News of the Day

WEDC Offers No-Interest Loans to Businesses Affected by July Storms

Wisconsin’s jobs agency will offer no-interest loans to businesses affected by severe storms in July. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced Wednesday that it has allocated $1 million for its Disaster Recovery Microloan Program.

Under the program, WEDC awards grants to regional planning commissions and other local designees, which can issue loans of up to $20,000 for businesses that have measurable physical damage and intend to resume normal operations in their communities as soon as possible.

A typical loan under the program would be repaid over two years, with the first payment deferred for six months or more.

Mary Gage, WEDC’s vice president of business and community development, said the loans help businesses address their immediate challenges, such as cleanup, restoration and reconstruction, as well as payroll and operating expenses.

“We want to get the money out soon, while they’re having their issues and cash flow shortages,” said Gage. “That can tide them over until more long-term recovery funding can be secured by the business.”

WEDC says local officials have already identified over 60 businesses that could qualify in Barron, Wood, Polk and Langlade counties.


PSC Votes to Approve Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project

On Tuesday, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (Commission) unanimously voted to preliminarily approve the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project.

“Transmission is the backbone of clean energy alternatives to fossil fuel,” said
Commission Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “Getting low-cost, clean energy from where it is plentiful in the west to where it is needed, and at the scale that it is needed, cannot be done without building transmission infrastructure. I support this project because I firmly believe that it will provide tangible economic and reliability benefits to Wisconsin customers, and will serve as the cornerstone to achieving a zero carbon future.”

In addition to reduced congestion charges that will ultimately benefit consumers in the form of lower rates, the project will improve transmission system reliability, increase transfer capability between Wisconsin and the west, and will help to reduce carbon emissions by supporting the interconnection of up to 8.4 gigawatts of new generation; the majority of which will be wind power.

The transmission line will run about 87 miles from northeastern Iowa and into Southern Wisconsin. The estimated cost of the project is approximately $492 million. Wisconsin’s portion is estimated to be approximately $67 million. The remainder will be paid by ratepayers in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) member states.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project is a proposed 345 kilovolt electrical transmission line that is to run from the Hickory Creek substation in Dubuque County, Iowa, to the Cardinal substation in Dane County, Wisconsin.

The project is a joint proposal between the applicants, American Transmission Company, ITC Midwest LLC, and Dairyland Power Cooperative. According to the applicants, construction is expected to commence in October of 2020 with the line coming into service by December 2023.

Governor Forms Caregiver Task Force to Solve Shortage of Workers

Governor Tony Evers formed a caregiving task force on Monday, which looks to solve Wisconsin’s shortage of caregivers.

The task force is made up of 29 people who will find ways to bring personal care workers and CNAs to the state, whether it is in the nursing home setting, group home, or in home care.

Kathy Bernier is one of those members and says that she is excited to be working on something that she is very passionate about.

“The task force is set up to discuss how we can attract and retain personal care workers, whether they be CNAs or otherwise,” Bernier said.

According to Bernier, Wisconsin has been facing a personal care worker shortage for the last five years, mainly in nursing homes.

“The fact of the matter is, we created family care in order to keep people out of the nursing homes,” she said. “Now we have been successful at that and now we don’t have enough people in the nursing homes who are able to pay for their care and then they’re entirely reliant on Medicaid.”

Governor Evers sets 100% Carbon-Free Goal

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is creating a new state government office with the goal of pushing the state to become 100% carbon-free in the next three decades.

The goal to have all electricity consumed in Wisconsin meet clean energy benchmarks by 2050 is one the first-term governor included in his budget request earlier this spring. The proposal also sought to creates an Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy.

GOP state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, who chairs the Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee, called the order “irresponsible” in a statement, adding the technology isn’t “available to sustain a power grid 24/7 using intermittent generation.”

“We need to have a reliable energy grid as it is literally the economic engine that keeps moving Wisconsin forward,” the New Berlin Republican said. “To have a goal is one thing, but to mandate it without assurance that the technology will exist is negligent.”

Evers said there wouldn’t be any sanctions for utilities that fail to meet the goals, noting the action is an executive order and “not a mandate.” He said the state would seek to meet the standard by working with utilities and nonprofits to set intermediary benchmarks.

Public Service Commission Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq acknowledged that utilities’ renewable energy investments could lead to rate increases for customers, something she said the state has to “continue to be deliberate about” as coal power plants are retired.

“Everything that is going to be occurring between now and 2050 will have a customer impact and we are aware of that and we are ready and willing to find all sorts of different solutions,” she said.


Opioid Deaths Down in Wisconsin for First Time Since 2015

Opioid overdose deaths dropped in Wisconsin last year for the first time since 2015, with 838 opioid-related deaths in 2018, down 10% from the previous year, state health officials said Wednesday.

