Brian Dake

Wisconsin’s Tourism Economy Tops $20.6 Billion

Governor Scott Walker joins Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett in traveling throughout the state to highlight Wisconsin’s tourism economy, which reached $20.6 billion in 2017. This marks a $631 million boost from $20 billion in 2016.

“Wisconsin’s travel and hospitality industry is booming,” said Governor Walker. “Our tourism industry continues to be crucial to our state and is consistently a top performing sector of our economy. Investing in tourism promotion and marketing at the national, state, and local level is not only an effective way to attract visitors and grow the economy, it also enhances the image of Wisconsin as a great place to live, work, and do business.”

The tourism industry continues to show stable, long-term growth according to Tourism Economics’ recently-released economic impact figures. Last year’s visitor volumes topped 110 million visits, an increase of 17.5 million, compared to 92.5 million in 2011. Tourism supported a total of 195,255 jobs in 2017, up from 172,000 in 2011, a 13.5% increase.

“For seven years in a row, Wisconsin’s tourism industry has had a positive impact on the economy and job growth,” said Secretary Klett. “Research shows us that the increased investment in marketing the brand of fun positively influences the way people think about Wisconsin as a top to place to vacation, work, live, attend college, and own a second home.”

Key Results

  • The total seven-year growth of tourism activity in the state is $5.8 billion, a nearly 40 percent increase according to Tourism Economics, the research firm for the Department of Tourism.
  • Visitor volumes topped 110 million visits, an increase of 17.5 million, compared to 92.5 million seven years ago. This is a 19 percent increase since 2011.
  • Traveler spending on recreation, which includes all activities travelers choose to do on vacation, had the fastest growth at 5.5 percent in 2017.
  • Tourism directly and indirectly supported 195,255 jobs in Wisconsin’s labor market in 2016.
  • Visitors generated $1.5 billion in state and local revenue and $1.2 billion in federal taxes, saving Wisconsin taxpayers $660 per household.

Governor Signs Executive Order Increasing Efficiency, Responsibility of State Government

Yesterday, Governor signed Executive Order #288 today, implementing recommendations
from the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform, Efficiency, and Performance. Through this order, Governor Walker is implementing measures that will make government more efficient and responsible to hardworking Wisconsin taxpayers.

“At the end of the day, our government is accountable to Wisconsin’s hardworking taxpayers,” said Governor Walker. “It’s our responsibility to ensure that we are continually improving the way we do business in order to maximize the effectiveness of government services and deliver them to taxpayers at the lowest cost possible.”

Executive Order #288 directs the Department of Administration and multiple state agencies to adopt several recommendations in accordance with the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform, Efficiency, and Performance:

The Department of Administration will combine the Office of Lean Government with the Division of Executive Budget and Finance and any other administrative units as determined by the Secretary of the Department of Administration.

  • State agencies will work with the Department of Administration, Division of Enterprise Operations, to identify procurement savings opportunities, reduce purchased services and contracts, and make state vehicle purchasing, maintenance, and operating policies more cost-effective.
  • State agencies will submit a plan to the Department of Administration, State Controller’s Office, outlining strategies to minimize paper-based finance operations, with the goal of eliminating paper-based payments and maximizing the use of electronic exchange.
  • State agencies will review their current practices and enter into debt collection agreements where necessary with the Department of Revenue to perform collections on agency debts outstanding longer than 90 days unless an exemption is granted by the Secretary of the Department of Revenue pursuant to current law.

 

Wisconsin Ranks 10th in Nation on Hospital Safety

Wisconsin ranked 10th in the nation for the safety of its hospitals, with 42 percent of the state’s hospitals receiving “A” grades for their prevention of medical errors, according to a new report.

The Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit organization focused on health care quality and safety, gives out grades to hospitals twice a year for how well they prevent errors, accidents, injuries and infections.

Of the approximately 2,500 hospitals graded nationally, 30 percent earned an “A,” 28 percent earned a “B,” 35 percent a “C,” six percent a “D” and one percent an “F.”

