News of the Day

Wisconsin Assembly, Governor Walker Propose Child Rebate, Tax Holiday

Wisconsin families with school-aged children would receive a one-time $100 tax rebate this summer and state sales tax would be waived on certain purchases the first weekend in August under a deal Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Republicans announced on Thursday.

The Assembly will approve the plan later this month, Vos said. It’s not clear what will happen in the Senate, which must also approve it before it goes to Walker. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Under the deal, families with children who were between the ages of 5 and 17 last year and are now living at home would receive $100 for each qualifying kid. The money, estimated to come to about $122 million of the state’s budget surplus, would be delivered to all families regardless of income sometime in July. That is unchanged from what Walker had originally proposed.

“As I promised, when we have a surplus, we will give it back to you,” Walker said in a statement. “It’s your money.”

Walker originally wanted to offer a refundable income-tax credit starting in 2019, but that plan has been scrapped. Instead, there will be a one-time waiver of the state’s 5 percent sales tax on certain purchases, provided they cost less than $100 and are made in the first weekend in August. The total estimated cost to the state in lost tax revenue would be about $50 million.

“Our goal is actually to increase the economic ability of families this year,” Vos said, noting that the benefit will extend to all families regardless of income.

 

Wisconsin Exports up 6% in 2017

Wisconsin businesses exported $22.3 billion in goods and services to 202 countries in 2017, a 6.1 percent increase over 2016.

“Not only is Wisconsin becoming more attractive to global companies seeking to expand or establish operations in the U.S., but existing state businesses are experiencing more success in selling their products overseas,” Governor Walker said. “The boost in exports is yet another example of the economic success we experienced in 2017 and is a trend we expect to continue as more companies are accessing new markets and new customers through exporting.”

Wisconsin’s export growth in 2017 was generated by significant increases in shipments to Canada, Mexico, and China, the state’s three largest export destinations.

  • Exports to Canada grew by 4.3 percent to $6.9 billion, driven by increases in the export of miscellaneous mineral products and electrical machinery.
  • Exports to Mexico were up 4.8 percent to a record $3.2 billion, mostly because of an increase in the export of electrical machinery and oil seeds (primarily soybeans).
  • Exports to China jumped by 21.6 percent to $1.7 billion in 2017 – also a record for exports to that country. Driving the growth in exports to China were increases in the shipments of aircraft and parts; industrial machinery; dairy products; wood and wood products; and raw hides and skins.

Wisconsin exported more than $3.5 billion in agriculture products to 147 countries in 2017, a 3.6 percent increase over 2016. The state saw increases agriculture exports to Canada (up 1.5 percent); Mexico (up 14.2 percent); China (up 27.6 percent) and Korea (up 0.3 percent).

Exports of dairy, eggs and honey products in 2017 were up 19.9 percent over 2016 to $297 million. The state ranks fifth in the U.S. in exports of those products.

Overall, Wisconsin saw increases in numerous key product categories, including electrical machinery (up 12.4 percent to $2.2 billion); vehicles and vehicle parts (up 21.7 percent to $1.9 billion); industrial machinery (up 3.6 percent to $5.4 billion); plastic products (up 2.8 percent to $1.1 billion); aircraft and parts (up 27.8 percent to $750 million); paper products (up 3.1 percent to $881 million); prep vegetables, fruits and nuts (up 8.9 percent to $341 million); oil seeds, miscellaneous grain, seed and fruit (up 35.7 percent to $310 million; and wood and wood products (up 13.3 percent to $254 million).

Industrial machinery continued to be Wisconsin’s top export product category at $5.4 billion, accounting for 24 percent of all state exports. Tied for second were electrical machinery and medical and scientific instruments, both coming in a $2.2 billion – and each garnering 10 percent of the total exports.

 

 

Legislative Democrats Push for ‘Local Wage Act’

Democratic state lawmakers argue it’s time to give local governments more control over how businesses treat their employees.

The package of bills, deemed the “Local Wage Act,” would repeal a state law that prevents local governments from setting their own minimum wage and would allow them to enact their own family and medical leave standards.

Wisconsin’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was last increased in 2009, when Democrats were in charge of state government. State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) says Republicans have done nothing to address the issue for the past eight years, while the state has fallen behind. “It is time to give back the right of communities, local control, to set their own standards for how they value work and the people who do it,” he says.

The proposals are unlikely to see much movement under the current Republican-controlled Legislature.

