Month: January 2022

Governor Evers and Legislative Republicans at Odds over What to do with a State Budget Surplus

A rosier picture of Wisconsin’s budget has taken shape as the projected surplus forecast improved by nearly $2.9 billion this week.

Now, it is up to Republicans, who control the Legislature, to decide whether to spend or save that money. However, the state’s Democratic governor made a push of his own Thursday.

Under the governor’s plan, every Wisconsinite would get a $150 surplus refund, including dependents. For example, a family of four would get $600.

Additionally, Gov. Evers called for spending $131.8 million on tax relief specifically for caregivers and families, as well as investing another $750 million in K-12 education.

The proposals would cost the state roughly $1.7 billion of the projected revenue surplus.

“Senate Republicans will not gamble with a projected state surplus to fund Tony Evers’ re-election gimmicks,” Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said in a statement after the governor’s announcement.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he’s looking forward to discussing the surplus dollars with his colleagues, and when his party proposed a one-time tax credit, they knew it wouldn’t result in a long-term impact for the people of Wisconsin.

“With a surplus this size, we are committed to permanent, generational tax reform, as also seen in every Republican budget over the last decade,” Vos said in a statement.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Announces Retirement

United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has announced he will retire, giving President Joe Biden an opportunity to nominate a new jurist to the country’s highest court.

In a letter to President Biden on Thursday, the 83-year-old justice said his resignation would take effect at the end of the current term, usually in late June or early July, “assuming that by then my successor has been nominated and confirmed.”

The President repeated an earlier promise that he would nominate a Black woman to the nine-member high court, which would be a first in U.S. history. Biden said he would announce a pick to replace Breyer before the end of February.

Supreme Court justices serve lifetime appointments and a replacement to Breyer is likely to serve in the role for decades.


Federal Reserve Points to Interest Rate Hike Coming in March

Facing both turbulent financial markets and raging inflation, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday indicated it could soon raise interest rates for the first time in more than three years as part of a broader tightening of historically easy monetary policy.

In a move that came as little surprise, the Fed’s policymaking group said a quarter-percentage point increase to its benchmark short-term borrowing rate is likely forthcoming. It would be the first rise since December 2018.

The post-meeting statement from the Federal Open Market Committee did not provide a specific time for when the increase will come, though indications are that it could happen as soon as the March meeting. The statement was adopted without dissent.

“With inflation well above 2 percent and a strong labor market, the Committee expects it will soon be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate,” the statement said. The Fed does not meet in February.

In addition, the committee noted the central bank’s monthly bond-buying will proceed at just $30 billion in February, indicating that program is expected to end in March as well at the same time that rates increase.

There were no specific indications Wednesday when the Fed might start to reduce bond holdings that have bloated its balance sheet to nearly $9 trillion.

However, the committee released a statement outlining “principles for reducing the size of the balance sheet.” The statement is prefaced with the notion that the Fed is preparing for “significantly reducing” the level of asset holdings.

OSHA Formally Withdraws Its Vaccine-or-Test Mandate

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is formally withdrawing its emergency temporary standard requiring large companies to require their employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, the agency announced January 25.

The withdrawal of the standard comes after a January 13 U.S. Supreme Court opinion staying the standard, saying that challengers to the rule were likely to prevail on their claims. The high court voted 6-3 to stay the temporary standard, ruling that OSHA did not have the authority to issue the mandate.

The mandate, issued November 5, would have required companies with 100 or more employees to see that their employees get vaccinated, or wear face coverings and test weekly.

OSHA said that public comments on the mandate withdrawal would be “impracticable, unnecessary and contrary to the public interest because it would unnecessarily delay the resolution of ambiguity for employers and workers alike.”

The agency’s pre-publication Federal Register announcement said: “Notwithstanding the withdrawal of the vaccination and testing [emergency temporary standard], OSHA continues to strongly encourage the vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by COVID-19 in the workplace.”

Although the justices issued a stay — or hold — on the mandate, sending it back down to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a possible challenge by the Department of Labor, the withdrawal by OSHA effectively signals the end of a possible challenge by the Labor Department.


U.S. Department of Labor Announces Annual Adjustments to OSHA Civil Penalties

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor announced adjustments to Occupational Safety and Health Administration civil penalty amounts based on cost-of-living adjustments for 2022.

In 2015, Congress passed the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act to advance the effectiveness of civil monetary penalties and to maintain their deterrent effect. Under the Act, agencies are required to publish “catch-up” rules that adjust the level of civil monetary penalties, and make subsequent annual adjustments for inflation no later than January 15 of each year.

OSHA’s maximum penalties for serious and other-than-serious violations will increase from $13,653 per violation to $14,502 per violation. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations will increase from $136,532 per violation to $145,027 per violation.

Visit the OSHA Penalties page for more information.

UW System Board of Regents Selects Jay Rothman as next System President

Jay O. Rothman will take office as the next University of Wisconsin System President after a unanimous Board of Regents vote on Friday to offer him the position.

