Capitol Week-in-Review – October 27, 2016

State of Wisconsin Ends Fiscal Year 2016 in the Black

Last Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Administration released its Comprehensive Annual Fiscal Report (CAFR) for Fiscal Year 2016. This report is a complete accounting of incoming state tax revenues and outgoing state expenditures for the period of July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016.

The State of Wisconsin ended the fiscal year with a positive balance of $313.8 million and an additional $281 million set aside in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. For the year, tax collections were below projections by 0.5%. Overall taxpayer-funded spending came in below projections by $103 million.

A positive fiscal outlook for the first year of the biennial budget is a good sign, but there is no guarantee that this trend will continue into the second year of the 2015-2017 state budget. The ending balance in the second year of the biennial budget is always more important because it serves as the baseline for the next two-year state budget.

FEMA Approves Disaster Declaration for Western Wisconsin

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved a major disaster declaration for ten western Wisconsin counties impacted by flooding in September. The counties are Adams, Chippewa, Clark, Crawford, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Monroe, Richland, and Vernon.

The major disaster declaration is for Public Assistance, which covers eligible projects submitted by counties, cities, townships, and certain private, not-for-profit organizations. Under this program, FEMA provides 75% of eligible costs, while state and local agencies share the remaining 25%.

Homeowners and businesses are not eligible for assistance under this program. We are awaiting further guidance about federal and\or state government aid to non-governmental entities.

Vehicle Miles Traveled in Wisconsin Hits Record High in 2015

Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is a nationally-agreed upon metric of highway use. It is calculated by combining data on statewide fuel consumption, highway performance monitoring system and automatic traffic recorder continuous traffic count information.

Last year, drivers traveled 62.1 billion miles on Wisconsin roadways – an increase of nearly 2.1 billion miles over 2014 data and the largest annual percentage jump in Wisconsin VMT in 17 years. For perspective, 62.1 billion miles is equal to about 334 round-trips between the Earth and Sun.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation attributes the increase in VMT to several factors including a strengthening economy, growing population, lower gas prices and continued growth in commercial motor vehicle traffic.


Capitol Week-in-Review – October 13, 2016

Governor Requests Federal Disaster Aid for Western Wisconsin

On Tuesday, Governor Walker sent a letter to President Obama requesting federal disaster assistance for Adams, Chippewa, Clark, Crawford, Eau Claire, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Monroe, Richland, Trempealeau, and Vernon Counties to help local governments recover from the damages caused by torrential rains, flash flooding and mudslides over a two-day period in late September.

Last week, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Emergency Management conducted damage assessments across the impacted areas with local officials. They identified more than $11 million in damages to roads and public infrastructure.

If the request is approved, FEMA provides 75% of eligible costs associated with removing debris, and repairing roads and other infrastructure. The State of Wisconsin and local communities impacted share the remaining 25%.

Business and homeowners impacted by the September storms are not eligible for funding under this FEMA Public Assistance Program. However, Governor Walker is working with other federal and state agencies to see if there are additional programs that could provide assistance to flood victims.

Rural Broadband Study Committee Makes Final Recommendations

Early this year, the Wisconsin State Legislature created a Legislative Council Study Committee of Rural Broadband. The Committee was directed to:

  • Review the Wisconsin Broadband Expansion Grant Program and the extent to which it has encouraged construction of broadband infrastructure in areas of the state with few broadband service providers;
  • Discuss the criteria used to evaluate applications and award grants, consider alternatives for determining eligibility and prioritizing proposed projects; and
  • Consider alternative methods for encouraging construction of broadband infrastructure, and identify options.