Governor Calls for Kimberly-Clark Tax Break Similar to Foxconn

Gov. Scott Walker on Monday called for increasing job-retention tax credits to entice consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark Corp. to keep two manufacturing facilities open in northeast Wisconsin, rather than eliminate 600 jobs.

“Retaining outstanding Wisconsin companies like Kimberly-Clark is just as important as attracting new companies to our state, which is why I’m proposing we offer larger tax credits to ensure the company keeps those 600 jobs where they belong – in Wisconsin,” Walker said in a statement.

A spokesman for Dallas-based Kimberly Clark, which makes Kleenex tissue, Huggies diapers and other paper products, did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The move to close the Wisconsin plants came as part of Kimberly-Clark’s plans to reduce its workforce by 12 percent to 13 percent, or 5,000 to 5,500 jobs, and close or sell about 10 manufacturing facilities.

The Neenah factory, which makes non-woven products, was slated to close within 18 months. There was no closure date announced for the other plant in nearby Cold Spring, which makes Depend adult diapers and other personal care products.

Walker’s jobs agency can currently give Kimberly-Clark and other companies a 7 percent job-retention credit, but raising it to the same 17 percent Foxconn got would require a law change.

Republican legislative leaders did not immediately return messages seeking reaction to Walker’s proposal.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz accused Walker of “saying just about anything” to win re-election while underestimating how unpopular the Foxconn deal is around the state. He said Walker was being reactive, rather than being a leader to protect existing jobs.

 

Governor Walker says $50M Economic Development Fund Could Help Keep Young Adults in Rural Communities

Governor Walker said he thinks a proposed $50 million annual investment in rural economic development programs will help keep young adults in Wisconsin’s rural communities.

Walker touted the proposal at the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development in downtown Madison. It’s part of a broad agenda Walker pitched to lawmakers during his State of the State address last week.

“One of the biggest things I hear from people across the state is, ‘I want to find a way for my kid or my grandkid to stay here,'” Walker told reporters after his speech at the conference. “To do that, most of them need to have a career opportunity.”

Under Walker’s plan, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation would distribute funding to eligible projects in counties with no more than 155 people per square mile — a measure Walker said applies to 56 of the state’s 72 counties.

In many rural communities, adding as many as 25 jobs can have a significant impact, Walker said.

Walker said he has been hearing “long before Foxconn” about the need to promote growth and development in rural areas.

He said the plan is designed to assist with projects large and small alike. “It’s not the cure-all for everyone, but it certainly would help us draw more attraction to those areas,” Walker said.

Governor Walker Open to Gas Tax Hike to Land Federal Road Funding

Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday he is open to raising the state’s gas tax, if offset by other tax cuts, to pay the state’s share of a federal proposal to spur $1.5 trillion in public and private infrastructure spending.

Responding to President Donald Trump’s call during his State of the Union address for more federal funding for roads, Walker said he hopes to work with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, to encourage Congress to pass “a sizable package,” but maintain the typical match of 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funds.

The White House has said only $200 billion of the $1.5 trillion package would come from the federal government paid for with cuts in other areas. The rest of the money would come from state, local and private sources.

“We’re willing to invest to obtain those dollars to grow and build our infrastructure here,” Walker said. “I’m willing to look at ways to add to our revenue in the transportation budget as long as we have a net neutral or really a net reduction for the overall burden to the taxpayers in this state. If we could cut taxes, income taxes or other taxes, we could look at revenues in the future, particularly if it helped us leverage federal dollars.”

Walker made the comments to reporters after a speech at the Wisconsin Economic Development Association Governor’s Conference in Madison, where he urged economic development officials to lobby legislators to adopt his proposal for a $50 million a year rural economic development fund.

25,000 Gain Employment through Wisconsin FSET Program

According to data issued by the Department of Health Services, more than 25,000 FoodShare members who participated in the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program have secured employment, as of December 2017.

As part of Governor Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Works for Everyone reform, the FSET program helps Wisconsin citizens move from government dependence to true independence through the dignity that comes from work.

Under this program, able-bodied adults in the FoodShare program who do not have children in the home must meet a work requirement. FoodShare members can meet the work requirement by doing any of the following for at least 80 hours per month: working, participating in the FSET program or another eligible worker training program, or a combination of both working and participating in a work program.

Data shows that:

  • Since FSET implemented statewide on April 1, 2015, there have been 25,071 FSET participants who have gained employment.
  • On average, FSET participants worked an average of 35 hours per week and earned $12.68 per hour – well above the state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

In his 2018 State of the State address, Governor Walker proposed expanding the work requirement statewide for able-bodied adults in the FoodShare program, “For those who are able, we will enable them to find meaningful work. We want to help people pursue careers to support themselves and their families.”

