News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
We hope you enjoyed the weekend and are gearing up to enjoy the holiday tomorrow. We would like to wish all of our members and your families a very happy Independence Day!
This week, we will be talking about the budget (again), the proposed heavy truck tax, lead service line replacement aid from the state, a plan to limit the state's lottery advertising budget, Worker's Compensation relief, 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,
Thanks to the individuals who reached out regarding the plan to tax heavy trucks on Wisconsin roads. I have had several conversations with both members who rely on trucking, and members who own heavy trucks, and it seems clearer that this plan would disproportionately impact the trucking industry in Wisconsin, who employs about 90,000 people and already contributes about 40 percent of the fuel tax revenues in the state.
Last week, several Wisconsin lawmakers, including two Senators who received WPT's 2017 Property Taxpayer Champion Award (Sens. Stroebel and Craig), came out strongly against this plan. In their statement, they said that "as the budget debate lingers, it remains clear that some in the legislature are seeking to increase WisDOT taxes in any way possible. The recent audit of WisDOT shows that there are many reasons the agency has been inefficient and does not deserve new revenues. We should be looking for savings in government."
We happen to agree. The audit showed a lot of mismanagement of funds, including outrageously off-mark estimates on projects. This needs to be part of the conversation, as well. We cannot solely look to borrow our way out of this mess, and we certainly cannot solely look to tax our way out of this mess. While the heavy truck tax on business might sound equitable on the surface, our e-mail asked twice on Saturday; who do you think will pay the price?
After speaking with several small business owners about this proposal, it's even more clear to me now that many of our members either ship their goods to market via the trucking industry, or they rely on trucks bringing goods and supplies to the business. We have to ask ourselves; do we really think the trucking industry will simply absorb this cost without passing it onto small business owners and consumers? I fear the answer, in my opinion, is absolutely not.
Still, we need to be reserved in our overall critique of this plan. We give an enormous amount of credit to the Assembly and Rep. Loudenbeck for thinking outside of the box and making tough judgement calls while the rest of the legislature was unable or unwilling to act.
So, for now, while we do oppose this tax, which we believe is ultimately going to be a tax on Main Street Wisconsin, we will reserve judgement on the plan until official specifics and analysis are released. In her statement late last week, Rep. Loudenbeck said, "I want to thank the elected officials, individuals, members of the business community, and other stakeholder groups that have contacted me with questions and suggestions on how to improve upon a user fee concept I have offered as an option to raise revenue for transportation in Wisconsin without resorting to additional bonding or further delaying projects." She went on, "I especially appreciate the courtesy of Governor Walker and many of my legislative colleagues for reserving judgement on the heavy truck use fee concept until a more detailed analysis of revenue options, as well as cost-savings reforms and efficiencies, is provided."
If you have any questions or comments about any of our budget efforts thus far, or regarding anything you have read in this article, don't hesitate to reach out to me directly at email@example.com.
Lawmakers miss budget deadline, now what?
With the state government failing to reach a deal on the state's next two-year budget, it might seem like impending doom, much like a federal shutdown. But that's not the case.
In the immediate sense, not a lot happens. The spending levels from the last state budget, which ended at midnight on Friday, remain exactly the same. You could think of it as being frozen in time financially.
But what happens if the impasse, driven mostly by a disagreement on long-term transportation funding, lasts longer? As far as transportation goes, it could mean some major delays on some major projects around the state due to about a 45 percent funding cut in the next two years. Construction could shut down, leaving orange cones and barrels, reduced speeds, and wacky temporary lanes written all over our highways.
Schools might also see an impact. School districts and municipalities across the state also need to budget their money, and not knowing the funding levels or amount of state aids they will receive could create a bit of a mess on the local level. But as a DPI spokesperson stated, as we get later in the year, the impacts will become larger.
These scenarios are, of course, hypothetical. Talks at the later part of last week indicate legislative leaders might be close to reaching a deal on transportation and other issues. But if they don't, these hypotheses might become reality.
Governor Walker announces 35 municipalities to receive nearly $14 million to remove lead service lines
Governor Walker announced late last week that 35 municipalities have now completed financial assistance agreements with the state that will allow those communities to assist homeowners, schools, and day cares in providing safe drinking water by replacing old lead service lines.
These are the types of lines that extend from the main street pipes owned by local utilities onto private property and into homes, schools, and day care centers. The lines are the responsibility of the property owner who would have to pay for the removal, but under the Lead Service Line Replacement Funding plan, communities can help property owners fully replace those lines to provide safe drinking water for families and children.