At its October 5 meeting the Committee unanimously approved the following recommendations:

  • Permanent Annual Funding for the Broadband Expansion Grant Program – beginning in 2015 and continuing through 2018, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) – the state agency which administers the Broadband Expansion Grant program – is authorized to award up to $1.5 million annually in Broadband Expansion Grants. The Committee recommended that the PSC be required to fund Broadband Expansion Grants at $1.5 million annually beginning in 2019.
  • Broadband Expansion Grant Priority Criteria – Economic Development – under the existing Broadband Expansion Grant Program, PSC is required to give priority to grant projects that promote economic development, but the term “economic development” is undefined. The Committee recommended that “economic development” be defined to mean development that is designed to promote job growth or retention, expand the property tax base or improve the overall economic vitality of a town, village, city, county or region.
  • Broadband Expansion Grant Priority Criteria – Areas without Service – under the existing Broadband Expansion Grant Program, PSC is required to give priority to grant projects that affect areas with no broadband service providers. However, current law does not define “broadband service.” The Committee recommended that the PSC be authorized to designate areas of the state as “unserved,” and an “unserved area” would mean an area of Wisconsin that is not served by an Internet service provider offering Internet service that is all of the following: wired service or fixed wireless service, which includes service that is a telecommunications service that provides radio communication between fixed points but which excludes mobile wireless service; and provided at actual speeds of at least 20% of the upload and download speeds for high-speed, switched, broadband telecommunications capability as designated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Therefore, an unserved area would be an area without access to Internet service at a 5 Mbps download/ 0.6 Mbps upload speed. This speed would allow homeowners and businesses to send and receive e-mail; view interactive webpages and short videos; and stream feature movies.
  • Broadband Expansion Grant Priority Criteria – Delayed Deployment – the existing Broadband Expansion Grant program does not directly address projects that may inadvertently delay deployment of broadband service. To illustrate this point, the committee discussed a hypothetical situation in which a grant is awarded for a project to provide broadband service to a business park. The Committee discussed whether, by providing financial support to extend broadband service to the most profitable customer in an area, a grant would eliminate the incentive for a broadband service provider to more broadly deploy infrastructure and provide service to less profitable residential customers. To address this concern, the Committee recommended that the PSC be required to give priority to grant projects that will not result in delaying the provision of broadband service to areas adjacent to areas to be served by the proposed project.
  • Consideration of Certain Broadband Expansion Grant Project Impacts – the importance of high-speed Internet service extends beyond the needs of businesses and homeowners. Advances in medicine allow health care providers to treat their patients online in real time. In many school districts, teachers assign homework requiring students to access the Internet. The Committee recommended that the PSC be required to consider the impact of proposed broadband expansion projects on the ability of individuals to access health care services from home and the ability of students to access educational opportunities from home when evaluating Broadband Expansion grant applications.

Soon, the Rural Broadband Study Committee will report their recommendations, in the form of legislation, to the Joint Legislative Council for approval and subsequent consideration by state lawmakers during the 2017-2018 legislative session.

We support the Committee’s recommendations. Establishing a permanent funding source for the Broadband Expansion Grant program ensures that broadband deployment in rural parts of Wisconsin will be an ongoing priority. We believe the programmatic reforms will result in more grant awards to the most worthy and robust broadband deployment projects.

With that said, we will be lobbying for additional state funding for the Broadband Expansion Grant program. Only 56.4% of Wisconsin’s rural residents have access to broadband service that meets FCC standards. A larger investment by the State of Wisconsin is needed to provide all Wisconsin businesses and homeowners with access to broadband service.

Federal Health Care Law Update

In order for Wisconsin insurers to offer health insurance policies on the federally facilitated health insurance exchange, they must submit their policies to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) for review to ensure each policy is compliant with all laws and regulations. Last Friday, OCI announced that it has completed its review of exchange-offered policies and provided the following guidance.

1. Insurance Premium Rates for 2017

According to OCI, the average rate increase for individual Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant health insurance plans in Wisconsin is 15.88%. Consumers in some areas may see increases as high as 30.37%. These rate changes and the recent exiting of numerous national carriers make it even more important for individuals to actively explore their health insurance options to ensure appropriate coverage.

2. Open Enrollment

This year, open enrollment runs from November 1, 2016, until January 31, 2017. Consumers seeking individual coverage should sign up before January 31 or risk being locked out of the individual insurance market until 2018. Consumers facing a loss of their group coverage or other special situations may be eligible for special enrollment periods.

ACA requires insurers to offer coverage on a guaranteed issue basis to all eligible consumers during an annual open enrollment period. Open enrollment allows individuals to re-enroll in their existing health insurance plans or to shop for a new plan. It is important for consumers who receive a tax subsidy through the federal exchange to understand how the subsidy will impact the cost of the plan.