 

President Delivers State of the Union Address

He bragged about the achievements of his administration so far and proposed ambitious legislative initiatives ahead. He hailed ordinary Americans who had done extraordinary things and called for new sense of national unity.

In other words, the most unconventional president in modern times, governing at a time of historic turbulence, delivered a conventional State of the Union that with some policy tweaks could have been given by any number of his recent predecessors.

In his speech, Trump adopted the language his White House predecessors have favored. The last five presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, had declared that the state of the union was “strong.” So did Trump. “The state of our union is strong because our people are strong,” he said.

He took credit for the nation’s good economy, saying his administration had rolled back regulations, “ended the war on American energy” and “turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals.” He said the $1.5 trillion tax bill he signed in December, the only major legislation enacted last year, had brought “tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.”

He called for bipartisan action on his administration’s immigration plan, which would offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, build a wall along the nation’s southern border, and curb some legal immigration. “A down-the-middle compromise,” he called it.

Trump also urged Democrats to join him in approving a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, including changes in environmental and other regulations to streamline the approval process for road, bridge and sewage projects. “America is a nation of builders,” he said. “We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?”

Tax ID Theft: Protection is a Year-Round Effort

While the vast majority of consumers will file their taxes and receive any refunds due without incident, an unlucky few will learn during the process that returns have already been filed in their names by scammers.

If you run into problems when you file, you may be a victim of tax identity theft. The following are indications that someone may have misused your identity to file a fraudulent return:

  • multiple returns were filed under your Social Security number,
  • you receive a letter or refund check regarding a return you did not file, or
  • you owe additional taxes or are facing collection actions for a year you did not file a return.

The risk of tax identity theft is very real in Wisconsin. In recent years, tax identity theft has been a key element of identity theft complaints received by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

“The best way to protect yourself from the risk of tax identity theft is to keep your financial and
personally identifiable information (such as your Social Security number, driver’s license number, bank account numbers, etc.) under lock and key throughout the year,” said Michelle Reinen, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Before you file, you can check whether a 2017 Wisconsin income tax return has been filed in your
name by visiting the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website (https://revenue.wi.gov; click on the “Online Services” link at the top of the homepage).

If you believe that you may be the victim of tax identity theft, report the suspected fraud by phone to the IRS (1-800-829-0433) and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (1-608-266-2486).(NOTE: The IRS advises taxpayers to continue paying their taxes and filing their returns even if they suspect that they may be victims of identity theft.)

DATCP’s Consumer Protection Bureau offers a Tax ID Theft packet online (https://datcp.wi.gov) to assist consumers with next steps to protect against additional harm, and callers to the agency’s Consumer Protection Hotline (1-800-422-7128) can inquire about ways to further protect their identities.

Wisconsin Nonfatal Work Injury and Illness Rate Increases in 2016

According to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Survey of Occupational injuries and Illnesses (SOII), there were 82,700 total injuries and illnesses reported by Wisconsin employers in 2016, an increase from the 78,800 total injuries and illnesses reported for 2015. The rate of injury and illness rose from 3.6 in 2015 to 3.8 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers.

SOII is the largest work injury data survey conducted nationwide. The Wisconsin BLS program collects data annually from a representative sample of 6,000 establishments, with a 97% survey response rate.

Summary Key Findings:

• Private industry incident rate increased from 3.6 to 3.7. State and local government total incident rate decreased from 4.2 to 4.1.

• Manufacturing, professional and business services, and state and local government sectors show declines in rates from the prior year, while all other industries remained constant or showed increased rates.

• The number of cases increased across summary case types from 2015 to 2016 with the exception of job transfer or restriction cases: cases with days away, job transfer, or restriction (DART) increased from 39,600 to 41,800; cases with days away from work (DAFW) from 21,800 to 24,300; other recordable cases (ORC) from 39,200 to 40,800. Cases with job transfer or restriction (DJTR) only fell slightly from 17,800 to 17,500.

• Public sector sub-industries with the highest injury rates include: Local government Heavy and civil engineering construction (11.3), Local government Utilities (7.7), and Local government Transit and ground passenger transportation (6.9).

• Private sector sub-industries with the highest injury rates include: Leather and allied product
manufacturing (11.8), Couriers and messengers (7.4), and Construction of buildings (7.0).