News of the Day

Governor Walker Will Seek Re-Election in 2018

Scott Walker would like another chance.

The Republican governor will ask on Sunday, and in the days that follow, for a third — or fourth, if we’re counting on a purely electoral basis — opportunity to lead the state of Wisconsin. Walker’s re-election bid, following months of hints, is rooted in his assertion that there is “more to be done.”

The argument, as Walker makes it, is that the policies pursued during his tenure have lowered the state’s unemployment rate, brought down taxes and allowed for significant investments in education.

Among the accomplishments Walker cites are Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate — nearly 69 percent — its highly-ranked health care system, its recently achieved ranking as a “top 10” state for business according to Chief Executive magazine, and the $8 billion in tax cuts enacted since he took office.

Under the “more to be done” category, Walked said, is making sure “everyone shares in our economic prosperity,” no matter their location or background, ensuring all Wisconsin children have access to a quality education, finding ways to increase household income and finding better ways to treat addiction while stopping the spread of opioids and other illegal drugs.

The Democratic field at this point includes Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik, Eau Claire state Rep. Dana Wachs, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, Alma state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn, political activist Mike McCabe and political newcomer Bob Harlow. Several others, including Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, firefighters union president Mahlon Mitchell and Sheboygan businessman Kurt Kober, are considering bids.

 

U.S. House Republicans Present Tax Reform Bill

For years, Republicans have argued that federal taxes and spending levels are too high. Now, with a Republican president and majorities in the House and Senate, it’s time to back those words with action. On Thursday, Congress released its plan for the first major tax code overhaul since 1986.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs plan would reduce the number of federal tax brackets from seven to four, and cut tax rates in almost every bracket. It would nearly double the standard deduction and eliminate most other deductions, including the personal exemption. Individuals earning up to $90,000 annually would now be taxed at a rate of 12 percent – down from 25 percent today.

The corporate tax rate would drop from 35 percent – the world’s highest – to 20 percent.

It also creates a new special tax rate for S-corps, sole proprietorships, and pass-throughs at 25%. That’s meant to protect small businesses from paying the higher individual income tax rates. Pass-through entities are now the most common business form in the country, and more than half of Wisconsin’s workforce is employed by a pass-through business.

Under current law, the earnings of businesses organized as pass-throughs are taxed under the individual income tax code, rather than the corporate code. As a result, many individuals see their business earnings taxed under the highest-possible 39.6 percent rate.

Besides the significant tax rate reductions, the plan would eliminate many itemized deductions.The authors estimate that the number of taxpayers itemizing their deductions would fall to fewer than 10 percent, from about one-third today. That’ll add up to significant savings from simplification alone. Perhaps most significantly, federal taxes will be so simple that Americans can file them on a form the size of a postcard.

The estate tax, also known as the death tax, would be repealed in six years. For now, the size of the exemption would double.

The plan would eliminate the federal alternative minimum tax, also known as the AMT. Most other deductions, including those for medical expenses, student loan interest, and state or local income or sales tax, would be eliminated.

All told, the proposal would amount to a $1.51 trillion net tax cut over ten years. If passed, the major changes would generally be effective for tax years beginning after 2017.

 

Assembly Speaker Announces Restructuring of Committee on Ways and Means

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is announcing the restructuring of the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. The committee has been tasked with undertaking comprehensive tax reform.

“Wisconsin taxpayers and businesses have suffered for far too long under an overly burdensome tax code that doesn’t work for families, retirees and job creators,” said Speaker Vos. “This restructured committee will tackle real reform in a transparent process that will give the public ample input in developing a new tax code that is fair and simple with lower rates.”

I have appointed three new Republican members to the committee: Reps. Rob Hutton, Bob Kulp and Shannon Zimmerman. Rep. Mark Spreitzer is joining the committee on the minority side.

“Since 2011, Republicans have provided more than $8 billion in tax relief in Wisconsin, and eliminated several taxes and entire tax brackets,” said Speaker Vos. “However, our work is far from over, and I’m pleased that Rep. Macco and his committee can continue this important effort for Wisconsin taxpayers.”

Speaker Vos has asked the committee to take its time with the massive task and make recommendations before the end of next year in order to be considered in the next biennial budget.

WisDOT Applies for Federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America Grant

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) applied for the U.S. Department of Transportation 2017-18 Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant. WisDOT is seeking a grant to support the construction of a vital portion of the I-94 North-South expansion project that encompasses Foxconn’s manufacturing development and some of Wisconsin’s other fast-growing employers. The

“The I-94 North-South corridor plays a key role in the local and regional economy of southeast Wisconsin,” said Dave Ross, secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. “With new businesses investing in this region such as Foxconn, Amazon, Uline and Northwestern Mutual, WisDOT is looking to ensure that the transportation of goods and passengers throughout this region meets business and individual needs.”

