News of the Day

Wisconsin Growers, Producers Weigh Impact of Chinese Tariffs

Growers and producers are concerned about what the tariffs may mean for their industries.

China slapped a 25 percent tariff on United States pork products, including everything from hind legs to chops. More than $1 billion in U.S. pork was shipped to China last year. Wisconsin produced 305,000 hogs in 2017, according to national statistics. Vaassen hopes the tariffs will be short-lived.

Tammy Vaassen, Wisconsin Pork Association executive vice president, said Wisconsin producers exported about a quarter of the pork produced in the U.S. to overseas partners. Of that amount, China was the third largest market last year.

“They’re very dependent on our export opportunities,” she said. “If we take away some of those opportunities, we certainly need to add to that or we’re going to lose farmers based on the financial implications that will occur.”

China has also placed a 15 percent tariff on cranberries. Tom Lochner, Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association executive director, said they’ve been trying to grow markets in China due to an oversupply of cranberries driving down prices.

“The Chinese market and India have been identified as important new markets for cranberries in North America, so we just started our efforts in China to grow that market there,” he said. “We have a small footprint there and we’re trying to grow that. Things that make our products uncompetitive or more expensive in China are obviously going to have an impact on those efforts.”

President Donald Trump is preparing to impose around $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods.

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Governor Signs Unemployment Insurance Fraud Bill

Yesterday, Governor Walker signed Assembly Bill 710, a bill authored by Representative Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem Lakes) that creates criminal penalties for Unemployment Insurance (UI) fraud.

“What started with constituents calling for assistance because they were having trouble filing their UI claims, progressed into an audit of the initial claims processing for Unemployment Insurance benefits,” said Rep. Samantha Kerkman who co-chairs the committee that assigned the audit. “What we did not anticipate discovering was that there are a small percentage of individuals who account for the majority of overpayments, collectively defrauding the system of
millions of dollars annually.”

Now 2017 Wisconsin Act 147, the legislation targets the worst offenders by increasing the penalty based on the amount of the fraud, using the same scale currently in statute for other types of theft. Prior to Act 147, penalties were substantially lower and carried little risk of prosecution.

“I am happy to have worked with the Department of Workforce Development and stakeholders in creating another tool to help deter fraud and aid in recovery of overpayments. Reducing fraud protects the integrity of the UI fund and helps ensure that the unemployment program remains a safety net for those who are out of work,” said Rep. Kerkman.

Unemployment Insurance benefits are funded through payroll taxes paid by Wisconsin employers. The integrity of the Unemployment Insurance program and trust fund contributes to a stable economy and is important to Wisconsin workers who may one day need the safety net the fund provides and to Wisconsin employers who feel the effects of program fraud through higher tax rates.

Facebook Unveils Privacy and Security Tool

Facebook said on Wednesday that it is rolling out a new tool to centralize user privacy and security settings following the outcry over its data collection practices.

The company said that users will be able to make changes from a single page instead of having options spread across nearly two dozen screens on different parts of platform. Facebook plans to roll out the change in the coming weeks.

Facebook users will be able to adjust an array of privacy settings on the page for the information that they’ve given the platform, like their interests, and their activity on Facebook, such liking photos and commenting on friends’ statuses.

Users will also be able to more easily see what data can and can’t be shared with apps.

Wisconsin Plans to Upgrade 911 System to Accept Texts

Wisconsin is in the procurement stage of rolling out the NextGen 911 system, which will allow all dispatch centers to get more data from people in an emergency.

NextGen 911 offers more bandwidth to pinpoint almost exactly where the caller is and connects Wisconsin dispatch centers through a shared network.  It will be offered to all of the 109 dispatch centers, but not required. The centers that opt in will be charged monthly, in addition to the initial cost of equipment.

The most recent state budget included $6.7 million for planning the NextGen 911 upgrade. The state is currently waiting on bids from vendors who can create the system. That cost will be included in the 2019 biennium budget.

Governor Signs $100 Million School Safety Plan into Law

Governor Walker signed AB 843 into law today at Victor Haen Elementary School in Kaukauna. The bill includes Governor Walker’s $100 million School Safety Plan, which creates a grant program for school districts to enhance school safety resources. Every Wisconsin school is eligible for the grant program.

