Month: February 2021

Senate Parliamentarian Nixes Federal Minimum Wage Hike in COVID-19 Relief Bill

The Senate parliamentarian on Thursday ruled against including a boost to the minimum wage in a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, arguing that it runs afoul of budget rules.

The decision from the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, is a significant blow to progressives, who viewed the plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour as one of their top priorities in the massive coronavirus relief plan. Because Democrats are trying to pass the coronavirus bill through reconciliation — a fast-track process that lets them bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster — every provision has to comply with arcane budget rules.

Democrats will instead need 60 votes to overcome an inevitable GOP challenge in the wake of the parliamentarian’s ruling, support that it doesn’t have, if they want the minimum wage hike to survive the Senate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top Republican on the Budget Committee, immediately declared victory following the ruling. “Very pleased the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that a minimum wage increase is an inappropriate policy change in reconciliation,” he said.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had said he was optimistic that the parliamentarian would side with him, said that the Congressional Budget Office made it “absolutely clear” that raising the minimum wage “had a substantial budgetary impact and should be allowed under reconciliation.”

“I strongly disagree with tonight’s decision by the Senate Parliamentarian,” he said.

Sanders added that he will now try to get language added to the coronavirus bill that takes away tax breaks from large corporations that do not have a $15 per hour wage, and to try to incentivize small businesses to increase their wages.

“That amendment must be included in this reconciliation bill,” he said.


Governor Evers’ Budget Tax Proposals Total a $1 Billion Increase

The net impact of Gov. Tony Evers’ budget tax proposals would be a $1 billion increase over the biennium, according to his office.

The biggest chunk of that would come from matching state tax laws to the provisions of a tax bill former President Trump signed in December 2017. The combined impact of the numerous changes would be an increase of $540.1 million.

UW-Madison economics Professor Noah Williams said in general, “federalizing” the state tax code makes sense as it simplifies the combined tax code.

“I also can’t help but point out that the state standard deduction is a great candidate for federalizing,” said Williams, founding director of the conservative Center for Research On the Wisconsin Economy. “As it is now, the phase-out of the deduction means that families a bit below the median income have the highest state marginal income tax rates.

But Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said Evers is selectively choosing to conform only to those provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that would raise revenue.

“Cherry-picking conformity provisions that increase revenue, without conforming to any of the TCJA provisions that cut taxes is not a serious discussion; it is simply trying to score political points on the backs of Main Street Wisconsin businesses,” said Cory Fish, WMC’s director of legal affairs. “During the middle of an economic crisis, any conformity should result in a net tax cut to help Wisconsin job creators continue to resuscitate Wisconsin’s economy.”

Two years ago, Republicans rejected Evers’ attempt to place new limits on the manufacturing and ag credit. But he has brought back the proposal. Like last time, it would restrict the credit for manufacturers to $300,000 per tax year. The change would raise an additional $487.4 million over the biennium.

Williams said Evers’ move goes in the wrong direction by raising taxes on narrower groups.

“For example, while in previous research I have found that the (manufacturing and agriculture credit) has contributed to employment growth in the state, a reasonable argument would be to reform the MAC in favor of lowering overall business taxes,” he said. “Instead, Evers simply proposes eliminating the MAC for larger businesses, which would likely eliminate most of its benefit with nothing gained in return.”

Fish added that hiking taxes on the largest part of Wisconsin’s private sector in the middle of a pandemic is “terrible public policy.”

“The Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit has helped attract new businesses to, and keep legacy businesses in, Wisconsin,” he said. “The legislature should not give in to Gov. Evers and let him turn Wisconsin into the next Illinois.”

Evers also wants to change the capital gains exclusion. The proposal would maintain the current deduction for 30 percent of net gains from stocks, precious metals and real estate held for more than one year for single filers with an income below $400,000 and married joint filers making less than $533,000. The exclusion would be eliminated for filers making more than those limits. The proposal would raise taxes $350.5 million over the biennium.

But Williams said it’s unlikely that the capital gains tax would raise the projected amount of revenue.

“Past episodes of capital gains increases have found that people either realize the gains before the tax takes hold or delay realization,” he explained. Williams also noted that the proposed sharp rise in the cost of capital is at a time when Wisconsin should encourage saving and investment in the state.

Fish pointed out that the proposal would disproportionately affect retirees and those preparing for retirement — the most mobile workers in Wisconsin. This budget item would force them to leave the state, he said, resulting in Wisconsin getting none of the tax revenue.