3. Auto Re-Enrollment

In cases where a consumer’s current health insurer is exiting the market and the policy was purchased through the federal exchange, the federal government will assign the consumer to a new health insurer if the consumer does not purchase coverage through the exchange. This process is called “auto re-enrollment.” Consumers can opt-out of auto re-enrollment for 2017 without enrolling in a new plan.

For more information about auto re-enrollment, go here.


Capitol Week-in-Review – September 29, 2016

DOT Provides the Governor with Transportation Budget Blueprint

Earlier this year, Governor Walker directed Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Mark Gottlieb to come up with a 2017-2019 transportation budget that addresses pavement preservation, maintenance and critical safety needs, and provides additional funding for local aids, without any additional tax or fee increases. Two weeks ago, Secretary Gottlieb provided the Governor with a proposal that accomplishes the aforementioned directives.

Of particular interest to WIB are the two major transportation programs – the State Trunk Highway (STH) program and the General Transportation Aid (GTA) program. By way of background, the STH program is responsible for the construction, improvement, and maintenance of the 11,213-mile trunk highway system and for improvement on 553 miles of state connecting highways under local jurisdiction. The GTA program provides money to local units of government (counties, cities, villages and towns) to assist in the maintenance, improvement, and construction of local roads.

The DOT plan makes the following funding changes to the STH program:

Increase state highway maintenance funding by $70 million – $535 million to $605 million;
Increase state highway rehabilitation funding by $5.1 million – $1.702 billion to $1.707 billion;
Decrease major highway development funding by $123 million – $686 million to $563 million; and
Decrease Southeast Wisconsin Freeway funding by $292 million – $414 million to $122 million.

The DOT plan makes the following funding changes to the GTA program;

Increase county funding by $16 million – $197 million to $213 million;
Increase city\village funding by $23 million – $366 million to $389 million; and
Increase town funding by $7 million – $277 million to $284 million.

The DOT plan recommends an additional $500 million in borrowing – the majority of which (92%) is used to finance state highway rehabilitation and major highway development projects.

Our initial observations of the DOT plan are as follows:

  • Additional state funding for local road construction, repair and maintenance is a wise investment. So is putting more money into state highway rehabilitation and maintenance;
  • Reducing funding for major highway development and southeast Wisconsin road work will result in higher construction in the future; and
  • Financing the necessary improvements to Wisconsin transportation network with a limited amount of new borrowing is not adequate, equitable or sustainable.

Governor Walker has described the DOT plan as a “good start and solid foundation to build a fiscally responsible budget.” We look forward to working with state lawmakers on a better long-term transportation funding plan.

Wisconsin Joins Coalition of States Challenging New Federal Overtime Rule

Last Wednesday, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel joined a coalition of 21 states in filing a federal lawsuit challenging the new overtime rules enacted by the United States Department of Labor (DOL).

The three main legal arguments outlined in their lawsuit are:

  • Rather than analyze (and allow for notice and comment about) the duties that employees actually perform, DOL simply doubled the current “salary basis test” that must be satisfied before an executive, administrative, or professional employee is ineligible for overtime, and rendered virtually irrelevant any inquiry into whether an employee is actually working in an executive, administrative or professional capacity;
  • Under the premise of updating regulations related to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, DOL has disregarded the actual requirements of the statute and imposed a much-increased minimum salary threshold that applies without regard to whether an employee is actually performing “bona fide executive, administrative, or professional” duties; and
  • Under the guise of interpretation, DOL included an automatic indexing mechanism to ratchet-up the salary level every three years without regard for current economic conditions or the effect on public and private resources.

The states are seeking a permanent injunction preventing DOL from implementing, applying or enforcing the new overtime rules which are scheduled to go into effect on December 1, 2016.

After joining the lawsuit, Wisconsin Attorney General Schimel said:

“Wisconsin, and every other state, must be able to set their own priorities and policies, and not be forced to take directives from an unchecked Washington D.C. bureaucracy attempting to establish unprecedented power.”

We agree. Let’s hope the federal judge who will hear this case shares that same point of view.


