Capitol Week-in-Review – December 8, 2016

Biennial Budget Picture Comes into Focus

The biennial budget process began in July when Governor Walker sent a letter to all state government agency leaders in which he provided them with guidance on the formulation of the state’s next two-year budget. State agencies were directed to submit their biennial budget requests to the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) by mid-September.

Over the past two months, DOA budget analysts have been reviewing each agency request to ensure compliance with the Governor’s directives. This process has been completed and DOA has released financial data for each state agency request along with preliminary state tax revenue estimates for the state’s current fiscal year (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017) and the state’s next two fiscal years.

These estimates give us a sense of the state’s overall budget outlook. The chart below summarizes the revenue projections.

Actual State Tax Collections for Fiscal Year 2016:               $15.097 billion

Estimated State Tax Collections for Fiscal Year 2017:         $15.440 billion (2.3% increase)

Estimated State Tax Collections for Fiscal Year 2018:         $15.888 billion (2.9% increase)

Estimated State Tax Collections for Fiscal Year 2019:         $16.370 billion (3.0% increase)

These projections are just that – projections. Actual state tax collections are heavily influenced by national economic factors beyond the control of state lawmakers.

The good news is that state tax revenues are expected to rise thereby easing the pressure on state lawmakers to raise taxes. Unfortunately, the projected tax revenue growth is not strong. In a robust economy, annual state tax revenue growth is typically at or above 5%.


Governor Calls for Legislative Action on New Broadband Expansion Initiative

Wisconsin’s Broadband Expansion Grant (BEXG) program provides reimbursement for equipment and construction expenses incurred to extend or improve broadband telecommunications service in underserved areas of the state. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) is authorized to award BEX grants to public and private entities that meet the eligibility requirements. Annual BEX grants funding is set at $1.5 million.

Last Thursday, Governor Walker unveiled a new legislative proposal that builds upon the existing BEXG program. The key elements of Governor’s proposal are as follows:

  • Increase BEX grant funding in Fiscal Year 2017 from $1.5 million to 15.5 million;
  • Prohibit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from requiring any appraisal or charging any fee prior to granting of
    an easement for the construction of broadband infrastructure in underserved areas; and
  • Prohibit the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) from charging any fee for the initial issuance of any permit necessary to construct broadband infrastructure in underserved areas.

When the Wisconsin State Legislature reconvenes in January, we intend to lobby in support of the Governor’s proposal.

The additional funding will improve access to broadband service in rural Wisconsin. Furthermore, the “fee remission” provisions ensure the BEX grant funds are used exclusively to build-out the broadband infrastructure.


Scam Alert: Cut-Rate or Free Gift Cards

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) advises holiday shoppers to be cautious of online solicitations for cut-rate or free gift cards.

According to DATCP, gift cards have been used as “clickbait” in a number of social media, text message and email scams. In one major nationwide scheme, fake websites with bogus free gift card offers were created in order to trick consumers into providing their mobile phone numbers. The scam operators then placed monthly subscription fees for a variety of “services” on consumers’ mobile phone bills without their authorization.

In other fraudulent operations, illegal spam text messages have promised gift cards from a major retailer in exchange for completing a (phony) survey or providing personal information. Respondents never received a gift card and their information may have been sold to other scam operators and identity thieves.

DATCP advises consumers to buy gift cards directly from the retailer or from an authorized merchant.

For additional information or to file a complaint, members should visit the Consumer Protection Bureau, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.