News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
We hope your week is going well, and that you have had a chance to enjoy some of the sunny and warm weather across much of the state- at least before the next round of rain hits the region later tonight.
This week, we will share a note from our organizations' president, Mike Marsh, and the rest of the report will focus on the state budget, a package of bills aimed at reforming DOT, some good news on unemployment tax, another wheel tax debate taking place in Green Bay, and the mink industry in Wisconsin.
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 email@example.com.
Have a great week,
A note from WPT President Mike Marsch
I'm taking a moment this week to reach out to you so perhaps your phone calls to our Wisconsin government leaders will make a difference and propel this budget towards a favorable conclusion.
We are blessed with excellent government in Wisconsin and our three main leaders- Governor Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker, Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald- are a big part of the reason why we have excellent government. However, their collective stubbornness concerning reaching a compromise on our state transportation budget is putting in jeopardy an awful lot of what's important to WPT in the next 2-year state budget.
We currently have nearly one billion dollars in property tax reduction in this state budget, including eliminating the Personal Property Tax. The revenue we need to finance this reduction to property tax will be achieved without raising other taxes. Revenue growth is sufficient to pay the bill. However, the transportation budget needs additional revenue. Walker wants to borrow, Vos wants to raise the gas tax and fees, and Fitzgerald seems to side with the Governor. Our budget is now three weeks overdue, and we need this stalemate to end.
WPT has made it very clear from the get-go, we favor a gas tax increase. A four-cents-per-gallon increase will finance our road needs for four years- not just state roads, but local roads and bridges too. Most of us don't dispute the need to invest in our infrastructure. I'm certain there's varying opinions on how to pay for it, but without additional revenue, I'm afraid they'll take the money currently earmarked for property tax reduction and use it to finance the transportation budget.
Don't let them do it! Call our leaders today. Make it clear, raise the gas tax or borrow the money, but don't take away the revenue currently committed for property tax reduction. You've done an excellent job reducing Wisconsin property taxes, but there's still more reducing to do. Please contact them today and share our message. Contact information is below.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to our organization, your communities, and our state.
Wisconsin Property Taxpayers, Inc.
Senate GOP releases its budget proposal to break impasse
Break to break the now-weeks-long budget impasse centered around long-term transportation funding, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald introduced his caucus' own budget recommendations for how to move past the current stalemate. The budget was supposed to be passed by June 30th.
The plan would borrow $712 million over the next two years with roads, paying back half of it from the state's general purpose revenue fund rather than the state's constitutionally segregated transportation fund (which gets its revenues from the gas tax and registration fees.)
The Senate plan also goes ahead with rebuilding the I-94 East/West project between the Marquette and Zoo Interchanges in Milwaukee, which has a price tag of $852 million. Only a small fraction of that project would be funded in this budget, with the rest coming in the future.
The Senate also plans to fully repeal the state's Personal Property Tax (PPT), and eliminate the state's alternative minimum tax. The plan would also raise the income level for the school voucher program. Additionally, the state's property tax bill (forestry mill tax) is still completely eliminated under Fitzgerald's plan, along with other property tax reductions that meet Governor Walker's requirements, and avoid his veto pen.
While the press conference solidified the position of the Senate on a few issues, the Assembly's "no borrowing" criteria does not seem to have been met, which would lead many to believe that the stalemate over transportation is very far from over.
Senators propose DOT reforms
As the debate rages on regarding a billion dollar transportation shortfall, Wisconsin roads, and how to fund them, a group of Senate Republicans late last week rolled out a package of bills that would make large changes at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Centered around an audit released at the beginning of this year, which found the DOT missing the mark on 16 ongoing projects by $3.1 billion, the bills are authored by Senators Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), David Craig (R-Town of Vernon), and Representatives Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) and Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield).
Some of the highlights from the bills:
Allow more options for projects that bring down costs and shorten completion times
Create a Technical Review Committee to review contract proposals and create incentives to use Wisconsin-based contractors
Limit the allowed engineering work to 20 percent, and revise funding formula to reflect need and not baseline budgets
Require DOT to report progress to legislature
Subject projects to operational and financial audits
Require approval from local communities before constructing roundabouts
Require referendum before implementing wheel tax
Appoint inspector general to investigate finances of DOT
Swap federal dollars for state dollars to bypass various costly federal regulations
Repeal prevailing wage
Democrats criticized the reforms, claiming they would lead to pay cuts, more borrowing, and project delays. No specifics were given, and no alternative plans were offered by democrats.