Capitol Week-in-Review – September 15, 2016

Momentum Builds for “Back to School” Sales Tax Holiday

Last week, Governor Walker and the Republican-led State Assembly announced their support for a “Back to School” Sales Tax Holiday.

Under their proposal, a sales tax holiday would last two days beginning on the first Saturday of August 2017 and apply to school supplies, computers costing less than $750, and clothing items costing less than $75 each. This targeted tax relief is projected to save Wisconsin families about $14 million annually. Governor Walker plans to include this proposal as part of his 2017-2019 state budget recommendations.

Eighteen states held a sales tax holiday in 2015. The majority of these states exempt clothing, computers and school supplies from their state’s sales tax for a limited period of time – less than one week. Iowa’s Sales Tax Holiday applies to clothing, protective equipment and select sports equipment.

Wisconsin’s overall tax burden is among the highest in the nation. Reducing this burden via a Sales Tax Holiday is a step in the right direction. With that said, we still believe it is more important for state lawmakers to repeal the state’s Personal Property Tax.

Public Comment Period Open on UI Reform

Wisconsin’s Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council (UIAC) is now taking public comments on suggested reforms to Wisconsin’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) program.

By law, the UIAC is required to: advise the Department of Workforce Development in its administration of the state’s UI law; report its views on pending legislation affecting the UI program to legislative committees; and submit its recommended changes to Wisconsin’s UI law to the Wisconsin State Legislature every two years.

We encourage members to share their concerns, ideas and suggestions for UI reform with the UIAC. In particular, we urge seasonal employers to comment on the impact that the new work search waiver requirements are having on their business. The public comment period ends on November 18.

Comments may be submitted by email to or via the U.S. Postal Service to:

Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council
Attn: Janell Knutson, Chair
P.O Box 8942
Madison, WI 53708

The UIAC will also take public comments at a statewide public hearing on November 17, 2016 from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The hearing will be administered in Madison and broadcast live through web video at the following locations throughout the state.

Eau Claire: UW-Eau Claire, Old Library; 105 Garfield Avenue, Room 2110

Green Bay:UW-Green Bay, Instructional Services Building; 2420 Nicolet Drive, Room 1034

La Crosse:Western Technical College, Health Science Center; 1300 Badger Street, Room 2002

Madison:UW-Extension, Pyle Center; 702 Langdon Street, Room 227

Milwaukee:UW-Milwaukee, Lubar Hall; 3202 North Maryland Avenue, Room S250

Superior:WITC-Superior Campus, Conference Center B; 600 North 21st Street, Room C-108

Wausau:Northcentral Technical College, Center for Business and Industry; 1000 West Campus Drive, Room 127

2017 Broadband Expansion Grant Recipients

Last Thursday, Governor Walker joined with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) to announce the 2017 Broadband Expansion Grant recipients. This program provides reimbursement for equipment and construction expenses incurred to extend or improve broadband telecommunications service in underserved areas of the state.

Seventeen local broadband expansion projects will receive $1.5 million in grant funds which will be matched with over $2.2 million in private and local funding. The recipients (expansion project locations) are:

Amherst Telephone Company: $150,000 (Rural Portage County)
TDS/Black Earth Telephone Company: $156,500 (Rural Dane County)
CenturyLink: $39,900 (Peshtigo)
CenturyLink: $134,625 (Oconto County)
CenturyLink: $25,000 (Bayfield County)
CenturyLink: $10,000 (Southern Eau Claire County)
Chibardun Telephone Cooperative: $38,477 (Barron County)
ChoiceTel, LLC: $131,475 (Land O’Lakes in Vilas County)
Ethoplex, LLC: $7,886 (Rural Waukesha County)
Frontier North, Inc: $201,750 (Marathon County)
Hagar Telecom, Inc: 43,775 (Pierce County)
Iron County Resource Development Association: $79,101 (Iron County)
Lafayette Development Corporation: $86,084 (Lafayette County)
MH Telecom, LLC: $55,360 (Dodgeville in Iowa County)
Oneida County Economic Development Corporation: $180,566 (Oneida County)
24-7 Telecom, Inc.: $67,500 (Dunn County)
Wittenberg Telephone Company: $92,000 (Langlade County)

For more details about the specific projects click here.