"Safe drinking water is critical to the health and well-being of everyone in Wisconsin, and this program is working to help address community needs," Governor Walker said. "We applaud the work being done in communities across our state to identify old lead services lines and remove them."
The 35 municipalities represent all parts of the state, with Milwaukee receiving the largest award of $2.6 million. Another 13 million in lead service line replacement funding will be available once the new budget passes.
Worker's Compensation relief on the way
Late last week, the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance approved an overall 8.46% rate decrease for Worker's Compensation (WC) premiums for businesses this year following a 3.19% decline last year. Some specific industries, like manufacturing, will see even greater decreases of 9.28%. This overall decrease represents a savings of nearly $170 million for employers.
Governor Walker said these numbers reaffirm his administration's commitment that Wisconsin is open for business. "This magnitude of savings is a result of employers working with their employees to emphasize the importance of safety in the workplace," he said.
Worker's compensation rates are adjusted yearly by a committee of actuaries from the Wisconsin Compensation Rating Bureau. The committee studies the prior claims of hundreds of categories and professions throughout the state's employee pool and submits a rate recommendation to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.
The past ten years have remained stable, with a 10-year average annual net premium change of -0.37%. DWD Secretary Ray Allen says this is due to businesses working with their insurance carrier and risk management teams in order to ensure a safe work environment and by working to bring individuals involved in a workplace injury back to work as soon as allowed.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results:
Proposal to impose per mile fee on heavy trucks, allowing Wisconsinites to purchase BadgerCare, requiring background checks on voucher school employees, purchasing Wisconsin cheese, and your 4th of July plans
One lawmaker is floating the idea of a heavy truck per mile fee that could generate upwards of $250 million on the vehicles that do the most damage to Wisconsin's roads. Good idea or bad idea?
Over half of respondents think this is a good idea, while over 30 percent disagree. Over 10 percent said they didn't know or they preferred not to respond.
"TRUCKERS PAY ENOUGH ALREADY AND MOST BARELY MAKE A PROFIT."
"Don't stop there...Those big-rigs are Exempt from local wheel-tax IE for winter maintenance (Chippewa County)...Big Rigs DO use roads in winter!"
"I run a local trucking company and this would kill us! These costs would be passed to consumers with higher costs. A better option would be to raise the rate on the IFTA tax which would cause out of state tractors to pay a higher tax rate on their miles in Wisconsin... we are lower than both Michigan and Illinois in that category. We already are the most regulated industry in the nation, why do we need to keep penalizing the trucking industry? The EPA is going to enforce even more laws on us beginning in 2018 and the costs will just continue to rise. The emissions on the trucks has caused tractor maintenance to nearly double! Increase the hotel tax or cut the senator/congresses personal expenses, stop penalizing the businesses that are creating jobs in this state!"
"That fee will be passed on to us, don't need any higher prices."
"We are all going to pay for it anyway thru higher trucking charges on the stuff we buy. There is no free lunch!"
"This just gets passed on to all of us as consumers to pay on EVERY item shipped on a truck. More paperwork, more mess, more frustration. Just raise registration fees. Don't make us pay the fee multiple times over."
"Those who break it should fix it."
"Increase the gas tax and registration fees for hybrid/electrics. The end. Stop trying to find a constituency that can't complain the loudest. At this point, it's all about ideology not proper governance. Gas prices go up, down, 50 cents at the whims of the global economy. Wisconsinites spend an average $1600 on gas per year. Is $1700 going to hurt anything? Hell no. But that 20 cent raise in the gas tax solves our problem"
"Bad idea. It will be passed on to consumers anyway. So explain to me what is classified as a big truck? A one tun with a goose neck trailer or semi tractor trailer or a dump truck?" It would be based on tonnage.
Under a proposal from two Wisconsin democrats, if your employer doesn't provide health insurance, or if you don't like the plans on the federal exchange, you could choose to purchase BadgerCare from the Wisconsin government. In other words, a public option. Good idea or bad idea?
Over half of respondents think Wisconsinites should be able to purchase BadgerCare privately, if they want. Nearly 30 percent do not like the idea. About 15 percent of respondents weren't sure or opted to not respond.
"good idea but they would need to pay their share of the premium."
"Sounds kind like the BadgerCare we Wisconsinites had before the not so Affordable Healthcare plan went into effect. But with more options for people :) that are caught up in the high priced, terrible benefits plan we have now. At least before when we were paying higher healthcare premiums we were actually getting something for our money. Now we pay high price premiums with high deductibles-that's just brilliant!"
"Everyone should have the choice of where they purchase their health insurance."
"If people want to buy healthcare from the government, let them do it."