Rothman will be UW System’s eighth president, succeeding current interim President Tommy Thompson, who has been in that role since July 1, 2020. Thompson has announced that he will step down on March 18.

Rothman has been chairman and CEO of Foley & Lardner since 2011 and has been a member of the firm’s Management Committee since February 2002. He joined Foley in 1986 and has been a partner since 1994. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Rothman was raised on a small operating farm outside of Wausau where his family raised beef cattle and horses. His parents attended UW-Stevens Point, with his mother receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. His mother is a retired schoolteacher, and his father was a dentist. He has two adult children. His daughter is a graduate of UW-Madison.

A 1971 state law unified two public university systems under a single Board of Regents. The UW System educates approximately 165,000 students at 13 universities across 26 campuses, serves more than 1 million Wisconsin residents through statewide outreach programs, and employs about 39,000 faculty and staff statewide.

Unemployment Insurance 2021 Tax Statements Now Available Online

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is reminding state residents who received Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits last year that they must report UI benefits as taxable income on their 2021 tax returns, and that their 1099-G income tax statements for the year are easily accessible through UI’s secure and confidential online system.

Unemployment benefits including Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) and Extended Benefits (EB) are considered taxable income for both federal and state income taxes, and the 1099-G form shows the amount of UI benefits a claimant received during the previous year.

To access 1099-G tax statements, claimants can go to the 1099-G Tax Information page then follow a few easy steps to obtain an electronic copy of their 2021 benefit payment records.

In response to customer service trends toward the convenience of online self-service, claimants who have logged onto UI’s online claimant portal are being notified their 1099-G statements for 2021 will be accessible online and that they should not expect to be mailed paper copies. Claimants who have been granted a long-term exception to using online services will receive their 1099-G statements by mail. DWD will continue to mail paper copies upon request.

Assembly Speaker Announces Special Committee on Trade and Supply Chain

Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced the creation of the Special Assembly Committee on Trade and Supply Chain. State Representative Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) will Chair the new committee.

“Across the state and country, demand is high, quantity is low, prices are increasing, and workers are scarce. The creation of this committee is another step Assembly Republicans are taking to support the Wisconsin businesses, families, and individuals who are impacted by these economic factors. I have full confidence Representative Brooks and the members of the committee will work hard to address these issues,” stated Speaker Vos.

The Committee on Trade and Supply Chain will focus on the relationship between the labor shortage and supply chain interruptions and the impacts and barriers this creates for businesses and consumers. The committee will examine the disruptions in production and distribution of products over the last two years, the lack of workers in the labor market, and Wisconsin’s role in recovering.

Legislative Republicans Propose Stronger Workforce Initiative

Wisconsin Republicans have introduced a package of bills that would scale back safety net programs like unemployment insurance and Medicaid, arguing the government is to blame for the state’s workforce shortage.

“The more people that are on these programs who don’t truly need them, the more the programs are stressed, and the less funding is available to help the truly needy,” said Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, at a Madison press conference Tuesday introducing the package.

The measures introduced by Republicans on Tuesday include:

  • A plan to “index” Wiscosin’s unemployment insurance benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. Right now, people can receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance. This plan would allow for the full 26 weeks only when the state’s unemployment rate is greater than 9 percent. When the unemployment rate is less than or equal to 3.5 percent, benefits would be cut off after 14 weeks.
  • A proposal that would cut off Medicaid, or BadgerCare, to adults without kids if they turn down an offer to work more, or turn down an increase in pay. Some BadgerCare recipients are reluctant to increase their hours out of fear they’ll lose their current health plan and be unable to afford similar health insurance on the private market.
  • New penalties for unemployment insurance recipients who “ghost” employers, or don’t show up to a scheduled job interview.
  • work requirement for able-bodied adults without kids who are seeking FoodShare benefits.
  • measure that would ban the state Department of Health Services from automatically renewing eligibility for medical assistance benefits.
  • Proposals that would rebrand Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance program as “reemployment assistance” and create new penalties for unemployment insurance fraud.

Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback did not say whether the governor would veto the plans, but in a written statement, she highlighted Evers’ ongoing effort to use federal recovery funds to address the state’s workforce issues.

Holiday Retail Sales Hit Record

Retail sales totaled roughly $887 billion in November and December, a record figure that represents a 14.1 percent increase over 2020, according to an analysis from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

“We closed out the year with outstanding annual retail sales and a record holiday season, which is a clear testament to the power of the consumer and the ingenuity of retailers and their workers,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “The numbers are clear: 2021 was an undeniably outstanding year for retail sales.”

NRF credited the strong sales to consumers’ increased wages and high personal savings. Clothing stores saw the largest increase in sales, up 33.1 percent, while sales at sporting goods stores and general merchandise stores increased by 20.9 percent and 15.2 percent, respectively.

The figures, which are based on U.S. Census Bureau data, exclude car dealers, gas stations and restaurants, which were among the businesses hardest hit by the omicron surge in December.