News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
We hope your Monday has gone well, and that you were able to enjoy some of the early autumn heat seen across much of the state! We also hope you were able to enjoy a nail-biting Packers victory last night!
This week, the Capitol Report will bring you the latest on the state budget, some new wheel and sales tax across the state, which state is leading organic farming, Gov. Walker's veto of the historic tax credit, relaxed hunting regulations, 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,
Last week, Bert Vosters, WPT's Agriculture Member Rep Manager gave me a call and wanted to discuss a few articles that he had sent to me in the mail. One of them was from last month, and it talked about "fear-based labeling."
I got to digging around on the issue, and I got fascinated by the entire topic.
A conversation has been in the works regarding "fear-based labeling" on foods, and whether or not they should be allowed. But are those fighting against it doing something noble, or just trying to conceal their own masquerade? An tough question to ask, but an honest and relevant question.
Fear-based labeling is the ability for those in the food industry to label their products as "non-gmo," or "hormone-free," even though, often times, the labels are misleading. Take, for example, a company that has labeled its table salt as "non-gmo." Sounds good, right? Except there is no scientific way that table salt could have GMO (genetically modified organisms), since salt has no genetics. It's true dishonesty in most cases.
The conversation has taken off nationally, but it began with a group with close ties to Wisconsin, called the National Milk Producers Federation, which is based in Arlington, Virginia. A stones through from the special interest empires of Washington, D.C. They are calling their efforts "Peel Back the Label."
But the problem, from my view, is this: Does this national milk group want to take away all labels like this? Is it because they don't like organic and natural dairy producers labeling their products with "no growth hormones used in our cows," or "hormone free"? I'm not the only person asking these questions, and there are a lot of independent, free range, organic, non-gmo, free farmers out there whose product would be honestly impacted should a labeling ban take place.
It would seem to me that the free market, a concept that we all subscribe to (whether you like it or not), in business, in our personal lives, and as consumers, should really be the deciding factor. Supply and demand. If more people want to buy milk or meat that is labeled "growth hormone free," then the logical thing to do would be to give the consumer what they want, instead of making what the consumer wants illegal. After all, the consumer drives the market.
The group has also taken aim at Dean Foods for their "No GMO's, No Worries" campaign, and the "TruMoo Chocolate Milk," which they believe is dishonest and hurts the consumer. In a statement, Dean Foods says "NMPF is doing harm, including to its own members, by attacking the No. 1 chocolate milk brand. An expensive campaign, website and press release, attempting to spread incorrect information is an oddly aggressive way to voice concern to a company that supports farmers by buying and marketing milk."
The DBA meanwhile is taking a more level-headed approach, by saying that there needs to be a balance. I think I'm with them.
Taking away dishonest labeling is the right thing to do, but we should avoid the slippery slope of taking away all labeling that a small group of people deem as "fear mongering." If you want to win at the game, get better at the game, don't change the rules.
If you have any questions or comments, ideas or concerns, feel free to contact me at email@example.com, or 608-255-7473. As always, I hope you enjoyed these thoughts, and urge you to reach out to me if you would like to discuss further!
ASSEMBLY SPEAKER APOLOGIZES FOR 'TERRORISTS' COMMENT
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) today apologized for his comments on TV show 'Up Front' with Mike Gousha, in which he referred to three Republican State Senators "terrorists" for their role in holding up the state budget. "I wish Governor Walker wouldn't have negotiated with terrorists."
The Senators he was referring to were State Senators Chris Kapenga, Steve Nass, and Duey Stroebel, who presented Governor Walker a list of budget changes they would like to see, otherwise threatening to vote against the budget when it was before the entire state senate. Had that scenario happened, it's probably that we would still be without a state budget into October.
Instead, Governor Walker offered the concessions, granting the three senators their requests, who then voted in favor of the two-year $76 billion spending plan, thereby allowing it to pass the Senate. Those budget requests were to quicken the full repeal of the prevailing wage, limit when school districts could hold referenda, and denied the expansion of the Wisconsin Public Finance Authority.
After the comment, a group of Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said they felt the speaker should apologize, as our country is currently at war battling terrorists around the globe, and such comments were disrespectful to service men and women.
In the Speaker's apology, he said, "Everyday, there are brave men and women who put their lives on the line across the globe to stop terrorists, and for them, I am extremely grateful. As Speaker, I have strived to increase the civility within the legislature. I now regret using the word terrorist because it goes against the guidelines I've set for our chamber, and myself. For that, I apologize."
