Month: December 2019

WEDC: $250 million in Taxpayer Dollars Invested in over 3,000 jobs, $1.2 Billion in Expansion

Wisconsin’s economic development managers say $250 million in taxpayer money in 2019 could return more than a $1 billion to the state.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) on Thursday released it’s list of the top 15 projects of 2019.

These include investments in companies across the state. The top 10 projects cost taxpayers $10 million.

“2019 was a successful year for WEDC in carrying out our mission to advance and maximize opportunities for Wisconsin businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment,” WEDC CEO Missy Hughes said. “These companies and communities play a key role in strengthening our state’s economy by investing in Wisconsin and creating jobs that pay well.”

The top projects on the WEDC’s list are tax break deals for two paper companies. The first deal is the $1.7 million in tax credits for ND Paper Inc. that is earmarked for expansion at its mill in Biron. The WEDC says those tax credits will create 27 new jobs, but maintain 342 others.

The $850,000 in tax credits for the Nouryon Pulp and Performance Chemicals company in Howard is the second ‘investment’ on the WEDC’s list. Those tax breaks are being credited with helping to expand the company’s plant in Howard and create 56 news jobs.

In all, Hughes claims WEDC helped create or save thousands of new jobs in Wisconsin.

“The more than $1.2 billion in planned capital investments for the projects supported by WEDC this year are expected to create more than 3,165 jobs and retain almost 14,000 jobs across the state,” WEDC said in a statement.

There some deal however that have drawn some questions. The WEDC list includes $250,000 in tax credits for John Deere and $500,000 in tax credits for Menard’s. Both companies are profitable. WEDC says the tax credits will retain 768 jobs at Deere and another 2,988 jobs for Menard’s.

Wisconsin Bankers Expect Good Economy to Carry over into 2020

Wisconsin’s economy is in good shape and poised for a solid year of lending in 2020, a survey of state bank executives shows.

In a poll by the Wisconsin Bankers Association, 79% of bankers rated the economy in as “good,” while 16% called it “excellent.” Five percent rated it as “fair,” and none of the 83 survey respondents considered the state economy “poor.”

When asked how they expected the economy to perform in the next six months, nearly three of four expected it to stay the same and about one in four thought it would grow. Only 5% in the survey, which was conducted over the first two weeks of December, expected it to weaken.

Low unemployment and interest rates, strong manufacturing, a diverse economic base and robust consumer confidence were among factors cited by the bankers for the upbeat outlook on the economy, the bankers trade group said.

Forty-five percent said the businesses in their markets would be hiring new employees in the first half of 2020, while 54% expected them to maintain current staffing levels and only 1% projected layoffs.

Only 8% of the bankers surveyed said business or commercial real estate lending would weaken in the first half of 2020. Fourteen percent thought residential real estate loans would slip.

But 36% felt agriculture lending would weaken. Fifty-six percent expected farm lending to stay the same as in 2019, and 9% foresaw farm loan growth.


Wisconsin Republicans Considering Property Tax Cut in 2020

Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature are considering a property tax cut proposal that would be introduced early in 2020, the leader of the state Senate said Friday.

Discussion of a property tax cut comes in the wake of homeowners receiving the tax bills in December. Those bills could amount to the largest property tax increase in 10 years, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum said in a report this week.

“People are a little surprised,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said at a news conference.

Republican senators are in the early stages of putting together a tax cut proposal, but there’s no targeted amount yet, he said. That will partly depend on the state’s tax revenue forecast, which is looking good and will be updated next month, Fitzgerald said.

The amount of the cut must be substantial enough to garner support to do it, he said. One option being discussed is shifting some of the money that currently funds technical colleges off the property tax bill and onto the state’s general fund, Fitzgerald said.

“I wouldn’t take anything off the table,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos supports a tax cut, said spokeswoman Kit Beyer, “but it all depends on how successful the economy is next year.”

U.S. House Approves USMCA Trade Deal

The House passed a new North American trade deal on Thursday, ending a more than year long slog to iron out Democratic concerns about the agreement. The chamber approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, one of President Donald Trump’s economic and political priorities, in an overwhelming 385-41 vote. Thirty-eight Democrats opposed it. The trade pact now heads to the Senate, which is expected to ratify it next year.

USMCA tightens rules of origin for auto parts and requires a larger share of cars to be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour. It also increases access to Canadian dairy markets for American farmers and updates digital trade rules, among other provisions. Canada and Mexico are the largest U.S. export markets.

The GOP-held Senate is also expected to pass USMCA with bipartisan support. It is unclear when exactly the chamber will ratify the agreement.


Committee Approves Pay Raises for State Workers

A bipartisan legislative committee unanimously approved pay raises Wednesday for state and University of Wisconsin employees, but Republicans shot down Gov. Tony Evers’ request to raise the minimum wage for state workers to $15 an hour.

The Joint Committee on Employment Relations — made up of six Republicans and two Democrats — approved the 2 percent wage increases for the employees in both 2020 and 2021. Those raises have already been approved by the Legislature’s budget committee.

A proposal to give state troopers retroactive 2 percent pay increases and an over 20 percent starting pay increase did not get a vote at the public hearing Wednesday.

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association President Chad Thompson said higher pay would help recruitment, which is suffering.  “When I was a new trooper back in 1997, I know Vernon County had five troopers, and today they have one, kind of, who is currently deployed with the military,” Thompson said. “So really, Vernon County has no trooper.”

