Brian Dake

Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day Is April 19th

The Badger State’s Tax Freedom Day is April 19th this year, according to the Tax Foundation. 

Tax Freedom Day is the day in each year when taxpayers will have earned enough money to pay off their tax bills. Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day is three days after the national Tax Freedom Day, which occurred on April 16th this year.

Both the national and Wisconsin measures stayed on the same day compared to last year after jumping significantly earlier in the prior year, thanks in large part to the sweeping Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. 

The Tax Foundation calculates the annual measure to remind the public just how much we spend on various government services every year. In 2019, Americans will spend more money on taxes than on housing, food, and clothing combined. 

In the race between states, Wisconsin is behind the pack. The Badger State’s Tax Freedom Day is ranked 35th among the states. Alaska’s tax burden is the smallest, with taxpayers there earning their average tax bill by March 25. New York and Washington, DC are tied for last place at May 3. 

As the largest share of the average tax burden, income taxes take the longest to pay off, on average. Wisconsin has among the highest individual income tax burdens in the country. 


Governors wants to change Foxconn Contract to Reflect Scaled Back Project

Gov. Tony Evers is looking to renegotiate portions of Wisconsin’s contract with Foxconn Technology Group, saying the company has scaled back its plans and is unlikely to hire 13,000 people in the near future.

“Clearly the deal that was struck is no longer in play and we will be working with individuals at Foxconn and of course with WEDC to figure out how a new set of parameters should be negotiated,” Evers said at a Capitol meeting with reporters. The governor’s office provided BizTimes a transcript of the remarks.

Evers did not say how many jobs he expects Foxconn to create, but he did say 13,000 is “an unreal expectation” and discussed the project in terms of 1,300 to 2,000 jobs.

Foxconn did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the governor’s remarks.

Evers said it was too early to say what elements of the contract could be renegotiated.

“That’s premature to say that but all we know is that the present contract deals with a situation that no longer exists so it’s our goal to make sure that taxpayers are protected and environmental standards are protected and we believe that we need to take a look at that contract and see if it needs to be downsized as a result,” Evers said.

100 Days into His Tenure, Governor Evers Draws Line on Budget

One hundred days into his tenure, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has drawn a line in the sand with Republican lawmakers on what the next state budget must include.

“We have to make sure we have affordable and accessible health care, we have to make sure we have increases in resources for our education system, and fix the damn roads,” Evers said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. “I would not be accepting of a budget that didn’t make significant progress on all three of those.”

Still, Evers said he thinks the likelihood is small that he will veto an entire budget passed by lawmakers.


Governor Evers Create Joint Task Force on Payroll Fraud and Worker Misclassification

Yesterday, Governor Tony Evers announced the creation of a Joint Enforcement Task Force on Payroll Fraud and Worker Misclassification.

The task force will be staffed by the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and will consist of the Secretaries of DWD, the Department of Revenue, the Administrators of the Worker’s Compensation and Unemployment Insurance (UI) Divisions within DWD, the Attorney General or a designee, the Commissioner of Insurance or designee and others. The DWD Secretary will serve as chair.

“Our workers are the backbone of our communities,” Gov. Tony Evers said. “Everyone benefits from their efforts to make Wisconsin stronger and safer. When employees are falsely classified or treated unfairly, it hurts our families, our communities, and our whole state.”

The task force will coordinate worker misclassification matters handled by the Departments of Revenue, Workforce Development, and Justice, as well as the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and other agencies and will report to the Governor on or before March of each year on their activities.

“Worker Misclassification is an issue of fairness and equity,” DWD Secretary-desginee Caleb Frostman said. “For too long, certain contractors have forced individuals into Independent Contractor status to avoid unemployment insurance taxes and worker’s compensation premiums, depriving workers of the security that the employer-employee relationship provides. They have also created an unfair business climate that places businesses that follow the law at a competitive disadvantage.”

“Last year alone, UI Division auditors conducted 2,459 audits, identifying 8,677 misclassified workers and recouping more than $1.5 million in UI taxes, interest and penalties due to their efforts,” UI Division Administrator Mark Riehl said.

“By better coordinating our state level efforts to level the playing field for Wisconsin contractors and workers, we are building a better tomorrow for thousands of Wisconsin workers and business owners, while helping to ensure the integrity of Wisconsin’s UI Trust Fund.”


Broadband Gets Attention at the Federal Level

As businesses and municipalities become more reliant on the internet and connectivity, public officials are working to make sure rural and underserved urban communities aren’t left out.

After a Racine resident raised the issue of broadband access to Gov. Tony Evers, Evers included some initiatives in his proposed 2019-21 biennial budget.

Evers is proposing increasing the state’s broadband grant program to $39.3 million. He also wants the Department of Administration to conduct a comprehensive broadband report on “emerging broadband technologies, recommendations on how to provide incentives to telecommunications providers to serve unserved or underserved areas of Wisconsin and proposals on how existing state resources can be leveraged to serve those areas.”

Now the issue of broadband access has garnered bipartisan support at the federal level.

Normally Wisconsin’s two U.S. senators don’t agree on much, but both Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson have helped introduce the Access Broadband Act which hopes to boost resources for business and communities in rural and underserved urban communities.

Baldwin said having access to “reliable high-speed broadband is critical to strengthening small businesses and communities throughout rural Wisconsin.”

Johnson said this issue is particularly important to farmers, rural doctors and schools “looking to connect their students to the world.”