Capitol Week-in-Review – September 1, 2016

Speaker’s Task Force on Youth Workforce Readiness Issues Final Report

Last summer, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) created a Task Force on Youth Workforce Readiness and directed this bipartisan group of State Assembly Representatives to explore new ways to encourage Wisconsin youth to pursue careers in the trades, manufacturing industry, and technical fields.

To carry out its mission, the Task Force held five public hearings throughout Wisconsin to gather input from state government agency leaders, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions, representatives of chambers of commerce, industry representatives, and business leaders. On Tuesday, the Task Force reported its finding and recommendations. The relevant findings were:

  • Students, parents, high school counselors, and other groups sometimes perceive technical careers as a lesser choice compared with enrollment in a four-year university, despite high job prospects and earning potential in many technical fields.
  • Worker shortages in fields such as advanced manufacturing and information technology exist and are likely to increase with demographic changes.
  • Employers are reluctant to hire youth, including youth participating in certified programs such as youth apprenticeships for a variety of reasons including liability concerns and the limitations on the work that may be performed.
  • Employers view “soft” skills (i.e., nontechnical workplace capabilities, such as promptness, professionalism, and communication) as being as much, if not more, important than technical skills for ensuring career readiness.
  • Students must have adequate math skills to work in technical fields such as advanced manufacturing.
  • Technical education programs are typically more expensive than other high school courses because they require “hands on” education, and because model programs utilize expensive machines.
  • The average age of initial enrollment in technical college and apprenticeship programs is too high, partly because many students attempt a four-year college first or delay seeking technical training.

Based on these findings, the Task Force has made the following recommendations:

  • Modify the state’s School Report Card to value technical education course enrollments and the placement of graduates in technical college programs.
  • Consider providing an exception to general local levy limits imposed on local school districts for the purchase of equipment used in technical education programs.
  • Encourage the integration of math skills in technical education curricula, and the integration of technical education projects in math curricula.
  • For Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development grants provided to technical colleges modify the grant outcome goals to be tied to regional workforce needs, utilizing regional reports rather than statewide reports. The grants would also be structured to allow for the funding of students’ travel costs, particularly in geographically large technical college districts. In addition, grant criteria could be modified to allow technical colleges to enroll students during the summer between their junior and senior years.
  • Direct the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to implement a clearinghouse for technical education curricula.

Some of these recommendations require changes in law while others can be enacted through changes to existing state agency policies. We are pleased with the work of this bipartisan Task Force and supportive of its recommendations. We frequently hear from members about their inability to hire and retain qualified workers. From our perspective, there is no magic bullet to solve this problem. Closer collaboration between local employers, school districts and technical colleges should help produce more qualified, skilled workers.

State’s UI Tax Rate Going Down in 2017

One of the factors used to calculate an employer’s UI tax liability is the financial condition of Wisconsin’s UI Trust Fund. The State of Wisconsin has four tax rate schedules – A, B, C and D. The highest tax rate (Schedule A) applies when the balance in the UI Trust Fund is less than $300 million. The lowest tax rate (Schedule D) applies when the UI Trust Fund balance exceeds $1.2 billion.

The balance in the state’s UI Trust Fund as of June 30, 2016 was $980 million. As a result, the State of Wisconsin will move from Schedule B to Schedule C tax rates in 2017. This lower tax rate translates into a $38 million reduction in UI taxes.

Governor Walker Declares State of Emergency in Western Wisconsin

On Monday, Governor Walker issued Executive Order #211 declaring a State of Emergency in Eau Claire, Buffalo, and Trempealeau counties. The emergency declaration is intended to help local governments and residents recover from the damages caused by severe storms and flooding which occurred on August 10 and 11.

Following the Governor’s announcement, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) requested the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) release emergency funds to help repair the estimated $1.8 million in damages to federal-aid highways in the three counties.


Capitol Week-in-Review – August 18, 2016

PSC Seeks Small Business Input on Broadband Service

The Wisconsin State Broadband Office is seeking input from Wisconsin residents and business owners on their needs for improved internet access or service. The goal of the survey is to help state planners and state lawmakers better understand the need for improved internet access throughout the state.

