Capitol Week-in-Review – February 2, 2017

WIB Delivers “Repeal the Personal Property Tax” Petitions to the Governor’s Office

Last Tuesday, the Coalition to Repeal Wisconsin’s Personal Property Tax (Coalition) hand-delivered more than 3,500 signed petitions from individuals and business owners who favor the elimination of this onerous and unfair tax to the Office of Governor Scott Walker.

Our Legislative Director, Brian Dake, was there to present more than 700 signed petitions from WIB members. Grassroots supports from WIB members greatly enhance our lobbying efforts in the State Capitol!

Along with the signed petitions, the Coalition asked the Governor to “make repeal of the personal property tax a top priority for his administration by including an exemption for new equipment in the 2017-2019 state budget and committing to a phase out of the remaining personal property tax.”

Next Wednesday, Governor Walker will present his 2017-2019 state budget proposal to a Joint Session of the Wisconsin State Legislature. We hope it includes a plan to repeal this tax.

State Highway Program Audit Shows Room for Improvement

Last year, the Wisconsin State Legislature directed the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the management of the State Highway Program (SHP) by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT). By way of background, the SHP is Wisconsin’s largest and most expensive transportation program. The SHP funds the construction, repair and maintenance of Wisconsin’s 11,800 miles of interstate and major state highways and bridges.

To conduct its evaluation, the LAB analyzed: a) trends in program expenditures and state highway conditions; b) DOT management of the planning, engineering, and construction phases of state highway projects, as well as its maintenance of state highways; and c) DOT use of performance measures to help manage and improve its operations.

The LAB released their evaluation of the SHP last Thursday and the key findings were:

Road Condition – the proportion of state highways rated in good condition decreased steadily from 53.5% in 2010 to 41% percent in 2015.

Planning – the initiation of major highway projects requires legislative approval. To guide this decision-making process, the DOT must provide state lawmakers with an estimate of the overall project cost. The LAB reviewed the initial cost estimates for 19 recently-completed road projects and 16 ongoing major highway projects. They determined the DOT did not sufficiently take into account the effects of inflation and unexpected cost increases on project expenditures.

Construction – state law generally requires the DOT to solicit bids for state highway construction contracts and award the contracts to the lowest bidders. According to the LAB, the DOT generally had effective oversight of the processes for soliciting bids and awarding construction contracts and took steps to control construction costs. However, the DOT could have potentially achieved considerable additional savings if it had met its performance measure goals.

Maintenance – the DOT is responsible for maintaining state highways, but counties perform most maintenance work under contract with DOT. Maintenance work is intended to preserve state highways and includes removing snow and applying salt in the winter, sealing cracks, and filling potholes. The LAB found that DOT generally had effective oversight of its maintenance program and took steps to control maintenance costs.

Based on its evaluation, the LAB has recommended two dozen administrative changes for the DOT to improve the management, planning, engineering, construction and maintenance of state highways; and five changes in law to improve legislative oversight of the SHP.

From our perspective, there are three important “takeaways” from the LAB evaluation.

  • The condition of Wisconsin’s network of interstate and state highways continues to deteriorate. Repairing bad roads costs much more in the in long run;
  • The DOT and state lawmakers should seriously consider adopting the recommendations made by the LAB; and
  • The potential savings identified by the LAB are not enough to fund the ongoing projects that will keep interstate and state roads safe for commuters and reliable for commerce. As such, state lawmakers need to enact a long-term transportation funding solution.

Wisconsin DOR Accepting E-filing of Tax Returns

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) is now accepting electronically filed state income tax returns.

The DOR is encouraging Wisconsin taxpayers to consider using the Wisconsin E-file online tool to file their state income taxes. For more information on this option, please visit the DOR website.