Assembly Speaker Vos said that he supports most measures in the package, which includes the repeal of the prevailing wage, and said he looks forward to working with the Senate to bring more effectiveness and efficiencies to the DOT.
Employers will save $637 million on unemployment tax by 2018
According to Governor Walker's estimates, employers will see a savings of $637 million in unemployment taxes by 2018. This is more welcomed news last week, which also saw an announcement of reductions in Workers Compensation premiums for the private sector in the state.
The unemployment tax savings are because of an improving enconomy and changes to the unemployment tax schedules since last year. The Governor said that Wisconsin went from having the highest unemployment tax to the lowest over the past three years, resulting in even more savings.
Unemployment funding works by money from a state trust fund, paid in by around 140,000 employers in the state. When he took office in 2010, the unemployment trust had a $1.4 billion deficit, and was one of 30 states that had to turn to federal loans to pay for unemployment benefits during the Great Recession. The fund now has a positive balance of $1.3 billion, as of June 30th.
With the rate of unemployed falling to near-historic levels, this just adds to the savings and reductions that Wisconsin's employers are realizing when it comes to their bottom lines.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results:
10,000 new jobs possibly coming to WI, Wisconsin Supreme Court decision on refusing assessors entry into homes, proposal to allow firearms classes to be taught in Wisconsin schools, school districts bypassing taxpayers, and cranberries
A global tech manufacturer is eyeing up Wisconsin for a new 10,000 employee facility. This is good news for jobs and the manufacturing sector, but IN YOUR VIEW, do you feel Wisconsin is equipped to handle this type of industry?
Nearly 80 percent of respondents think Wisconsin workers are up to the challenge and an fill these roles. Under 10 percent do not. About 15 percent weren't sure or chose not to respond.
"I have worked for a tech company of this sort in Wisconsin. They simply train their employees on site. The big issue is if they'll find workers who actually will stick around. I hope they PAY something..."
"You're kidding, right? Foxconn wants a bunch of drones to make electronics. Wisconsin has plenty of uneducated drones who can put stuff together."
"We have many highly educated, unemployed with college debt. Bring it!!!"
"In my area, 25 people applied for a job starting pay 14.50/hour and only 1 passed the drug test. If they do not do any testing it may work. Then they just will not show up every day."
The Supreme Court last week said that property owners can still challenge their assessments even if they refuse INTERIOR inspection by an assessor. Good or bad?
Nearly 70 percent think this was a good decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. About a quarter of respondents did not.
"Our assessor keeps giving our home an outlandish value. Our home is already overpriced."
"This will only increase the variability and likely unfairness on assessments from one home to another, all for the fluffy principal you don't want an assessor entering your home for a few minutes. BFD."
"Government is way too intrusive and anti-constitutional. Hooray for those in support of Americans!"
"If the assessor is not allowed in the home the local government officials will not have good information to make a good decision." (If the homeowner didn't apply for any building or construction permits, what would give the assessor the idea that anything has changed since the last interior assessment?)
"Yes, we have had an assessor. Not a terrible experience- he tripped over so many kid toys he couldn't find the exit fast enough. Had he scheduled his arrival in advance we may have had a chance to tidy up a bit. But hey, that may have yielded a higher assessment!"
"My only question is why did all the home owners in this community that would not allow the assessor access to the inside of their home see an increase in their taxes, but everyone else saw a decrease? This troubles me, and I feel that particular assessor needs to be investigated at least, but should probably lose their license. It is obvious the increase in taxes was for those home owners not cooperating with the assessor was penalized for practicing their rights. Abuse of power is so often the case when dealing with the government at any level unfortunately has become common place in our country today."
A bill would allow for firearm classes to be taught in Wisconsin's high schools. Good idea or bad idea?
Around 60 percent say yes, and over 20 percent say no.
"40 years ago...We had "hunter-safety" class at school"
"Our children could take gun safety school in the 70s. No problems then."
"I'd need to learn more. I wouldn't have taken the class, but our kids did riflelry at camp and enjoyed it."
