News of the Day

Report: Wisconsin School Spending ‘Adequate’ and ‘Equitable’

Wisconsin’s school funding system is doing better than other states. That’s according to a recently released Wisconsin Policy Forum report  that ranks the state 16th in adequate spending and ninth in fair distribution, based on data from 2014.

The “School finance: Here vs. Elsewhere,” report from the public policy think tank comes out more than a month after the first meeting of a bipartisan legislative commission to examine school funding. Wisconsin schools get funding from a combination of state, federal, and local aid.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding will gather information and draft a plan to update the state’s school funding system. The commission hopes to complete the plan by the next state budget in 2019.

Wisconsin Policy Forum research director Dale Knapp said it’s important for the Legislature to take a step back and examine the state’s funding model prior to changes.

“There may be flaws in our system,” Knapp said. “There may be things that we need to fix, but essentially, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Compared to everyone else, our system looks pretty good.”

The report also calls for simplifying the current school funding system. Knapp said when voters go to the polls they’re making decisions about school funding, and it needs to be more understandable.

Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, co-chairs the legislative commission. He agreed simplifying the funding system should be a priority.

“Especially when you have school districts going to referendums, it’s pretty difficult for, you know, citizens to understand whether they need more money when the formula is so complex,” Kitchens said. “I really think that there are very few people in the state that completely understand the funding formula.”

 

Governor Walker Calls for Swift, Bipartisan Action on Agenda

Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday urged Republicans and Democrats to unite to quickly approve a $100-per child tax credit and a host of other election-year priorities, including guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

The child credit Walker is proposing would equal $100 for every kid living at home under age 18 payable in cash this fall, shortly before he stands for re-election. There are about 1.2 million children in the state in 671,000 households. The $122 million cost would come from a state budget surplus. Starting in 2019, it would be a refundable $100 per child tax credit included in state income tax returns.

Walker is also seeking a federal waiver to allow Wisconsin to offer a reinsurance program to the roughly 200,000 people in Wisconsin who purchase health insurance on the private marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Reinsurance, which has bipartisan support, basically sets up a pool of money for the government to cover the cost of insurers’ most expensive cases.  The governor estimates that the program would cost the state $50 million if the federal government pays for $150 million.

Walker also called on the Legislature to pass a law guaranteeing that no one with pre-existing conditions is denied coverage.

On welfare, Walker is asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to force parents on food stamps with school-aged children to work or be in job training, and to increase the work requirement already in place for childless adults. He’s also calling for mandating photo identification for food stamp recipients, a move long opposed by Democrats and others who say it’s an impediment to poor people getting food.

Walker is also calling for passage of a proposal in the Legislature to boost aid for rural schools and allow low-spending districts to raise their property taxes without a vote, similar to a change he vetoed from the state budget.

Hours before his speech Walker proposed spending $50 million more each year on programs targeting rural economic development.

State DOT Fills New Inspector General Position

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County, State Sales Tax Revenues Rise in 2017

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Governor Walker Proposes Plan to Prop Up Obamacare Marketplace

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Governor Walker Calls for Special Session on Welfare Reform

Yesterday, Governor Scott Walker today called for a special session of the Wisconsin Legislature to pass Wisconsin Works for Everyone welfare reform legislation authored by Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) and Senator Chris Kapenga (R – Delafield).

“With more people working in Wisconsin than ever before, we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines: we need everyone in the game,” said Governor Walker. “That’s why I am calling a special session to take up our Wisconsin Works for Everyone welfare reform plan. We want to remove barriers to work and make it easier to get a job, while making sure public assistance is available for those who truly need it. Wisconsin is going to lead the way on welfare reform.”

The Wisconsin Works for Everyone welfare reform plan comprehensively addresses welfare reform. Several key initiatives include reforms to Wisconsin’s FoodShare system and the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, which provides hands-on job training and job search resources and has helped more than 24,000 FoodShare recipients learn an employable skillset and reenter the workforce.

