Month: July 2020

Wisconsin Unemployment Rate Drops to 8.5%

The Wisconsin economy’s labor market improved during June as its seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 8.5% and the state added 99,300 private sector jobs during the month according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today by the state Department of Workforce Development.

The state’s unemployment rate improved significantly from May when it was 12.1%, according to revised data, and is well below the national rate of 11.1%

The state’s leisure and hospitality sector added 47,700 jobs in June, the retail trade sector added 16,400 and the educational and health services sector added 12,900.

The state’s labor force participation rate is 65.7%, down from 67% a year ago.

U.S. Retail Sales Pop More-than-Expected in June

The Commerce Department said on Thursday retail sales rose 7.5% last month. That was on top of the 18.2% jump in May, which was the biggest gain since the government started tracking the series in 1992. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales advancing 5% in June.

Retail sales have rebounded as businesses resumed operations after being shuttered in mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Governor Evers Creates Task Force on Broadband Access

Yesterday, Governor Tony Evers  created the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access.

The task force will advise the governor and Wisconsin State Legislature on broadband actions and policy, including strategies for successfully expanding high speed internet access to every residence, business, and institution in the state; initiatives for digital inclusion; and pathways to unlocking and optimizing the benefits of statewide, affordable access to broadband for all communities in Wisconsin.

Broadband access is an essential catalyst to drive community, public safety, learning, health, and economic goals across the state of Wisconsin and, as outlined in a recent report by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, will be critical to the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The task force will be chaired by Brittany Beyer, Executive Director for Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation, and consists of members who represent a balance of interests, perspectives, and areas of expertise. It will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to research and develop recommendations for actions so that all Wisconsinites can have access to this essential and critical service needed for daily life.

U.S. Budget Deficit Hits All-Time High of $864 billion

The Treasury Department reported Monday that the deficit hit $864 billion last month, an amount of red ink that surpasses most annual deficits in the nation’s history and is above the previous monthly deficit record of $738 billion in April.

For the first nine months of this budget year, which began Oct. 1, the deficit totals $2.74 trillion, also a record for that period. That puts the country well on the way to hitting the $3.7 trillion deficit for the whole year that has been forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.

The June deficit was driven higher by spending on various government relief programs such as an extra $600 per week in expanded unemployment benefits and a Paycheck Protection Program that provided support to businesses to keep workers on their payrolls.

Another reason for the surge in the June deficit was the government’s decision to delay tax payments this year until July 15. That decision mean that quarterly payments made by individual taxpayers and corporations will not be due until July 15 this year rather than June.

So far this budget year, revenues total $2.26 trillion, down 13.4% from the same period last year, while spending totals $5 trillion, up 49.1% from a year ago.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Strikes Down Three of Governor Evers’ Budget Vetoes

The Wisconsin Supreme Court Friday acted Friday to rein in Gov. Tony Evers’ expansive veto authority by overturning three budget vetoes the Democrat issued in his first two-year spending plan as governor.

Of the four vetoes targeted in the lawsuit, the single one upheld increased vehicle fees for owners of heavier trucks over those with lighter ones.

Meanwhile, justices determined a veto that broadened what was proposed as a $3 million grant program to replace school buses with energy-efficient models was unconstitutional (5-2 decision). Evers removed the condition that the funding be used only for buses and instructed the Department of Administration to allocate up to $10 million for electric vehicle charging stations.

The other partial vetoes that were overturned altered the definition of “vapor product,” thus creating new taxes and regulations on them (4-3 decision); and lifted restrictions on how $75 million in transportation funding could be spent (5-2 decision).

Previous governors have used their veto authority in a manner similar to Evers.

Wisconsin governors hold the country’s most powerful partial veto authority on spending measures, but aren’t able to use the veto pen to create new words by striking out individual letters, and they can’t craft new sentences by combining parts of two or more lines in legislation. Both limitations were imposed after voters approved previous constitutional amendments to limit governors’ authority in that arena.