Legislature Approves Unemployment System Upgrades, COVID Legal Immunity for Businesses

The state Legislature has approved a plan to once again waive Wisconsin’s one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, as well as move forward with updating the archaic technology behind Wisconsin’s unemployment system, and to give businesses and schools legal immunity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state Assembly voted 89-0 in support of the bill, which includes all three provisions, on Tuesday afternoon. The plan passed the state Senate last week and now moves to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for his signature.

The proposal approved Tuesday does not include any state funding to begin the upgrades. Instead, it requires the workforce department to exhaust any available federal funds first and return to the Legislature’s state budget committee with a specific price tag for completing the work.

The bill would also extend a waiver of the state’s one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits until March 13. The waiting period is currently back in effect after a previous suspension, approved in last year’s COVID-19 response bill, ended Feb. 7.

Supporters of the plan argue it will protect them against frivolous lawsuits brought by people who cannot prove where they contracted the virus.

“For a lot of businesses, it’s just the risk of (lawsuits),” said Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam. “They just want certainty, they want to know they’re doing the things they need to do to keep their employees and their customers safe, but they don’t want frivolous lawsuits hanging over their heads.”

Strong Housing Market Continues into 2021

Following a record year for home sales in 2020, the Wisconsin existing home market started the new year on record pace even as inventories continued to tighten statewide, according to the most recent analysis by the Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA). January home sales increased 9.8% compared to that same month last year, and the median price rose 10.5% to $210,000 over that same period. This established a new January record in Wisconsin for both home sales and the median price, according to the report.

“January is typically the slowest month of the year, so it’s encouraging to see such a strong market to start 2021,” said WRA Board Chair Mary Duff. In a typical year, the month of January accounts for just 4.8% of annual sales. In contrast, sales usually peak in June, and the volume is nearly two and half times greater, accounting for 11.6% of sales. Duff cautioned that the record pace is unlikely to continue due to a severe shortage of homes for sale.

“Unfortunately, January ushered in another Wisconsin record, and that’s record-low inventories,” said Duff. There was just 2.1 months of available homes for sale in January, down from 3.5 months a year earlier. The last time there was a balanced market in the state was in summer 2017 when there was about six months of supply, and it has been a seller’s market ever since. “

Going forward, we may be able to surpass the depressed level of home sales last spring, but we will struggle to keep pace with 2020 unless inventories improve,” said Duff.

Federal Government Requires PUA Recipients to Provide Employment Documentation to Get UI Benefits

Thousands of people will be getting letters from the Department of Workforce Development ensuring Wisconsinites are aware of a new federal requirement that they must provide documentation to continue receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The new documentation requirement is part of the federal Continued Assistance Act passed in late December and put into place under the Trump Administration.

Under the federal Continued Assistance Act, the federal government now requires that people seeking PUA benefits must send proof of employment or self-employment (or planned start of employment or self-employment) for the year before their PUA application date. Under federal law, anyone who fails to provide proof will be required to repay any PUA benefits received for the week of December 27, 2020, or later.

PUA provides benefits for people who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, like those who are self-employed or certain independent contractors.

Acceptable forms of documentation meeting the new federal requirement include:

  • Employment: Paycheck stubs, earnings and leave statements showing the employer’s name and address, and W-2 forms
  • Self-employment: Business licenses, tax returns, business receipts, and signed affidavits from persons verifying the individual’s self-employment
  • Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and educational/religious organizations: Documentation provided by the organization and signed affidavits from persons verifying the individual’s attachment to such organizations
  • Proof of the planned commencement of employment: Letters offering employment, statements/ affidavits by individuals (with name and contact information) verifying an offer of employment
  • Proof of the planned commencement of self-employment: Business licenses, written business plans, or a lease agreement

For more information on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, visit

Governor Evers Sign Bill Cutting Taxes for Businesses that Took PPP Loans

Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday signed into law a bill that cuts taxes by nearly half a billion dollars for Wisconsin businesses that accepted PPP loans to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.

The new law makes loans administered through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) tax deductible under Wisconsin’s tax code. The loans are already tax deductible under federal law but not under the state code. It’s estimated to result in a state tax cut of $450 million by the middle of 2023.

“This past year has been challenging and unrelenting for so many, but since the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve been committed to providing economic relief to the folks who’ve been affected by the pandemic,” Evers said in a statement saying he was proud to deliver tax relief.