Proposed reforms to the FSET program under the Wisconsin Works for Everyone plan include requiring participation in the FSET program for able-bodied adults; an increase in the work requirement for FoodShare recipients from 20 hours per week to 30 hours per week; requiring FSET participants to pass a drug test and providing treatment for those who fail; implement photo ID for FoodShare participants; and incentivizing businesses participating in the program to encourage expanding their training offerings to serve more workers.

Additional proposed reforms under the plan include opening health savings accounts for people receiving medical assistance; providing monthly advance payments for Earned Income Tax Credit recipients instead of the current system in which recipients wait for their tax return; requiring public assistance recipients to remain current on child support payments; and establishing asset limits for people receiving certain forms of public assistance. Several items in this welfare reform package would require federal approval or federal law change.

 

Wisconsin Budget: Projection Shows $138 million Improvement

The Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office estimated that Wisconsin would reach June 2019 with $385 million in its main account, better than the $248 million that had been previously expected.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said that the improved projection was a result of tax collections coming in $76 million higher than expected and the state spending $98 million less than expected because of favorable debt refinancing.

State tax revenue is doing well enough on other fronts to make up for a $49 million the Walker administration predicts will be lost as a result of the federal tax cuts signed last month by President Donald Trump. The decrease largely results from allowing businesses to immediately deduct some purchases of equipment and other goods.

Produce Safety Rules take Effect January 26 for Largest Fresh Market Growers

New food safety regulations take effect January 26 for Wisconsin’s biggest growers of fresh market fruit and vegetables, but regulators will focus on educating farmers during the first year of regulation. Enforcement will not begin in earnest until 2019.

The new regulations, part of the sweeping federal Food Safety Modernization Act, take effect this month for growers with more than $500,000 in annual revenue from food sales. Smaller farms have another year or two years to comply, depending on their size. Growers should focus on meeting training requirements first, so that they understand the new requirements.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implement the changes. FDA has emphasized that the 2018 focus is on outreach to farmers. A team from DATCP has been traveling throughout the state since last June to answer growers’ questions at farm shows and conferences. The team will continue these efforts in 2018, and also work with outside organizations to provide mandatory training.

The mandatory training course, developed by the Produce Safety Alliance and Cornell University and approved by the FDA, covers the scope of the regulations and how growers can meet the requirements.

Regulatory inspections for large farms will begin in 2019. Before then, farms can request a “readiness review,” a non-regulatory assessment by a team of state officials, extension agents and FDA produce experts to gauge a farm’s readiness for inspection.

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Online Sales Tax Case

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case about whether states can require out-of-state online retailers to collect their sales taxes.

In agreeing to hear the case, South Dakota v. Wayfair, the court will revisit a 1992 decision in which it ruled that states could only require remote sellers to collect their sales taxes if the business had a physical presence in the state.

The case before the Supreme Court involves a South Dakota law enacted in 2016 that would allow the state to require out-of-state online retailers with a significant economic connection to the state to collect its sales taxes.

Supporters of South Dakota’s case include groups representing state and local governments and brick-and-mortar retailers.  “The Court’s decision to grant South Dakota’s petition is an important signal for retailers that invest in storefronts and jobs in local communities,” said Deborah White, general counsel and retail litigation center president for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

But some online businesses and lawmakers think that the 1992 decision should be upheld. A group of lawmakers that included Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had encouraged the Supreme Court not to hear the case, saying that the online sales tax issue should be left up to Congress to address.

 

State Senate Bill Aims to Create “Fair, Consistent” Statewide Employment Regulations

The Senate’s Labor Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill aimed at ending the “patchwork” of employment laws across the state.

The bill, authored by Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), prohibits local government from regulating policy on employee hours and overtime, employment benefits, and wage claims and collections. Employers would be able to ask prospective employees about salary information under the bill, and local governments couldn’t create employment discrimination regulations stricter than state laws.

In short, local governments would be prohibited from implementing employment law different from state regulations. Above all, the legislation is about uniformity, consistency, and predictability, its authors say. It would be a huge victory for red tape-cutting warriors.