“While the federal government has numerous programs dedicated to bridging the urban-rural digital divide, the bureaucracy can be confusing and create barriers for broadband providers, communities, and small businesses who need access to these resources,” Johnson said. “This bill will streamline management of federal resources to ensure Wisconsinites have easier access to these critical resources, reduce government waste, and ultimately connect more Wisconsinites in today’s digital world.”

Monday is Income Tax Filing Deadline

Less than a week remains to file income tax returns, and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) recommends that taxpayers not wait until the last minute to file. Returns must be received or postmarked by midnight on Monday, April 15.

“We process around three million returns annually,” notes Department of Revenue Secretary Peter Barca. “Around a half million returns came in the last two weeks. Our season total now stands at 2.3 million, so activity has been brisk. We’re anticipating another half million taxpayers to file in the remaining days, and we expect the rest will likely file for extension.”


Electric Vehicle Investigation Moves Forward

Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq announced today that the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) is moving forward with its investigation into electric vehicles. The PSC recently issued a request for comments to all interested parties, including Wisconsin municipal and investor-owned utilities. Members of the public are also welcome to submit comments to the PSC.

“The State of Wisconsin needs to be ready to meet consumer and industry demands as it relates to the increased use of electric vehicles and related infrastructure needs,” said Chairperson Valcq. “It is critical that the PSC hears from a broad range of stakeholders surrounding electric vehicle use and its growth in the marketplace.”

Wisconsin electric utilities, interested parties, and members of the public are welcome to participate in the comment process with a deadline to submit responses by Monday, May 20, 2019.

The PSC intends for the investigation to be a collaborative and inclusive process that provides ample opportunities for participation. At the conclusion of the response period, the PSC will review the comments received and draft a report analyzing the comments. The PSC is also considering in-person workshops and subsequent requests for comment to further facilitate discussions of electric vehicle policy and regulation in Wisconsin.

Estimate: Property Taxes Would See Inflation-Level Increases Under Governor Evers’ Budget

Property taxes on a median-valued home would tick upwards under Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal at about the rate of inflation, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The new Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimate projects Evers’ budget plan would cause the estimated net tax bill on a median-valued home to increase 2% next year and by 1.6% the year after that. The impact to individual property taxpayers would vary and could be more or less, depending on various factors.

The estimate finds statewide net property-tax levies would increase by 2.4% next year and by 2.1% in the second year of the biennium under Evers’ budget.

The increased tax bills are driven largely by Evers’ plan to boost by 2% the amount counties and municipalities could collect through local property tax levies.

But a countervailing effect comes from Evers’ plan to give a $1.4 billion infusion of state aid to school districts in the next two years. That would enable the state to shoulder a larger share, relative to local property taxpayers, of school district costs.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said in a statement that the report shows how Evers’ budget would mark a shift from budgets enacted under former Gov. Scott Walker.

“The fact is, the Governor’s budget raises property taxes by the largest amount in a decade,” Nygren said. “Republicans have a record of cutting taxes and remain committed to this goal, whereas the governor would rather increase taxes to grow government in Madison.”

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said part of the projected property tax increase is due to voters approving referendums to increase their property taxes to fund their local school districts — which she said Evers can’t control.

Wisconsin Posts 5th Highest Property Tax Rate in New National Study

Wisconsin ranked 47th in the nation in a recent WalletHub analysis of which states have the lowest property tax rate.

On average, American households pay nearly $2,300 in property taxes on their homes annually, according to the WalletHub study.

In Wisconsin, the effective property tax rate was 1.94 percent, meaning that the annual tax bill on a $194,000 home was $3,756, WalletHub reported. The median home value in Wisconsin was estimated at $169,300, and owners of median-value homes paid $3,286 in property taxes annually.

Ousted Wisconsin Utility Regulator Warns Deadlock Could Stall Projects

An ousted Wisconsin utility regulator is warning that her absence could leave the Public Service Commission deadlocked and stall key infrastructure projects.

Former Public Service Commissioner Ellen Nowak has been locked out of her job by Gov. Tony Evers’ administration, which contends her appointment during a lame-duck session of the Legislature was nullified by a recent court ruling.

That leaves the PSC with just two acting members — appointed by governors of different parties — and a slate of major utility cases, including a natural gas connection to the Foxconn manufacturing campus that must be decided by the end of April.

In a court affidavit filed this week, Nowak warned that utility projects that have been through months of regulatory scrutiny could be delayed or go unresolved.

“This will not only threaten to stall development and job creation but also will interfere with the needs of the utilities and the interests of their customers in the provision of reliable service,” Nowak wrote.

Nowak notes that PSC Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq has agreed to recuse herself in a number of cases that she worked on as an attorney before joining the commission in January. That would leave commissioner Mike Huebsch as the lone voting member should any of those cases come up before the issue is resolved.

After Dane County Judge Richard Niess ruled last month that Republicans convened the special session illegally, Evers rescinded 82 appointments made in the final days of former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.

Evers re-appointed 67 of those appointees, who were serving in positions he considered low level, though he has not announced appointments for the other 15 positions.

An appeals court agreed to a GOP request to put Niess’ ruling on hold, raising further questions about whether those lame-duck appointments are reinstated.

Last week Nowak, appointed by Walker to a second term on the commission in December, was turned away when she showed up for work, a decision that PSC spokesman Matt Dannenberg said came from Evers’ Department of Administration.