But in the same statement, the Speaker continued to make his original point, saying "I continue to be concerned, however, that the actions of a few Senators, who cannot work with their colleagues in their own caucus, could disrupt progress on important legislation for the people of Wisconsin. Will we now have to run everything past a few rogue holdouts before committees take executive action?"
In a more broad sense, Speaker Vos' comments echo a divide among the state's top Republicans, who control all arms of state government. The budget was delayed by about ten weeks because Republicans could not find an agreement on transportation, tax, or education funding, three of the biggest-ticket items in the budget. It also raises questions on how much the legislature and Governor will be able to accomplish in the very limited amount of time remaining in the legislative session, before lawmakers adjourn in the spring to campaign for the 2018 elections.
JOBS AND UNEMPLOYMENT BOTH TICK UPWARD IN SEPTEMBER
The good news is that the state added 5,900 jobs in September. The bad news is that unemployment ticked upward again, continuing a trend that began back in July, leaving Wisconsin at 3.5 percent, up from 3.4 percent in August.
According to the Department of Workforce Development, due to the job growth in September, the State of Wisconsin had its highest private-sector employment level ever when seasonally adjusted, at 2,543,200. The private sector job growth came from construction, manufacturing, trade, transportation, and warehousing and professional business services. The tourism, leisure, and hospitality sector lost 3,700 jobs when seasonally adjusted.
Nonfarm payroll increased by 8,600 and government jobs increased by 2,700 at both the state and local levels.
Wisconsin added 27,100 private sector jobs in the first nine months of the year, according to the data. Also, the U-6 unemployment rate, which considers the official unemployment rate, and includes those marginally attached to the workforce (employed part-time), was 7.2 percent for June 2016 through June 2017. The national rate was 9.2 percent.
DWD's Secretary, Ray Allen, said "with Wisconsin reaching all-time highs in total labor force and number of private sector jobs in September, we are more than ready to meet the workforce needs of current and future employers."
WISCONSIN BOND RATING INCREASED TO AA+
The Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA) has upped Wisconsin's bond rating from AA to AA+, citing sound budgeting, holding the line on taxes, greater investments in education and transportation, and economic growth, according to Governor Walker's office.
"We are focused on being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and this upgrade is yet another confirmation that our reforms are working for Wisconsin," Governor Walker said. "We proved you can budget responsibly and make strong investments in priorities like education and infrastructure, while holding the line on taxes. We are working and winning for Wisconsin."
In their announcement, KBRA's said:
"KBRA's rating reflects, among other observations, that in recent years, Wisconsin has consistently and accurately budgeted within its means and has prioritized a combination of tax, spending, and debt restraints that have improved the State's reserves and liquidity.
"The State has also simultaneously pursued policies to stabilize and reduce historically high tax burdens. Meanwhile, the economy has measured by employment and income indicators, continues to grow at a healthy pace.
"These factors combined with the State's large and fully funded pension system (which increasingly makes Wisconsin a positive relative outlier on the landscape of states and other large municipalities) have improved the State's operational and financial flexibility."
WPT WEEKLY MEMBER POLL RESULTS
Increasing funding for rural schools · Eight permits for high cap wells thrown out by judge · UW Colleges to merge with four year UW campuses · Legalizing industrial hemp in Wisconsin · Should Wisconsin remove "America's Dairyland" from its license plates?
A proposal by two Republican lawmakers, and supported by both Governor Walker and Democrat candidate for Governor (State Superintendent of Public Schools) Tony Evers, would increase K-12 funding for rural schools by an additional $9.7 million.
Good idea or bad idea?
I don't know enough about the situation of rural schools vs. urban schools to answer intelligently. I just hope this is not another instance of government throwing my money at a problem without a real plan to actually fix something that may or may not need fixing.
As long as it's well spent, don't simply throw money at the problem.
We live in a rural district, but we're unable to have children. We've been paying high property taxes all our lives to support public education in our state, just plain tired of the whole thing. Personally, and my wife was a former teacher, feel the wages paid to staff are higher than most jobs in our area, the unions have damaged public education beyond repair for the most part. Parents need to have more skin in the game as far as we are concerned.
Live in a rural area. Transportation costs are higher. More miles to gather children.
I do not feel that reasons for this have been explained. Why do rural schools need more money.