"I learned about firearms in hunters safety and at home, hunting with my father. I have an idea- teach kids how to be able to stay out of debt, and accumulate money in savings instead! And BAD anyone to teaches our kids how to get a credit card, "maintain a credit score" and or get a loan!"
"Yes, Yes, It is safer to know how to handle fire arms."
"Education is always good, I suppose. It's not like a class will increase gun ownership beyond its current unbelievable amounts."
"Allow...? Like driving...learn it at home! Constitutional carry, self-determination, preservation and defense...YES!"
"Yes and yes. It's a little scary if it involves the wrong kind of kid"
"People are going to use them. Might as well try to teach some safety. As long as they do not sleep in that class also."
"Maybe they would respect the power and responsibility pulling the trigger REALLY has. Maybe they would have more respect for firearms then."
Are you aware that school districts have been bypassing taxpayers to raise taxes/borrowing locally in order to raise revenue for energy efficiency projects?
About 40 percent are aware, and about 60 percent were not.
"Large purchases should go to referendum"
"Oh...yes...don't get me started...Schools seem to lose their brains at certain points and forget that their job is EDUCATION. Sooner or later, their leadership focuses on their pet projects..."
"I support any way elected school board members are able to find money. The schools are desperate due to the GOP assault on education these past 7 years."
"Not surprised. How many people have been taken advantage of or abused by the school districts and for how long?"
"Ocean Spray is usually the only one available locally. I always make cranberry relish or sauce from fresh cranberries during the holidays because they are good and extremely simple to make. Cranberry juice mixed with sparkling water is good any time of the year."
"I like cranberry juice and dried ones for salads and baking."
"Myself not fond of juices whether it be cranberry or orange juice. I just like water at meals."
"I like dried cranberries. My favorite drinks are ice water and Berres Brothers Highlander Grogg flavored coffee (black.)"
"Fresh and frozen cranberries."
"YES WE BUY IT WEEKLY"
"Yes cranberry juice and love cranberry sauce."
"A good, strong Ginger Beer!"
"I do buy cranberry products."
"Not a fan of cranberry juice. My favorite beverage? How about a nice chocolate malt?"
"Cranberries and milk. 2 things Wisconsin is famous for and both are on the decline...so much for healthy living. "just give me a pill, I don't want to change by diet.""
"Yes, we buy both cranberries and juice. Too much selling of cranberry juice that has very little actual cranberry juice in it. We read ingredient labels."
"Sorry, no cranberries...Just not fond of the taste...Milk is my beverage of choice but since I'm not supposed to vote for milk I'll go with my second choice- Wisconsin-grown grapefruit juice!"
"Yes, I buy cranberry juice. Water is my favorite"
"Our family uses 2-3 bottles of cranberry juice a week."
Green bay officials to consider wheel tax proposal
Green Bay officials have heard back from their Public Works Director, Steve Grenier, after the council last fall directed him to study the issue of transportation and make a recommendation.
Grenier's recommendation? A $20 wheel tax, exempting farm vehicles, trucks weighing more than 8,000 pounds, motor homes, and a few others. It would generate about $2.1 million per year, since there are about 105,000 taxable vehicles registered in the city.
Right now, Green Bay borrows money to fund road repairs and replacements, with property owners living along those roads footing a percentage of the cost, sometimes into the thousands of dollars range.
Grenier wants to see half of the wheel tax revenue going towards getting rid of the portion paid by property owners, and slashing it in half for commercial property owners. Grenier also proposes that about a quarter million of the money goes towards alley reconstruction and resurfacing, and another quarter million toward bridge replacement. He also recommends using money to reduce their borrowing requirements and expand the number of streets repaved each year.
Wisconsin #1 in mink output
No, that's no a typo. A little-talked-about export of Wisconsin is mink, in which our state currently leads the nation with 1.2 million pelts of mink during 2016, nearly 10 percent higher than the previous year.
In fact, out state accounts for about 36 percent of the mink output in the country, and the number of females bred in Wisconsin during the past year was 257,000- accounting for 35 percent of the nation's total.
Those are pretty large numbers for an industry that is seldom spoken about.
The total of mink farms is estimated at around 70 in Wisconsin, which seems low considering the high volumes produced in the state. Nationally, mink production during 2016 totaled 3.31 million pelts, which was down 10 percent from the year prior.
The value of pelts was $116.