Hawaii was first in the U.S. for its hospital safety, followed by Idaho (2); Rhode Island (3); Massachusetts (4); Virginia (5); Colorado (6); Maine (7); Ohio (8); and North Carolina (9).

Leapfrog uses performance measures from its own hospital survey, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Hospital Association’s Annual Survey and Health Information Technology Supplement to compile its rankings.

EPA Trims Wisconsin Areas Facing Tougher Smog Regulations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday limited areas of Wisconsin that will face tougher smog regulations.

The agency sided with Wisconsin officials by sharply narrowing areas that will come under stricter federal ozone regulations to small strips of land along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Businesses and Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration argued that metropolitan Milwaukee and areas along Lake Michigan were being polluted by smog from Illinois and northern Indiana.

The EPA was under a court-ordered deadline of Monday to decide which counties across the country were in violation of the new standard and would need to reduce pollutants that form ozone. Those pollutants come from sources such as factories, power plants and emissions from cars and trucks.

Ozone is created when heat and light interact with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.

In a tweet Tuesday, Walker said that Wisconsin already has cut emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds by 50 percent since 2002.

“We are working with the EPA to implement a plan that continues to look out for the best interest of Wisconsin,” Walker tweeted. “We continue to search for ways to balance between environmental stewardship and a positive, pro-jobs business environment.”

In December, the agency had made an initial determination that a much larger area of southeastern Wisconsin was in violation of ozone standards. Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources pushed back against that initial determination. Officials asked that the entire state be declared in compliance or, failing that, urged the EPA to designate narrow strips of land near Lake Michigan.

“We are pleased that EPA did take into account the science and data the DNR provided showing that ozone concentrations … are limited to a narrow strip of land near the Lake Michigan lake shore,” DNR spokesman Jim Dick said in a statement.

Wisconsin Utility Companies are Told to Credit Customers $130 million, to Start

Wisconsin’s investor-owned utility companies must give a total of $130 million to their customers in the form of credits on their July bills followed by monthly reductions, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission has ruled in a preliminary decision.

The proposed July bill credit represents the first six months of tax savings the utilities will have amassed since Congress passed major changes to the tax code in late 2017, lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

“Every customer of an investor-owned utility (in Wisconsin) will receive some sort of bill credit,” said PSC spokesman Matthew Spencer.

Specific amounts were not provided as part of the PSC’s oral decision last Thursday so it is not clear yet how big each customer’s credit will be. The amounts are expected to be included in the three-member panel’s written decision when it is released in a few weeks.

Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Offer Varied Tax Proposals

The Democrats running for governor this year have several ideas for how to rewrite the state’s tax laws, with an emphasis on higher taxes for the rich, and lower taxes for the working and middle class. They largely support more state revenues to pay for things like better roads and schools, expansion of BadgerCare and free technical college tuition.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin wants to lower homeowner property taxes statewide by up to 25 percent while raising income taxes on the top 3 percent of earners.

Former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe is calling for a reduction in the sales tax from 5 percent to 4.5 percent, and also applying it to currently exempt goods and services such as airplane parts, health club fees and professional services.

Former Rep. Kelda Roys would repeal a recently adopted fee on hybrid and electric vehicles, but would be willing to slap a new fee on certain heavy trucks to help pay for road repairs.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and four other top Democratic candidates want to eliminate the manufacturing and agriculture tax credit, noting 93 percent of the benefit goes to taxpayers who make more than $250,000 a year.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, wants to reduce the manufacturing credit and preserve the credit for farmers. Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, and Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik said they want to restructure the credit and tie it to actual job creation. Soglin was the only candidate who said he wouldn’t make any changes to the credit.

 

 

Wisconsin and Texas File 20-State Injunction Against Obamacare

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion yesterday seeking a preliminary injunction against the federal government’s Affordable Care Act. Attorneys General Schimel and Paxton are leading a 20-state coalition in this effort to undo the harmful effects of Obamacare.