We encourage members to go online to complete this brief survey.

President Signs Disaster Declaration for Northwest Wisconsin

Last Tuesday, President Obama authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to declare Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Florence, Iron, Sawyer and Washburn Counties and the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe a major disaster area.

The major disaster declaration is for Public Assistance, which covers eligible projects submitted by counties, cities, townships, and certain private, not-for-profit organizations. The program is not for businesses or homeowners as the level of overall damage in these areas, unfortunately, does not currently meet requirements for federal relief.

Communities in the affected counties are now eligible for federal assistance. They should contact their county emergency management director for further information. Under the program, FEMA provides 75% of eligible costs, while state and local agencies share the remaining 25%.

DOR Releases Annual Equalized Property Value Report

On Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) released its annual Equalized Value Report.

By way of background, the equalized value represents an estimate of a taxation district’s total taxable value, and provides for the fair apportionment of school districts and county levies to each municipality. Changes in equalized value do not necessarily translate into a change in property taxes.

According to the report, Wisconsin’s total statewide equalized property value as of January 1, 2016, was $505 billion, a 3% increase over the prior year. The relevant highlights from the report include:

  • Wisconsin residential property was valued at $354 billion, an increase of 2.9%;
  • Commercial property values were $97 billion, an increase of 3.8%;
  • Manufacturing property was valued at $14 billion, an increase of 2.7%; and
  • Personal property was valued at 12.5 billion, an increase of 2.3%.

While the total equalized value of property in Wisconsin was $505 billion – only $12.5 billion (2.4%) came from personal property. Therefore, eliminating the personal property tax would have only a negligible impact on local property tax collections.


Capitol Week-in-Review – August 4, 2016

Partisan Primary Election – Tuesday, August 9

Next Tuesday, Wisconsin voters will choose the nominees for the fall General Election. We encourage you to exercise your right to vote.
While there is only one statewide primary election – the Democrat primary for U.S. Senate between former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Janesville) and Scott Harbach (D-Kenosha) – there are contested primaries in 6 congressional districts; 4 state senate districts; and 23 state assembly districts. At the county level, there may be contested primaries for District Attorney, Clerk and Treasurer.

If you have voting-related questions, please visit MyVote Wisconsin – the state’s official source for voting information. At MyVote Wisconsin, you can register to vote, check your voter registration status, find your polling place, see what’s on your ballot and request an absentee ballot (military and permanent overseas voters only).

Good News on Worker’s Compensation

The Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance has approved a 3.19% rate reduction for worker’s compensation insurance rates effective October 1, 2016 for Wisconsin employers. In addition, manufacturing as an industry group will see a reduction of 5%. The lower rates are attributed to the ongoing commitment by Wisconsin employers to operate safe workplaces.

The rate decrease reflects overall rates, but not all industries may see a rate decrease in their premiums. Members should contact their worker’s compensation carrier or agent to determine the impact of this rate reduction on their premiums.

Registration Open for Governor’s 2016 Small Business Summit

Registration is now open for the Governor’s 2016 Small Business Summit. This day-long annual event provides Wisconsin small business owners with the opportunity to discuss topics of interest and concern with Governor Walker, Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch and state government agency leaders.

The event details are as follows:

When: Monday, September 19, 2016
8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Where: Radisson Paper Valley Hotel
333 West College Avenue
Appleton, Wisconsin

The event registration deadline is September 9, 2016 and seating is limited. Interested members can go here to learn more about the meeting as well as register for the event.

PSC Launches Broadband Forward! Certification Program

Earlier this year, with the support of WIB, state lawmakers created a new program to streamline the local broadband build-out process.

The newly-created Broadband Forward! Community Certification program requires the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) to publish information about permits for broadband network projects and create a process by which the agency may certify a county, city, village or town as a Broadband Forward! community. This certification signals that a local unit of government has taken steps to reduce obstacles to broadband infrastructure investment.

We are pleased to report that this program is up and running. Further details are here. Our hope is that communities located in areas with little or no access to broadband service will pursue this certification.