The I-94 North-South expansion project stretches 36 miles from the city of Milwaukee past the Wisconsin/Illinois state line. Manufacturers and shippers move more than $90 billion in goods to and from businesses in this corridor to major national and international markets. The surrounding economic area in southeast Wisconsin is a major contributor to the state’s manufacturing sector, which is home to the second highest percentage of manufacturing employment among all U.S. states.

WisDOT is seeking an INFRA grant, which would allow for the completion of the I-94 North-South project by 2021, rather than 2032, to support the large-scale development that will have very positive impacts on region and state economies. The final phase is needed to complete the remaining project, improve safety, and to facilitate existing and projected traffic. The completed North-South project will provide safe and efficient travel to help facilitate new job and economic development opportunities for the region.

 

DWD Rolls Out Additional Features to WisConnect Internship Website

Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Ray Allen today announced the launch of enhanced features on WisConnect, the state’s premier source for internships available at InternshipWisconsin.com. He invited all college students and Wisconsin employers to register today and develop profiles on the free, mobile-responsive site.

“Hundreds of college students and employers have already started to use WisConnect since we launched this new site during the summer, and we look forward to even more activity as peak internship recruitment season approaches,” Secretary Allen said. “The cutting-edge tools we are rolling out today will help match student talent with internship opportunities, and provide more tools to support the important work of our college and university career counseling partners.”

DWD launched WisConnect over three months ago to help employers meet their workforce needs by growing tomorrow’s talent today through internships. With studies showing the value of internships in attracting, training and retaining college students during and after graduation, WisConnect serves as an important tool to support a robust talent pipeline in Wisconsin.

Highlights of added features for students and employers include:

  • Enhanced logic to support stronger and more targeted matches between students and employers
  • Tools for students and employers to search opportunities or candidates by metro area
  • Ability for employers to select multiple industry types for their profile
  • Functionality for employers to search students by specific unviersity or technical college
  • Ability for students to search internship opportunities by company, job type, desired major and industry
  • Additional custom features such as flagging postings or student profiles for quick retrieval.

 

Small Fish May Stand In Way Of Big Economic Development

The Fox River Locks system dates back to the 1850s and is thought to be one of Wisconsin’s first infrastructure projects.

The locks were created as a 19th century form of the modern interstate system, helping move goods from Wisconsin to the Great Lakes and beyond. The locks also gave residents and tourists access to the riverfront. But all of that economic boon may be in jeopardy because of a 6 and a half inch fish called the round goby.

There are 17 locks on Wisconsin’s Fox River between the Oshkosh area and Green Bay.

In 2015, the lock in Menasha was closed to keep the invasive round goby at bay and out of Lake Winnebago and the Wolf River watersheds. Another barrier at Rapide Croche will most likely be closed to help stop the spread of the fish. Tentative plans to keep the Rapide Croche open include building a boat transfer and washing station to ensure no gobies make it between locks.

While these measures help minimize the spread of the invasive species — that competes with native fresh water species for food — they may have a negative impact on economic development along the Fox River.

David Fuller, a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh economics professor, crunched the numbers and found restorations of various locks between 2005 and 2015 created more than $64 million in economic development, while the restorations only cost $14.5 million.

In that time, he said, hotels, apartments and small shops sprung up along the Fox River.

“I’m not arguing the locks are the sole reason that happened,” Fuller said.

Instead, he thinks opening the locks may have played some role in bringing more people to the riverfront.

“The usability of the river and surrounding area, it is going to generate economic activity,” said Fuller. “That’s driving most of the results I’m getting.”

 

Private-Sector Jobs in Wisconsin at Record High

National jobs numbers took a hit in September, but estimates show Wisconsin with a record number of private-sector jobs. That may be because Wisconsin didn’t have to contend with a hurricane.

But Wisconsin saw an increase of 8,600 jobs, according to preliminary estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released Friday. The figures are part of the Current Employment Statistics program, which samples a small number of employers monthly. As preliminary estimates for September, the numbers are subject to revision.

That 8,600 increase is broken down into 5,900 private-sector jobs and 2,700 government jobs. Estimates show an increase of 1,200 construction jobs and over 5,000 additional jobs in the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

Altogether, the total number of estimated private-sector jobs in Wisconsin is 2,543,200, the highest it’s ever been.

Meanwhile, the state’s unemployment rate, which reached the impressive low of 3.1 percent earlier this year, has been slowly but steadily rising over the past few months. The estimated unemployment rate for September is 3.5 percent, still lower than the national rate of 4.2 percent.

Governor Announces Rhinelander as New Headquarters of DNR Forestry Division

In an event at Rhinelander’s DNR Ranger Station, Walker said it makes sense to move the headquarters closer to state forests and Wisconsin’s forest products industry.