It's a good idea. I don't live in a rural area, so this is coming out of my pocket. Amazing how citizens do that for each other, right?
The transportation is very expensive and smaller schools have less funding for the perks larger schools have.
A judge last week threw out eight permits for high capacity wells, because according to scientists, they would harm various bodies of water, including drinking supplies.
Good idea or bad idea?
Any well, high cap or otherwise, and any type of human activity is going to have an effect on surrounding bodies of water. By the judge's logic, all wells should be banned and all building permits denied. That doesn't sound like the way to go.
Good idea if there's science behind it, but what did the DNR not see? (The DNR is no longer allowed to consider the cumulative impacts of high capacity wells on bodies of water when issuing permits, as per a law passed by the legislature and an opinion written by the Attorney General.)
Hard to know who to believe any longer.
We are not impacted by HCW. The judge made the right call and we do not need anything else to impact our environment.
Need to keep our water safe.
We have a wonderful resource in Wisconsin, we must protect it...looking at you, Foxconn.
The large dairy in Green County should not be allowed to be built!
Amazing, a loss for big business. Oh, who am I kidding. This will get to the WI Supreme Court and will be overturned, because hey, we don't need clean drinking water that much.
Large farms are businesses, would you close down a paper mill because they use more water than another facility?
A massive overhaul of the UW System campuses would merge the two-year schools into the four-year campuses with the hopes of saving money, increasing graduation rates, and providing more access to college for kids.
Good idea or bad idea?
Should do similar with the Tech. Colleges...At least merge some curriculum so it will be "recognized." If transferring from one school to another.
I attended a 4 year UW school, now each of my 2 sons are at different UW 4 year schools. All 3 schools over the decades are just loaded with low level coordinators and managers who don't contribute much to actual education, and their staffs. This would be a good first step to getting some of those associated costs under control.
I did not attend a UW school. Would have liked to have had the chance but in order to keep the farm in the family I had to take the reins as soon as I graduated high school. Not sure of your age, but it's not too late. The UW System offers free classes for senior citizens (60+) in one of their "audit" programs- https://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/advising/audit60.htm
Good idea, attended farm and industry short courts 79-81, great program.
Attended UW Fond du Lac and then transferred to UW Oshkosh. This was many years ago, but it made my costs much lower and allowed me to have a steady job while attending college.
I did not feel that this will solve the problem.
Actually this is the way it was when the 2 year collected opened. So it's returning to the same way they were back in the 60s (or was it 70s?)
Some one finally thinking
The UW System has jacked up their prices SO MUCH in the last decades...and I've MET people who work for "Colleges in the State" who claim their job is to keep prices going up, increase profit, and make it harder for people to finish their degrees...Year, I think it's time for a MAJOR overhaul.
UW is cutting the local extension offices which is impacted 4H clubs.
Attended a 4 year UW school, if it will lower tuition costs and loans for students, do it!
My college roommate teaches at a 2 year UW school and thinks this is a bad idea. I'm not sure I agree...keep the locations open, consolidate (layoff) a layer of administrators, and this is probably a good idea.
A bill in the legislature would legalize industrial hemp to be grown and processed in Wisconsin, potentially opening up a massive new market for Wisconsin farmers.
Good idea or bad idea?
Since the publishing of this article and survey question, the Senate Agriculture, Small Business, and Tourism committee recommended this legislation for passage on a bipastisan vote of 9-0. If you feel this legislation would work in your favor, please contact your lawmakers to push for vote by visiting legis.wi.gov.
Hemp has many uses. Cannibinoids in hemp are few & low concentration.
I doubt it will be any small farmer's salvation, but if there's demand for a crop we should be able to grow it.
Sounds like a good idea on the surface. Give folks another opportunity to work hard and propser.
It's time to move on, good the ag economy.
Good idea if it helps our farmers.
Anything to give WI farmers a chance to be more (legally) profitable is good.
Hey, why not. The future is known. Marijuana will be legal in Wisconsin in XX years.
GOod idea, we need to keep our family farms going.
An individual from the Wisconsin business lobby proposed removing "America's Dairyland" from the state license plates.
What do you think of this plan?
Otherwise...we could add..."The land of TIF Districts & Corporate Welfare'...HEY...That would be an apropos MOTTO!