"Anyway, there shouldn't be any Federal exchanges."
"This should be an option. This would do a LOT to put money into BadgerCare. This would also help a lot of families who have hard to treat conditions get care. This is a GOOD idea."
"great idea. Sometimes people need a little help and this would be one less thing to worry about."
"Tax payer will end up subsidizing the insured."
"If you could purchase a subsidized BadgerCare, I'm fine with that."
"Not enough information. What is the cost to the family and what is the cost to the taxpayer." We have heard that taxpayer costs would be minimized, as the premiums for purchasing the BadgerCare privately would be higher than they are for low income residents, who currently pay nothing out of pocket.
A bill passed the Assembly, requiring private voucher schools accepting tax dollars to perform background checks on their potential employees. Good idea or bad idea?
100% of respondents think this is a good idea.
"Anyone who works with children should have background checks performed."
"All schools should check their employees for background checks."
"Isn't a background check just a good way to ensure you're hot hiring some sort of criminal?"
"Who wouldn't want school workers checked? They are with your children for hours each day."
"How on earth would it be a bad idea?"
"I hope all schools do background checks!!!"
"They shouldn't be treated any differently as the public schools"
Today is Wisconsin Cheese Day. Do you check cheese labels and purchase Wisconsin cheese specifically?
Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they always buy Wisconsin cheese. Over 20 percent said that cost is the major factor.
"I look for the Wisconsin label but it still has to be competitively priced."
"Steves cheese, sharp cheddar, aged 2 years"
"All cheeses, I buy only local cheeses."
"When I go in a store where the deli counter has imported cheese, I ask them 'What's wrong with Wisconsin cheese?' "
"Can something be done to stop companies who buy California product and re-label and re-sell it as Wisconsin product? What can be done about that? DATCP never answered me on that, either." It would appear as no laws are being broken, but rather just misleading the consumer, which unfortunately would not be illegal in this case.
"Fresh cheese curds, then next, fresh Colby."
"NO FIREWORKS, MAYBE A PARADE."
"Extra day to work at home since we are small business owners. Hopefully take in some fireworks. Spend a little bit of time on the motorcycle."
"I am scheduled to work July 4th. Somebody (must) 'burn' your meat & bread."
"Fireworks-family picnic-try to get out for a hike in a Wisconsin State Park."
"Staying home and getting caught up on the weeds in the garden."
"Nothing special or different."
"Go up to our cottage and do our own fireworks show."
"Boating on Lake Mendota."
"Attend a parade and have cook out with family."
"Stay home and grill some steak."
"I chair our 4th of July parade and festival. It's a busy day! Yes, I also purchase some small fireworks."
"Hope the fields are dry to get some work done."
"We usually grill out at a farm with our children and grandchildren. Then go out and see how tall the corn is with pictures. Been doing this for the last 25 years. We really enjoy looking at the pictures from one year to the next." Send us your photos and we would be glad to share them in the next Capitol Report, if you would like!
Bipartisan effort to limit lottery advertising
Representative Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) and Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) have introduced legislation that would limit the amount spent on "informational advertising" for the Wisconsin Lottery to $5 million per year.
"Data clearly shows that money invested in lottery advertising does not directly equate to more spending on lottery tickets. This bill would accomplish two things. First, it will realign the amount of money spent on informational advertising. Second, it ensures expenditure on information advertising remains in line with the statutory limitations contained in Wisconsin's Constitution," Rep. Hutton said.
The Wisconsin Constitution currently allows for the State of Wisconsin to run a lottery system and to provide information to potential participants on the lotteries existence. The Constitution, however, prohibits advertising that is promotional in nature. With a growing advertising budget, it appears to these lawmakers that the lottery may have crossed the line into promotional advertising.
The Governor's current budget proposes increasing the Wisconsin Lottery's informational budget by $6 million over the biennium. The return on this additional investment would only be $2 million in additional property tax relief. That means each additional dollar spent on informational advertising would only see 33 cents in property tax relief.
Farm Gate Milk Price up in May
In Wisconsin, Farmers saw an average price of $17.40 per hundred for milk in May, according to the latest USDA Agriculture Prices report. That is 30 cents higher than the previous month's price and $2.60 more than May 2016.
The US milk price for May was $16.70 per hundred, 70 cents lower than Wisconsin, but 20 cents higher than last month's national price. Eleven of the 23 major dairy producing states saw an increase from April to May, 10 of those states saw a decrease, and two went unchanged.
On the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, a 40 pound block of cheese closed at $1.51 per pound at the close of June, with barrels coming in at $1.35 per pound to close out the month. CME butter was $2.64 per pound.