News of the Day

Walker: Private Market Insurance Rates to Drop 4.2%

Gov. Scott Walker says health insurance rates for plans sold in the private market under the Affordable Care Act will drop next year by more than 4 percent.

The reduction is attributed to a new reinsurance program Walker signed into law this year that takes effect in 2019. It’s a $200 million program that’s part of Walker’s plan to lower health insurance costs in Wisconsin.

Walker on Thursday said the 4.2 percent reduction estimate was based on based on rate filings received by the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and a report completed by Wakely Consulting Group.

Under the program, the government will provide money to health insurance providers to pay about 50 percent of medical claims costing between $50,000 and $200,000 starting next year.

IRS: Small Business Owners Should Plan Now for New Changes

With just a few months left in tax year 2018, the Internal Revenue Service today urges small business owners to learn about how the new tax law changes may affect them.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in December 2017, made tax law changes that will affect virtually every business and individual in 2018 and the years ahead. Among other things, the new law may change their tax rates and impact the quarterly estimated tax payments they are required to make during the year.

For many passthrough businesses, the law changes created a new 20-percent qualified business income deduction. Other deductions and credits have been changed as well, including revised depreciation methods and expanded options for expensing business property. There are also new rules for like-kind exchanges and fringe benefits. In addition, small business employers who provide paid family and medical leave to their employees during tax years 2018 and 2019 may qualify for a new business credit.

Business owners are encouraged to check the Tax Reform page for the latest guidance on the tax law provisions that may affect them. Partner groups are also encouraged to share this important information with their members.

In Boon for Farmers, Trump Administration Lifts Restrictions on Ethanol

The Trump administration is moving to allow year-round sales of gasoline with higher blends of ethanol, a boon for Iowa and other farm states that have pushed for greater sales of the corn-based fuel.

The White House said the Environmental Protection Agency will publish a rule to allow high-ethanol blends as part of a package of proposed changes to the ethanol mandate.

Gasoline typically contains 10 percent ethanol. The EPA currently bans the high-ethanol blend, called E15, during the summer because of concerns that it contributes to smog on hot days, a claim ethanol industry advocates say is unfounded.

The White House said the proposed rule intends to allow E15 sales next summer. Current regulations prevent retailers in much of the country from offering E15 from June 1 to Sept. 15.

Lifting the summer ban is expected to be coupled with new restrictions on trading biofuel credits that underpin the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, commonly known as the ethanol mandate. The law sets out how much corn-based ethanol and other renewable fuels refiners must blend into gasoline each year.

Memo: Local Levies Drive up Wisconsin Property Taxes

A new memo shows property taxes went up $24 on the median-valued home last year thanks to local increases.

A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo prepared for Senate Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling shows the net tax bill on the median-valued home rose from $2,852 in 2016 to $2,876 in 2017.

Under the state budget Republicans approved in early 2017, property taxes would have declined by $3. The memo attributes the increase to school, municipal and county levies.

Shilling issued a statement blaming Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators for not investing more in schools over the last seven years.

Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg said property taxes are still lower than when Walker took office in 2011. According to the LFB, property taxes on the median-valued home in 2010 were $2,963.

Judge Kavanaugh Wins Confirmation to the Supreme Court

Judge Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as the 114th Supreme Court justice in a private ceremony Saturday just hours after the Senate voted to confirm him, solidifying conservative control of the highest court in the land for years to come and ending a bitter battle over his nomination.

The final Senate vote was 50-48. Sen. Joe Manchin was the only Democrat to break ranks and vote in favor of him.

President Trump congratulated Kavanaugh on Twitter and called him a “great nominee.” He signed Kavanaugh’s commission to the Supreme Court aboard Air Force One so he could get to work immediately on the court.

He will hear his first cases next week.

Governor Walker Requests Federal Disaster Declaration

According to FEMA’s damage assessments following August and September’s severe flooding across the state, over $37 million in damage was done, prompting a request for a federal disaster declaration from Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker sent a letter to President Donald Trump Thursday for Wisconsin counties damaged by flooding.

The request includes Adams, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Juneau, La Crosse, Marquette, Monroe, Ozaukee, Richland, Sauk, and Vernon counties for both public assistance and individual assistance. He requested public assistance only for Iron County and individual assistance only for Columbia, Jefferson and Washington counties.

Last week, FEMA conducted damage assessments in the impacted areas, finding the cost of local government response and estimated damage totaling over $37.2 million. The review also found that 370 private homes were destroyed or suffered major damage, and 925 received minor damage.