Budget Committee Approves Plan to Address Unemployment Upgrade and Protect Businesses from COVID-19 Lawsuits

The Legislature’s budget committee unanimously approved a plan Wednesday to overhaul the state’s unemployment insurance computer system and protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. The plan that advanced Wednesday would also briefly suspend a requirement that those thrown out of work wait a week before qualifying for unemployment benefits.

Whether the plan can get approval from Evers remains unclear, but the bipartisan support for it Wednesday suggests he may be on board. Evers spokesman Britt Cudaback would not say whether the governor supported the Republican proposal.

The Joint Finance Committee approved the bill 15-0 on Wednesday. That allows the bill to go to the Senate and Assembly, which could vote on it soon.

Governor Evers Unveils $91B ‘Bounceback’ State Budget Plan

Promising to help Wisconsin “bounce back” from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers proposed a $91 billion state budget Tuesday, an ambitious plan that would boost overall spending by almost 10 percent, infuse hundreds of millions of dollars in Wisconsin schools and reinstate some of the union bargaining rights lost by public sector workers a decade ago.

The two-year budget, which would lay the foundation for Evers’ reelection should he seek a second term, includes a wide array of policies many Republicans who run the Legislature are likely to resist — from the legalization of recreational marijuana to the expansion of Medicaid.

The governor would pay for the spending increases in a number of ways, including limiting a tax credit for some manufacturers and increasing capital gains taxes on high-income individuals. Overall, the Evers administration said the budget would increase revenue by $1.6 billion. At the same time, taxes would be cut elsewhere by about $590 million for groups that include caregivers, parents and low-income residents.

Wisconsin, we aren’t going to retrace our steps back to the way things were,” Evers said during his Tuesday evening address. “We aren’t going to follow the map back to where we started when this pandemic began. After all we’ve been through, we aren’t going to apologize for wanting more for each other — for our neighbors, for our kids, our parents and grandparents, and our state’s future.”

Evers’ proposals need the approval of the Republican-controlled state Legislature to become law. During the last budget cycle — Evers’ first as governor — GOP lawmakers rejected major pieces of the governor’s proposal as too expensive and started from scratch with their own plan.

At the same time, there are provisions in the governor’s budget proposal this year that could be more difficult for Republicans to reject, from a $200 million investment in broadband to a $200 million fund aimed at helping businesses recover from the pandemic.

Wisconsin Legislature to Vote on Half-Billion Dollar Tax Cut

The Wisconsin Legislature was scheduled to vote Tuesday on approving a half-billion dollar tax cut for businesses that received loans to help them keep employees on the payroll during the pandemic, one of several measures related to the coronavirus that are slated for consideration.

The bill cutting business taxes by $540 million by the middle of 2023 was up for a vote in both the Senate and Assembly. If passed, it would then go to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who was non-committal last week about whether he would sign or veto the measure.

The bill would benefit recipients of loans administered through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. The loans are already tax deductible under federal law and Republicans say they are simply trying to bring state tax code into compliance. But Democratic opponents said the move would blow a hole in the state budget.

The Senate was voting Tuesday on a myriad of virus-related bills, including ones to bar employers from mandating vaccinations for workers, not allow prisoners to get priority for vaccinations and prohibit the closing of churches during the pandemic.

Governor Evers Proposes Allowing Local Governments to Raise Taxes

Governor Tony Evers wants to allow counties to be able to double their existing sales tax and allow larger municipalities to impose a new half-cent sales tax, if local voters approve.

The proposal announced Friday drew widespread support from local governments that would benefit from the additional money, which they said would lessen their reliance on property taxes. But the idea divided the state’s business community, with the statewide chamber of commerce opposing it but Milwaukee economic development groups backing it.

Evers said state budget plan will include the tax increase option for those local governments, which could generate additional money that he said could be put toward local roads, services, maintenance, public safety and public health.

Evers’ proposal would require approval of a referendum in the affected county or municipality before the local sales tax could be increased. Evers said by doing that, those who live in the area and would be affected by higher taxes could decide if they want to impose it on themselves.

Current law allows counties to impose a half-cent sales tax. Evers’ plan would allow them to double that. All but four of the state’s 72 counties currently impose the tax. Under the plan, municipalities with 30,000 or more residents could impose a half-cent sales tax for the first time. That would apply to more than two dozen cities across the state, including Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, Appleton, Eau Claire, Oshkosh, Janesville, La Crosse, Wausau and Beloit.

The state sales tax rate is 5%.