Members of the committee indicated the troopers aren’t totally out of luck. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told them to come back with a base pay increase in the single digits. “I would be open to giving raises that are significantly higher than the rate of inflation, but not 20-plus percent,” Vos said.

School Property Taxes Rebound

School property taxes across Wisconsin are rising by more than $220 million on December 2019 tax bills.

On tax bills sent out this month, Wisconsin’s school districts together are raising property tax levies by 4.5% – the largest year-over-year increase in a decade. The rise reflects changes in the state budget, as well as recent referenda passed by voters in many individual districts to exceed state-imposed revenue limits. In addition, new data show growth in levies for counties (2.2%) and technical colleges (3.1%), suggesting that the 2019-20 gross property tax levies in Wisconsin might see the highest increase since the last recession.

The tax data come from the state Department of Revenue (DOR) and include the levies reported by counties, technical colleges, and school districts, which together account for roughly two-thirds of all property taxes in Wisconsin. Statewide figures are not yet available for municipalities, special districts, and tax increment districts, which make up the remaining share of property taxes.


​Open Enrollment on Extended

Yesterday, federal officials announced today that open enrollment for health insurance on has been extended through 2 a.m. CST on Wednesday, December 18.

The announcement, which was made Monday morning, comes after some individuals using the federal call center on the final day of open enrollment were asked to leave their names instead of being allowed to enroll. Wisconsinites can call 2-1-1 to get free expert help enrolling or can go to to enroll online.

“This is great news for folks in Wisconsin,” said Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable. “If you missed the deadline, you now have two extra days to get affordable health insurance for you or your family. You may also still qualify for tax credits that could keep your monthly premiums low. Call 2-1-1 to get free expert help, reach out to an insurance agent in your community, or visit to sign up now.”

“There are two more days to enroll in health care on,” said Department of Health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “There are affordable plans available but make sure to call 2-1-1- to work with a health insurance expert to sign up for high-quality health insurance.”

Wisconsin Governor: No Tax credits for New Foxconn Plant

Gov. Tony Evers’ top aide warned Foxconn Technology Group last month that a scaled-down factory in Wisconsin won’t qualify for tax credits unless the Taiwanese electronics giant renegotiates with the state, letters Evers’ administration released Friday show.

State Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan wrote to Foxconn Industrial Internet Chief Business Officer Richard Vincent on Nov. 4 warning that the new project doesn’t qualify for incentives under the existing contract. Foxconn’s U.S. strategist, Alan Yeung, responded to Brennan’s letter by accusing Evers’ administration of wasting the company’s time with contract arguments.

“Distractions like these leave job creators and job seekers wondering if doing business in our great state is welcomed by Governor Evers’ Administration (sic),” Yeung wrote in a Nov. 18 letter to Brennan.

The letters chronicle discussions between Evers, Brennan, Foxconn executives and leaders of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state’s quasi-public job-creation agency, dating back to April.

“We want to work together with you to help make Foxconn’s new project as successful as possible,” Brennan wrote. “The ability to do that requires Foxconn to recognize that there are consequences arising from its unilateral decision to change projects well after the Contract was in place.”

President Trump Signs Off on Deal to Ease China Trade War

President Trump on Thursday approved a proposed U.S.-China trade deal, raising hopes for a possible truce in a 21-month commercial conflict that roiled financial markets, disrupted corporate supply chains and cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

At a White House meeting with his top trade advisers, the president signed off on a swap of U.S. tariff reductions in return for China spending $50 billion on U.S. farm goods, tightening its intellectual property protections and opening its financial services markets, according to Michael Pillsbury, a China expert at the Hudson Institute, who says the president briefed him on the deal Thursday.

“It’s a breakthrough,” Pillsbury said. “He says it’s historic. I certainly agree with that.”

Plans for announcing the deal, including whether an official text will be made public, remain in flux. The administration has said it does not intend to seek congressional approval of the agreement.

“The deal is essentially done. The mechanics of how you execute it and how you get it signed still have to be worked out,” said one person briefed on the White House’s deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak to the media.

Still, a so-called “phase one” agreement would leave the thorniest issues in the U.S.-China trade dispute to future negotiations, which are scheduled to begin next year. China’s massive subsidies for state enterprises and its practice of forcing foreign companies to surrender technology secrets in return for access to the Chinese market will be the subject of “phase two” of the talks.


GOP Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Two Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, saying it’s time for Wisconsin to join the majority of the country in giving patients the option.

But already, the state Senate’s top Republican said he doesn’t support the bill and leaders in both houses of the Legislature downplayed its chances of passing.

The proposal by state Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, and state Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls could still add momentum to a cause that has mostly been championed in Wisconsin by Democrats, including Gov. Tony Evers. Their bill would regulate the “cultivation, processing, testing, and dispensing” of medical marijuana in Wisconsin, which could be prescribed by doctors, physicians assistants and certified advanced practice nurses.

“There is no doubt that each and every one of us knows someone that has suffered through an illness and struggled to find a way to make it through each day,” said the lawmakers in a statement. “It is clear that we as a state need to begin having a real discussion about medical marijuana legalization.”

But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who has opposed other efforts to legalize medical marijuana, did so again Wednesday.

“I personally oppose this bill and I don’t believe there are the votes in our caucus to pass it,” Fitzgerald said in a brief written statement.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has been more open to supporting medical marijuana, but he also suggested this bill would not pass.

“As someone who supports a limited form of medical marijuana, I appreciate the efforts by Rep. Felzkowski to move the issue forward,” Vos said. “However, it’s clear that our caucus hasn’t reached a consensus.”