"Forward" is a bad idea, it'll cause way too many rear end collisions at stop lights. I think "not in my backyard" would represent today's outspoken Wisconsinites in relation to all industries, not just dairy. Of course, we could just leave it alone.
I know we are talking about something as insignificant as license plates here, but I can't believe someone in a Wisconsin business organization leadership role would be so dim as to even make the suggestion. Without the dairy and general agriculture industry this state's economy would look totally different - in a bad way. I am one of the dairy farmers who risks all to produce a raw product (even before I know what It'll be worth) so that the rest of the states manufacturers and business people can use my raw product to make a profit. In turn, we dairy farmers reinvest almost all the money we get back into the state economy supporting many manufactures, retail outlets, service professionals, insurance companies, banks, etc., etc. I personally have not had a day off (yes, not one day - weekends, holidays, birthday, anniversary) since June, 2006. I don't mind it so much, I usually enjoy what I do and I need no recognition. However, when I see one of our license plates proclaiming my state as America's Dairyland, I feel honored. If my vote counts, I say let's keep America's Dairyland on the Wisconsin license plates.
WE are America's Dairyland, yes there are other businesses, but the dairy farmer is under paid and under appreciated. Get a custom license plate if you want something else.
Replace it with what, foxconn?
Dairying has been corporate sized operations, unfortunately, not too many small family farms left any longer. We are just promoting a select industry now which is not right.
I said leave it alone but in the other hand people should have the right to make it optional but don't take it off.
Keep it. And then start pushing to get more small family farms going again. Do you think our ag suppliers owuld mind a few tens of thousands more customers every year? It increases jobs, wages, etc...do it...
Terrible idea! What a slap in the face to our dairy industry.
I have a Marquette Warrior plate
I like Badger State, let the people pick which one they want.
We are proud of our state
I have a blue Milwaukee Brewers plate
PACKERS AND MICROSOFT TEAMING UP
If you are an innovator in the Green Bay area, you're in luck. Microsoft Corporation and the Green Bay Packers are teaming up to inject a $10 million boost, called TitletownTech.
The idea is to create a business accelerator, venture capital fund, and brand new laboratory spaces in a new building in the Titletown District next to Lambeau Field. The goal is to assist new companies and existing companies in the Fox Valley region in creating new digital products.
The accelerator will be an 18-week program, and will be available to employee teams from businesses who want to create new digital services and technology products. The labs will mainly be geared towards paper, agriculture, manufacturing, sports, healthcare, and insurance.
Once they complete the program, the companies will have access to the funds in the venture capital portion of the project. With the Packers and Microsoft both contributing $5 million each over the next five years, it looks like a touchdown for startups and tech companies in Wisconsin.
WISCONSIN MILK PRODUCTION STILL CLIMBING
Dairy cows in the Dairy State are continuing to exceed 2016 levels, and produced more milk in the month of September than the year prior.
According to the USDA's monthly milk production report, Wisconsin's output hit 2.46 billion pounds last month, up nearly one percent from September 2016, and more than August, which saw 2.59 billion. Those numbers add to the 16.2 billion pounds of milk produced in the nation's 23 major dairy states, which also has a 1.2 percent increase from last year, and is up from August.
California continues to have the highest production with 3.01 billion, but was one of the states who had lower production than last year. Texas continues to reign supreme when it comes to increases, seeing a 10 percent increase from September of this year to September of 2016, 955 million pounds.
The average number of cows in Wisconsin was 1.28 million head, down 1,000 from last month, but unchanged from last year. Production per cow was 1,925 pounds, up 15 from last year.
DANE COUNTY RESIDENTS BEWARE: WHEEL TAX HEADED YOUR WAY
The Dane County Executive last week announced he will be imposing a $28 wheel tax on Dane County residents, as an official part of the budget he released.
The fee would apply to all cars and would generate $12 million in revenue, bringing registration fees to $103 for the typical driver in Dane County. The county officials believe that the move will give them the funds needed for various transportation-related projects, with the county executive calling the state's aid to Dane County "inadequate."
Last week, Governor Walker annouced that local governments received their quarterly aid payments, totalling $108,187,044 for general transportation aids. Payments to Wisconsin's 1,925 local units of government include $104,915,193 in General Aid, $3,015,876 to 117 municipalities entitled to Connecting Highway Aids, and $255,975 to Milwaukee County for Expressway Policing Aids.
These aids are used to defray costs of constructing, maintaining, and operating roads and streets under local jurisdictions.