Wisconsin Utilities to Refund $28.3M in Fuel Savings to Customers,

Nearly 1.2 million Wisconsin ratepayers will see electric bill refunds this fall as utilities return millions of dollars in fuel cost savings.

The Public Service Commission Thursday ordered Alliant Energy, Xcel and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation to return about $28.3 million to customers in September.

Madison Gas and Electric will be allowed to hang on to about $1.5 million in customer funds while it negotiates with customer advocates on rates for the next two years.

The for-profit utilities together over-collected more than $29 million in 2019 as lower natural gas prices, renegotiated contracts and market sales resulted in fuel costs that were lower than forecast.

The PSC sets electricity rates one to two years in advance based on fixed expenses — such as power plants and wires — as well as the estimated cost of fuel.

Under state law, actual fuel costs can vary up to 2% from the estimates: if actual costs fall below the threshold, utilities must refund the difference, plus interest; if actual costs go above, utilities can collect it from ratepayers.

GOP Lawmakers Propose Loan Program for those Facing Unemployment Check Delays

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans proposed a new state loan program on Wednesday to support some of the roughly 140,000 people in the state waiting to receive delayed unemployment checks.

Under the GOP plan, the Evers administration would use $40 million in funding from the federal COVID-19 relief package passed in March, of which the state has about $280 million remaining, to offer zero-interest bridge loans to people awaiting benefit checks. The program could be administered by the state Department of Revenue, Republicans said.

According to a memo from the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office, $40 million could provide about 31,000 people a $1,308 loan, which equals four weeks of the average state unemployment benefit. The average weekly benefit was $327 in March 2020, the memo said.

The Republicans called on the governor’s administration to roll out the program immediately, saying legislation is not required to establish it.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Wants Schools Fully Reopenedejects part-time reopening for

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday assailed plans by some local districts to offer in-person instruction only a few days a week and said schools must be “fully operational” even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Anything less, she says, would fail students and taxpayers.

DeVos made the comments during a call with governors as the Trump administration launched an all-out effort to get schools and colleges to reopen. Audio of the call was obtained by The Associated Press.

“Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open, it’s a matter of how. School must reopen, they must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders,” DeVos told governors.

With Prices Stabilizing, State Ends ‘Abnormal Economic Disruption’ Period

Effective July 3, 2020, Governor Tony Evers approved ending the declared period of abnormal economic disruption, allowing sellers to resume sale of consumer goods and services without the restrictions outlined in Wisconsin’s price gouging statutes.

In March, Governor Evers issued Executive Order #72. This order announced a public health emergency due to COVID-19 and declared a period of abnormal economic disruption, directing the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to enforce prohibitions against price gouging for consumer goods and services.

The end of the abnormal economic disruption declaration means that future price changes will not be subject to price increase prohibitions described in state law. Complaints about prices that existed before the end of the emergency declaration will continue to be investigated, even if those complaints are filed after the declaration has ended.

Wisconsin Businesses Oppose Release of COVID-19 Data

As coronavirus cases in Wisconsin have spiked in recent days, some businesses worry the state’s health department could release the names of establishments that have had employees test positive for the virus.

Manufacturing, restaurant and grocers associations sounded the alarm this week, emailing members and composing response letters. Though a spokeswoman for the state’s top health officials says there are no immediate plans to publicize such a list on its website, the information could still come out through pending records requests.

The associations argue that, rather than boosting transparency, releasing such information publicly would confuse and scare people while stigmatizing businesses that have already suffered because of the pandemic.

Reached Thursday afternoon, Elizabeth Goodsitt, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, gave a qualified answer.

“We have no immediate plans to list businesses with COVID-19 positives on our website,” she said. “However, we are always striving to give Wisconsinites and their communities the information they need to protect themselves from COVID-19.”

Goodsitt said the state has received hundreds of records requests regarding businesses, and that their records custodians and legal team are working through “hundreds of thousands” of documents to redact private or protected information.