The state selected Rhinelander after a process that started in 2015. About 40 places in Wisconsin expressed interest in becoming the new home of the forestry division. Forestry becomes the only one of the DNR’s five divisions based out of somewhere other than Madison.

“When you just look at the forest products system, so much of it is dependent on people who are either working or located here in the northern part of the state of Wisconsin, so it just makes good sense for us,” Walker said.

DNR Chief State Forester Fred Souba will move his office to Rhinelander by December 1. The rest of the leadership team will be in place by January 1, and more workers will come to the city throughout 2018.

“By having the leadership team and the forestry headquarters here, it allows us to have greater interaction and engagement to serve and support the forest industry and forestry stakeholders here in northern Wisconsin,” Souba said.

Out of about 450 employees working in the division of forestry statewide, more than 50 work in Madison. Souba couldn’t say whether the majority would eventually move to Rhinelander.

Last year, members of the state Natural Resources Board raised objections to moving the forestry headquarters, citing high cost. A state estimate found that construction a new headquarters building in Wausau, for example, would cost millions.

But Walker said the cost will be relatively low, as employees will work out of the existing Rhinelander DNR Service Center on Sutliff Avenue. “We’re not looking at a major new construction. We’re looking at using existing site space here as a way to accommodate them,” Walker said.

 

Shorter Enrollment Period Set this Year for ACA

There’s one web address which many Americans will be typing in, starting next week – HealthCare.Gov – as open enrollment begins November 1st for people to sign up for coverage. It will run until December 15, as opposed to the end of January as in previous years.

With a shorter window of opportunity to sign up this year, those at the local level are stepping up to help out.

“If people do not enroll between November 1st and December 15th, that door closes,” Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. “Our strong encouragement is that people sign up for ACA that are needing health insurance.”

During open enrollment in 2016, more than 3,916 people in Eau Claire County selected a plan on the Affordable Care Act marketplace, but Giese says it’s not just for the poor or people not eligible through an employer.

“Often, people that are on ACA are using that resource, because they’re not eligible for an employer-sponsored health insurance or they’re not in a low enough income bracket to be eligible for, in Wisconsin, Medicaid or BadgerCare,” she said. “There is a middle group of people who may be self-employed, who may be farmers, who may be at an employment situation where they don’t offer health insurance that really need it.”

According to the UW Population Health Institute, more than 220,000 Wisconsinites last year put the Affordable Care Act to work for them. But, no matter how people in the state get their health coverage taken care of, getting it taken care of isn’t always easy.

 

More Lawsuits Won’t Change the Fate of Clean Power Plan

Several state attorneys general have announced they will sue to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s rollback of President Barack Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan. Can they win? And should they? The answer to both questions is no, but not because of anything inherently wrong with the plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. Although administrative decisions must be rational, they are permitted to reflect the president’s political priorities and beliefs.

The Clean Power Plan has been enmeshed in litigation from the start. After it was promulgated by Obama’s EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked it from going into operation. The order came on Feb. 9, 2016. The four liberal justices voted against it. The five conservatives voted in favor — less than a week before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. The order blocking the plan was a big deal, legally speaking. Never before had the Supreme Court frozen a regulation before the courts of appeals had had the chance to weigh in on its legality. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which was going to review the regulation, had refused a similar stay.

The conservative justices were sending an unusually strong signal that they sided with the 29 states and industry groups that were challenging the plan as exceeding the EPA’s authority. As a consequence, the Clean Power Plan didn’t go into effect.

To attack the rollback, Democratic attorneys general will have to argue that the decision to reverse the earlier regulation was irrational — “arbitrary and capricious,” under the language of the Administrative Procedure Act.

As a matter of law, regulatory rollback is treated the same as the initial promulgation of a regulation. That means the government must articulate a rational reason for its decision-making. In the case of the Clean Power Plan rollback, the government’s main argument will apparently be that the original plan was itself unlawful because it exceeded the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions under Section 111(D) of the Clean Air Act.

Technically, the issue is whether the “best system of emission reduction” that the EPA is empowered to impose must relate only to the specific technology used to regulate emissions at a single power plant or “source.” The Clean Power Plan imposed broader limits on emissions that would likely have required not just improvements in emissions technology but also reduction of coal use to meet emissions targets.

But the Trump administration is entitled to offer its own interpretation of the statute that differs from Obama’s. And since Scott Pruitt as attorney general of Oklahoma was one of the leading critics of the plan, it’s not surprising that the EPA under his leadership has adopted his view of the law.

Agencies like the EPA are part of the executive branch. The election of a president is, in no small part, a referendum on the regulatory policies that the public would like to see enacted.