“Our $100 million School Safety Plan will help ensure that every student, parent, and teacher feels safe at school,” said Governor Walker. “This bill provides important grant funding that will allow districts to invest in safety measures that will help protect against all threats. This will help protect our students and their future.”

Governor Walker’s School Safety Plan:

  • Creates an Office of School Safety within the Wisconsin Department of Justice to work with law enforcement and schools to establish best practices for school safety and provide training opportunities and other relevant resources to schools.
  • Provides $100 million to fund a new grant program for security upgrades to school buildings and other eligible costs.
  • Mandates reporting for any threats of school violence.
  • Allows grant funding to implement Trauma-Informed Care and Adverse Childhood Experiences in Schools.
  • Strengthens school safety plan requirements by requiring all schools to consult with local law enforcement and conduct on-site assessments of all pupil occupied areas.

Governor Walker Recommends New ‘Opportunity Zones’ in 40 Counties

Yesterday,  Governor Scott Walker announced Economic Opportunity Zone (EOZ) recommendations throughout the State of Wisconsin covering more than 40 counties in rural, urban, and tribal areas. These zones present an opportunity for private, tax-free investment into areas of economic need, benefiting residents living in the zones and the private investor. EOZs were created in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

“We are excited to embrace Economic Opportunity Zones as a new tool to build on our track record of economic growth,” Governor Walker said. “Right now, more people are employed in our state than ever before in our history, and Wisconsin is at near record lows for unemployment. These recommendations reach communities across our state – urban, rural, and tribal – that are positioned for strong and sustained growth.”

The Economic Opportunity Zones Program is a federal community development tax incentive program which creates an incentive for businesses and community members to invest in designated EOZs. These investments will help communities in designated areas develop, and the return on the investment will have reduced tax liability.

Governor Walker recommended the maximum number of Economic Opportunity Zones: 120 recommendations within 44 counties in rural, urban and tribal areas. These designations were made based on recommendations from an interagency working group comprised of WHEDA, WEDC, DOA, and DCF; public comment; and an independent analysis conducted by a nationally respected consulting firm.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury will make the final selection for EOZs in Wisconsin based on the Governor’s recommendations. These designations represent ten years of potential private investment into these communities.

Wisconsin Senate Approves Amended Child Tax credit, Sales Tax Holiday Bill

The Wisconsin Senate on Tuesday approved a plan to give parents $100 for each child they have, along with a one-weekend sales tax holiday for certain purchases.

The bill tightens the scope of the sales tax holiday as passed by the state Assembly last month, reducing the estimated cost from $50 million to $12 million. The Assembly will have to approve the Senate’s changes in order for the bill to make it to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.

Families with children living at home who were under age 18 at the end of 2017 could receive the child tax credit. There are no income qualifications for the credit, which is estimated to cost the state $122 million. The bill allows anyone who does not want the credit to opt out and instead donate the money to a charity or back to the state.

Under the Senate version of the bill, the state’s sales tax would be waived during the first weekend of August on clothing purchases under $75, computer purchases under $750, computer supplies under $250 and school supplies under $75.

Over $460 Million in Income Leaves Wisconsin Every Year

Thousands of Wisconsinites leave the Badger State every year, taking millions of dollars with them – a bleak trend highlighted by recent Internal Revenue Service data. An average of $463 million left the state annually from 2011 to 2016, according to tax records.

Between 2015 and 2016 alone, 5,185 fewer households filed tax returns in Wisconsin. Total adjusted gross income – all the income that Wisconsinites reported – fell by a shocking $461 million in that year alone. Wisconsinites are leaving in droves, and they’re taking their nest eggs with them.

From 2011 to 2016, more than $2.3 billion left the state of Wisconsin. A net 35,788 people have left in that time, an average of 7,158 fewer Wisconsin tax filers every year.

Census Bureau statistics show where Wisconsinites go when they leave, and where new Wisconsinites came from when they arrive. Overwhelmingly, Badgers are moving to Florida, Arizona, Texas, and Colorado, all states with lower tax burdens than Wisconsin.

The numbers in Texas show a similar story. The majority of new residents are coming from high-tax states with poor fiscal health such as California, Louisiana, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey.

The tax burden isn’t the only reason why people choose to move, but it cannot be ignored. Capital flows to where it is treated best. To welcome new residents to Wisconsin and keep our economy flowing, the state should consider lowering taxes across the board.