“Obamacare’s irrational design wreaks havoc on health insurance markets,” said Attorney General Schimel. “Obamacare causes premiums to rise and coverage to fall, forcing Wisconsin and other states to take extreme, costly measures to protect their citizens’ health and pocketbooks. I bring this challenge to Obamacare because, as Wisconsin’s attorney general, I swore to uphold the rule of law and protect our state from overreaching and harmful actions from the federal government.”

In February, the same 20-state coalition filed a lawsuit that argues the ACA, as recently amended, forces an unconstitutional and irrational regime onto the states and their citizens. In NFIB v. Sebelius, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the core provision of the ACA—the individual mandate—as a “tax.” However, Congress has recently repealed this tax, while leaving the mandate in place. Since the Supreme Court has already held that Congress has no authority to impose such a mandate on Americans, absent invoking its taxing authority, the ACA is now unconstitutional.

In the motion for a preliminary injunction that was filed today, Attorney General Schimel told the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas that an injunction against Obamacare is necessary to spare the people of Wisconsin and the other states from the enormous financial burden caused by the individual mandate. Before Obamacare, “the states allowed individuals to determine whether to buy health insurance, established high-risk insurance pools to help individuals in ill-health, enabled cost-sharing, and instituted many other policies that Obamacare now preempts or functionally preempts,” the coalition wrote.

Wisconsin and Texas filed the coalition’s complaint in a federal district court in Texas. Other states participating are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.

 

Foxconn Says Wisconsin Companies Win Construction Work

A Foxconn executive says that groundbreaking for the company’s new factory in Racine County is taking place soon, and that nearly all the construction companies chosen to build the first phase of the complex are based in Wisconsin.

Foxconn special assistant Louis Woo took part in a business panel in Milwaukee on Wednesday,  prior to a visit by Vice President Mike Pence. Woo said that he has peeked at which construction firms have won work for the facility, and that 90 percent are from Wisconsin.

“Do not tell the folks at Racine County because only 10 percent of the companies are from that county. That means the rest of the 90 percent of the companies are all over the state of Wisconsin,” Woo said.

Woo also said that about 10 percent of the companies are run by women, minorities or veterans. He said the winners will be notified in the next couple of days.

Tariffs Could Increase Harley Raw Material Costs by $20 Million this Year

Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. was already expecting an increase in raw material costs this year, but new tariffs on steel and aluminum announced by President Donald Trump could add another $15 million to $20 million in additional costs, John Olin, Harley chief financial officer said Tuesday.

That’s going to provide quite a headwind for the company,” Olin said.

He cautioned the figure is an estimate based on what prices have done since the tariffs – 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum – were announced in February. Olin added that Harley saw a $4.2 million increase in raw material costs in the first quarter that was not the result of tariffs.

When the tariffs were first announced, Harley warned there could be “significant impact” from retaliatory tariffs and said in a statement the measures would drive up costs. Heavyweight motorcycles like Harley’s were among the products the European Union said could be hit with tariffs if Trump goes through with his plans.

 

‘Dark Sky’ Training Exercise to Simulate Mass Power Outage in Wisconsin

A training exercise meant to simulate a mass power outage will take place next month at sites across Wisconsin.

The exercise, known as Dark Sky, is scheduled to happen May 15-17 in Brown, Calumet, Dane, Fond du Lac, Milwaukee, Outagamie and Winnebago counties. The public should not be concerned by a greater presence of emergency responders, military personnel or drones during the exercise.

The exercise is intended to test the abilities of emergency responders and private utilities to respond to a long-term power outage across the state. The exercise will involve an Alliant Energy facility in Fond du Lac County that will serve as a National Guard training site.

“Our emergency management community must be prepared to deal with the myriad of scenarios and challenges posed by a long-term mass power outage,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general. “By training together, we continue building meaningful relationships that leave us better positioned to respond to a real-world situation.”

More than 1,000 people from federal, state, county and municipal agencies will participate in the training exercise.