If President Trump allows the federal disaster declaration, Wisconsin will become eligible for FEMA funds.

Legislature to call Extraordinary Session on Kimberly-Clark bill after November Election

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald announced Tuesday morning the Legislature will call an extraordinary session Nov. 12 for a public hearing in the Senate on an incentive package for Kimberly-Clark with plans for a floor vote later next month.

The package, which includes Foxconn-like incentives that would help keep open a plant in the Fox Valley, cleared the Assembly in February. But it has bogged down in the Senate amid concerns over the cost to taxpayers, as well as the precedent it would set to offer such significant incentives to retain jobs.

Senator Roger called the planned extraordinary session “great news,” while Gov. Scott Walker, who backs the package, called the development a “major step forward” in keeping the plant open.

“My message to Kimberly-Clark employees is simple: we are fighting for you. We are working together to keep your jobs in Wisconsin,” Walker said.

Kimberly-Clark officials had set a Sept. 30 deadline for lawmakers to act on the package as the company weighed a final decision on whether to keep open a plant in the Fox Valley. But state and company officials continued to meet through the weekend as some backers of the package urged the company to give lawmakers until after the Nov. 6 election to act.

The bill the Assembly passed included a boost in tax credits for job retention to 17 percent, up from the current 7 percent. Kimberly-Clark would also get refundable tax credits for 15 percent of capital expenditures, up from the typical 10 percent, over a five-year period. The company would also get a five-year sales tax exemption on those expenditures.

Fitzgerald’s office said the plan is to proceed on the bill in its current form.

 

Unpaid Medical Bills in Wisconsin are Climbing Again after Decline

Uncompensated care is on the rise as hospitals in Wisconsin and around the country are seeing an increase in unpaid medical bills. In Wisconsin, it’s topped a billion dollars.

In 2017, 150 hospitals in Wisconsin had $1.1 billion of uncompensated health care services, this includes both charity care and bad debt. It’s an increase from 14 percent from 2016. Hospitals in Milwaukee County alone accounted for nearly 30 percent of the overall total, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association report.

Nationally, uncompensated care at hospitals around the United States was more than $38 billion in 2016.

The report on Wisconsin hospitals doesn’t give an explanation for the rise in unpaid medical bills and WHA officials weren’t available for comment. But those who advocate for more access to health coverage note uncompensated care levels haven’t exceeded a billion dollars since 2014, when key elements of the Affordable Care Act took effect.

Canada and U.S. Reach Trade Deal to Replace NAFTA

The United States and Canada agreed to a deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement shortly before a midnight deadline.

In a joint statement, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the agreement “will strengthen the middle class, and create good, well-paying jobs and new opportunities for the nearly half billion people who call North America home.”

The plan is for the leaders of the three North American countries to sign before the end of November, after which it would be submitted to Congress.

The negotiations between American and Canadian officials involved offering more market access to U.S. dairy farmers, as well as Canada agreeing to an arrangement effectively capping automobile exports to the United States.

The deal will also modernize what was covered by NAFTA by adding provisions on digital trade and intellectual property, the administration official said.

The trade pact will come up for review every six years, which will give the U.S. a “significant new form of leverage” to make sure the arrangement is to its liking, according to the senior American official.

“It’s a good day for Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “We celebrate a trilateral deal. The door closes on trade fragmentation in the region,” Jesus Seade, trade negotiator for Mexico’s incoming president, said via Twitter.

Mortgage Rates Soar to 7-year High

Five consecutive weeks of increases pushed mortgage rates to their highest level since April 2011.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average climbed to 4.72 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.65 percent a week ago and 3.83 percent a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average jumped to 4.16 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 4.11 percent a week ago and 3.13 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average rose to 3.97 percent with an average 0.3 point. It was 3.92 percent a week ago and 3.20 percent a year ago.

“The robust economy, rising Treasury yields and the anticipation of more short-term rate hikes caused mortgage rates to move up,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in a statement.

Although the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark rate Wednesday, the news came too late in the week to be factored into Freddie Mac’s survey. Freddie Mac, the government-allied mortgage-backer, aggregates rates weekly from 125 lenders from across the country to compile national average mortgage rates.

Meanwhile, mortgage applications picked up again this week, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index – a measure of total loan application volume – increased 2.9 percent from a week earlier. The refinance index rose 3 percent from the previous week, while the purchase index also grew 3 percent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 39.4 percent of all applications.