Before hitting a record 932 opioid deaths in 2017, the state had 850 opioid deaths in 2016 and 613 in 2015.

Of the 838 deaths in 2018, 327 involved heroin, 297 involved prescription opioids and 504 involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The numbers add up to more than 838 because more than one type of opioid can contribute to a death.

Since the start of Wisconsin’s opioid addiction epidemic 20 years ago, more than 8,500 residents have died from opioid overdoses.

State spending to address the problem, which mostly relies on federal funds, has gone from $5.1 million in 2016 to $24.7 million this year.

About 3.6 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed in Wisconsin in 2018, down from about 4.1 million in 2017 and more than 4.7 million in 2016.


States Sue Trump Administration Over Rollback of Obama-Era Climate Rule

A coalition of 29 states, including Wisconsin, and cities on Tuesday sued to block the Trump administration from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants, setting up a case that could determine how much leverage the federal government has to fight climate change in the future.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a long-running battle over the future of coal and how to regulate the nation’s heavily polluting power plants, which are major producers of greenhouse gases that warm the planet.

The new challenge, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, argues that the Trump administration’s replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, ignores the E.P.A.’s responsibility under the law to set limits on greenhouse gases. The lawsuit also says that the new rule would actually extend the life of dirty and aging coal-burning plants, promoting an increase in pollution instead of curbing it.

Michael Abboud, an E.P.A. spokesman, said in a statement that the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Of the A.C.E. regulations, he said: “EPA worked diligently to ensure we produced a solid rule, that we believe will be upheld in the courts, unlike the previous Administration’s Clean Power Plan.”



Governor Evers Calls on President Trump to End Trade War

Gov. Tony Evers called on President Donald Trump to end the country’s trade dispute with China and other nations, citing harm done to several Wisconsin industries.

In a letter sent Monday, Evers underscored the grave impact of the administration’s trade policy on Wisconsin’s $88 billion agricultural sector, which has undergone a rough period in recent years.

“Farmers of all commodities have been hit by a triple whammy of trade uncertainty, low selling prices for their products, and bad weather,” wrote Evers, a Democrat. “Wisconsin’s farmers deserve better than this.”

Evers’ letter comes as the Trump administration and lawmakers consider approving an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement that would give American dairy farmers more access to Mexican and Canadian dairy markets. Some farmers say the trade agreement would offer them some needed relief.

FEMA Agrees to survey Wisconsin’s July Storm Damage

Te Federal Emergency Management Agency will be sending crews, along with Wisconsin Emergency Management, to conduct preliminary damage assessments from last month’s storms next week.

Eighteen counties and two tribal territories were hit hard by severe storms and tornadoes July 19 and 20.

Gov. Tony Evers made a request to FEMA last week to review the damage in hopes of getting some federal aid for municipal governments, saying damage to private properties was covered by insurance or wouldn’t qualify for government assistance.

Crews will start meeting with local and tribal officials on Tuesday.

The Department of Military Affairs says this is the next step in potentially asking for a federal disaster declaration to help communities get reimbursed for some of the cost put in after the severe damage.

Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos to Head NCSL

Speaker Robin Vos of Wisconsin became the 47th president of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) at the annual Legislative Summit in Nashville.

Vos, a Republican, succeeds Democrat Senator Toi Hutchinson of Illinois. NCSL, a bipartisan organization that serves the nation’s 7,383 state lawmakers and more than 20,000 legislative staff, alternates its leadership annually between the two parties. Vos is the first elected official from Wisconsin in this leadership post.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues from around the country as the new NCSL president,” said Vos.

“Throughout my years at the bipartisan organization, NCSL has served as the premier voice for states, providing valuable resources to members and effectively advocating on behalf of states in Washington, D.C. In this role, I will continue to represent my home state of Wisconsin and work to advocate for a greater reliance on federalism to allow states to innovate and find solutions for the issues facing our country today.”

Vos has served as the 75th speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly since 2013. He is the longest serving GOP speaker in Wisconsin history. In the preceding years, he served consecutively in the Wisconsin State Assembly beginning in 2004.

Vehicle Titles, Registration Fees Increase in Wisconsin Starting October 1

Vehicle titles and registration fees are increasing in Wisconsin due to a provision in the 2019-2020 budget. According to officials with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the new fees take effect Oct. 1.

According to the DOT, the new vehicle title fee will increase from $69.50 to $164.50.

The title fee for a surviving spouse/surviving domestic partner or a low-speed vehicle will increase from $62 to $157.

Annual registration fees for automobiles will increase from $75 to $85.

The DOT’s website features a chart that lays out the increase for other types of vehicles, including light trucks and trailers.

Additionally, according to the DOT, a $75 annual surcharge will be assessed for hybrid electric vehicles (vehicles capable of using both electricity and gasoline, diesel fuel or alternative fuel).