beans on memorial day. Last minute plans if we do anything."
Unemployment hits 16 year low in Wisconsin
The numbers are in, and Wisconsin's unemployment has fallen yet again in the unemployment category, bringing it to a 16 year low.
According to the data released by Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development, the state's rate dropped to 3.4 percent. That's the lowest it's been since April of 2000.
The state's labor participation rate also increased to 68.4 percent, which is also higher than the national average of 63 percent.
The civilian workforce grew by 6,200 and the state added 22,100 private sector jobs from March 2016 to March 2017.
Study: Manufacturing & Agriculture Tax Credit responsible for 21,000 jobs
According to a UW-Madison study, the Wisconsin Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit accounted for nearly 21,000 new manufacturing jobs since it was implemented in the 2013 state budget.
The study also found that the credit accounted for a total of 42,000 jobs throughout the state.
The study concluded that manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin would have dropped had it not been for the credit, and the policy itself helped create jobs in the state.
As of the most recent data from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the credit has cost the state about $1.4 billion in annual revenue, which had an original estimate of about $600 million.
Data from Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce shows that Wisconsin lost nearly 82,000 manufacturing jobs between 2006 and 2010, but have added 34,000 since the credit was first passed.
Since 2013, employment in the manufacturing sector among the state's border communities grew by 1.9 percent.
Lawmaker circulates bill to replace Green Bay Correctional Institute
Rep. Dave Steffen (R-Green Bay) has circulated a bill that calls for a new, privately-built prison to replace the Green Bay Correctional Institute.
The proposal calls for the state to sell the Green Bay Correctional Institute, and receive funds to privately build a replacement prison which the state would then lease.
In his proposal, Rep. Steffen mentions potential sites, including one near Highway 54 between the City of Green Bay and Luxemburg. Local leaders in Kewaunee have initiated a study that would explore building the new prison in that county, citing its potential boost to the local economy.
The bill has been referred to the Joint Committee on Finance, and will be reviewed in the future.