State Supreme Court Agrees to Review Important UI Benefit Eligibility Case

Three years ago, with the support of WIB, state lawmakers created a new standard for disqualifying claimants from receiving UI benefits. It is referred to as substantial fault.

Substantial fault includes those acts or omissions of an employee over which the employee exercised reasonable control and which violate reasonable requirements of the employer. Substantial fault does not include one or more minor infractions of rules unless an infraction is repeated after the employer warns the employee about the infraction; one or more inadvertent errors made by the employee; or any failure of the employee to perform work because of insufficient skill, ability, or equipment.

After this new standard was put into effect, DWD noted that “application of substantial fault criteria resulted in 4,654 denied cases in 2014, reflecting improved accountability, enhanced UI program integrity and hundreds of thousands of dollars saved for the UI Trust Fund.” All of these are beneficial outcomes for employers.

Changes in the UI benefit eligibility are routinely subject to legal challenge and these disputes are often resolved by the state’s highest court. On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to review Operton v. LIRC. A ruling in this case will likely clarify the scope and application of the substantial fault standard.

The case in question involves a full-time service clerk who worked at a Milwaukee area Walgreens store for a period of twenty months between 2012 and 2014. As a clerk, the employee was required to handle cash transactions. Before being hired, the clerk received a “New Hire Training Checklist” which outlined the steps to be followed when processing cash transactions. The checklist noted that failure to follow the checklist would subject the clerk to “discipline.”

During the clerk’s period of employment, the clerk failed to follow the cash transaction training checklist on eight separate occasions. On seven of the eight occasions, the clerk received either a verbal or written warning. The eighth violation prompted Walgreens to terminate the clerk.

In turn, the ex-clerk filed for UI benefits. Walgreens’ objected to the claim on the grounds that the clerk was “discharged for violation of a reasonable company policy regarding excessive cash discrepancies.”

This legal dispute remains unresolved. The State of Wisconsin has sided with the position taken by Walgreens, but Wisconsin’s Fourth District Court of Appeals has ruled the ex-clerk’s actions were merely inadvertent errors.

Stay tuned for further developments in this case.

State of Emergency Declared in Northwest Wisconsin

Torrential rains and severe storms that rolled through northwest Wisconsin early last week prompted Governor Walker to declare a State of Emergency in Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Price, Sawyer and Washburn counties.

State emergency management officials, in close consultation with local elected officials, have completed their initial assessment of the damages to private and public property. Storm-related damage to homes and businesses exceeds $2.3 million and it will cost at least $31 million to repair area roads and bridges.

Governor Walker has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct its own assessment of damages to determine the extent to which federal aid will be available to assist homeowners, businesses and local communities. Hopefully, that work will begin soon.

In conjunction with these activities, resources are now available to meet the most pressing needs of local residents and businesses.

1. The American Red Cross has established a dedicated phone number for individuals with a primary residence that has suffered major
damage or has been destroyed. That hotline number is 715-563-6188.

2. If your business suffered storm damage, the Wisconsin Department of Administration is working with local communities to make Community
Development Block Grant Emergency Assistance Program funds available. Please contact your local government for further details.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to assess roadways for damage and detour routes as necessary. For up-to-date closures and detour information visit, download the free mobile app or follow @511WI on Twitter.

We sincerely hope you find this e-publication to be a valuable member service. Let us know what you think and how we can make it better by contacting the editor, Brian Dake, at


John Gard
Wisconsin Independent Businesses

Governor Directs DOT Secretary to Submit Budget Plan Early

Recently, Governor Walker instructed Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Mark Gottlieb to submit a complete budget plan by September 15 – two months ahead of schedule. To help guide the development of the state’s 2017-2019 transportation budget, Governor Walker gave Secretary Gottlieb the following directives:

1. Identify efficiency savings, including the implementation of less costly design practices, and examine federal mandates that increase costs and other mechanisms that can save taxpayer dollars.

2. Savings need to be given to local road aids and highway maintenance. Therefore, there must be an increase in local road aids and state highway maintenance.

3. Proposed spending on mega projects in Southeastern Wisconsin should be minimized. Any such projects should be prioritized based on needs, not wants. Large needs-based projects should have their designs reviewed to save taxpayer dollars while maximizing maintenance and safety.

4. Hold bonding to a reasonable level.

5. Raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees without an equal or greater reduction in taxes elsewhere is not an option.

A longer review period will give us plenty of time to assess the benefits and drawbacks of the DOT plan. We hope the Department’s proposal will be an adequate, equitable and sustainable transportation funding plan, but we have our doubts.

WIB Opposed New Business Liability Proposal

Ongoing concerns over terrorists attacks on “soft targets” – shopping malls, restaurants, night clubs, etc. – has prompted State Representative Bob Gannon (R-Slinger) to draft legislation dubbed the “Disarmed Citizens Compensation Act.”

Under his proposal, public places, mainly businesses, would be held strictly liable for any harm to a guest, visitor or consumer on their premise that is injured by a weapon banned under a “No Weapons Allowed” policy posted at that same establishment and require that those damages be trebled (triple the amount of damages).

By way of background, Wisconsin’s Conceal and Carry law allows a private business owner to prohibit a person from entering or remaining in the establishment while carrying a firearm. The posting of signs is required to inform patrons of such a prohibition.

At this time, Representative Gannon plans to introduce his proposal for legislative review and consideration during the next two-year legislative session which begins in January, 2017. If, or when, this proposal is formally introduced for legislative review, WIB will be lobbying against it.

Wisconsin citizens with a Conceal and Carry permit from the State of Wisconsin know exactly where they can and cannot go while carrying their concealed weapon. Private business owners that choose to prohibit patrons from carrying a concealed weapon in their establishment should be free to do so. Terrorists who harm patrons within a business should be held solely responsible and liable for their heinous actions.

Governor Walker Names Finalists for Supreme Court Vacancy

Recently, Governor Walker announced the three finalists for the Wisconsin Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice David Prosser’s retirement. They are:

Judge Mark Gundrum, Wisconsin Court of Appeals District II
Judge Thomas Hruz, Wisconsin Court of Appeals District III
Attorney Daniel Kelly, Rogahn Kelly LLC

The Governor will interview the three finalists and make his selection prior to the retirement of Justice Prosser, which is effective on July 31, 2016.

We sincerely hope you find this e-publication to be a valuable member service. Let us know what you think and how we can make it better by contacting the editor, Brian Dake, at


John Gard
Wisconsin Independent Businesses

2015-2016 Legislative Session in Review

The 102nd Session of the Wisconsin State Legislature has effectively ended. There will be no further action taken on legislation pending before the State Senate or State Assembly this year.

Here is a brief summary of our advocacy efforts on behalf of WIB members during this past session.

If you have further questions or need additional information, please contact our Legislative Director, Brian Dake at 1-800-362-9644 or via email at

GAB Certifies Candidates for Fall Elections

Wisconsin voters will have plenty of candidates to choose from when they cast their ballots in the August 9 Partisan Primary election and\or the November 8 General Election.

State offices up for election include Wisconsin State Senators from even-numbered Districts (16) and all members (99) of the Wisconsin State Assembly. Federal offices on the ballot are President and Vice President, one U.S. Senator and all of Wisconsin’s Representatives (8) to the United States House of Representatives.

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) has certified the list of candidates who will appear on the ballot for the August 9 Partisan Primary election. The primary winners and third-party candidates will appear on the ballot for the November 8 General Election.

There will be contested races for all federal offices on the ballot. At the state level, 10 of the 16 seats up for election to the Wisconsin State Senate will be contested; and 62 of the 99 seats up for election to the Wisconsin State Assembly will be contested.

Sample ballots for all Wisconsin voters will soon be available at the GAB-sponsored voter information website – My Vote Wisconsin.

DWD Publishes Fact Sheet on New Federal Overtime Regulations

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) has published a fact sheet to assist Wisconsin employers in understanding how the changes to existing federal overtime regulations may affect them.

We encourage members to review this comprehensive document.

We sincerely hope you find this e-publication to be a valuable member service. Let us know what you think and how we can make it better by contacting the editor, Brian Dake, at


John Gard
Wisconsin Independent Businesses