News of the Day

President Trump Pitches new North America Trade Deal during Stop in Wisconsin

President Trump on Friday sought to boost his renegotiated North America trade agreement during a speech to employees at a Wisconsin factory, as his top legislative priority faces an uncertain path through Congress.

Trump urged Congress to approve the USMCA “immediately” so that he could sign it into law. He encouraged lawmakers to view the new trade agreement as a “bipartisan bill” before attacking House Democrats over ongoing investigations into his administration.

While Mexico has ratified the USMCA and Canada has taken steps to approve aspects of the deal, the pact has stalled in Congress as House Democrats push for additional assurances on environmental and labor protections.

Trump administration trade officials have praised Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for her collaboration in working through changes to the legislation, but time is running out if lawmakers are to approve the trade deal before the end of the year.

Congress is unable to vote on the pact until the White House sends the implementation legislation, and CNBC reported that the White House is likely to send the USMCA to Congress after Sept. 1.

Federal Deficit Jumps to $747 Billion

The federal deficit rose to $747 billion over the past nine months, a 23 percent increase compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year, according to Treasury figures released Thursday.

The Treasury Department said in the same report that the deficit is expected to exceed $1 trillion by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Revenue was up 2.5 percent, failing to keep pace with the 6.6 percent rise in outlays.

While the largest spending categories remained Social Security, defense, Medicare and health, the sixth-highest expenditure was for servicing the debt.

The amount spent on net interest was also the fastest growing category, increasing 16.4 percent, nearly twice as fast as defense spending and well above increases for Medicare, health, and Social Security.

AT&T Says It Will Automatically Block Robocalls ‘In the Coming Months’

In June, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that carriers could block robocalls for their customers by default — without requiring the customers opt in first.

Now, AT&T is following through on the ruling, enabling its Call Protect service by default for new and existing lines. New customers will automatically have Call Protect enabled going forward, and existing customers will have it enabled “in the coming months.”

AT&T’s Call Protect service does three things: it detects and blocks fraudulent calls entirely, flags telemarketers and spam calls as “Suspected Spam” when the phone rings, and allows you to maintain a personal block list to specifically block individual numbers.

AT&T is the first major US carrier to enable free call blocking for all of its customers in the wake of the FCC ruling.

T-Mobile offers similar features, but only its ScamID service is enabled by default. T-Mobile customers still have to enable its Scam Block feature manually, and the Name ID service that identifies numbers still costs extra. Similarly, Verizon’s Call Filter service needs to be enabled manually, even for the free version, while Sprint’s Premium Caller ID service costs extra and likely won’t be enabled for free anytime soon.

GOP Lawmakers Propose Limiting Governor’s Veto Power

Republican State lawmakers are proposing a resolution that would limit the veto powers of Wisconsin governors less than a week after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued 68 partial vetoes of the state budget.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, would bar the governor from making any vetoes that increase state spending.

Governor Evers used his veto pen to increase K-12 education spending in the budget by about $65 million.

The proposal appears to have a footing in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, issued a statement Tuesday saying he supports the plan.

“Governors of both parties have used their partial veto powers to increase appropriations above what is authorized by the Legislature, which is concerning to lawmakers who are tasked with setting spending levels,” Fitzgerald said in the statement. “I look forward to discussing this resolution in the coming months.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, also said he supports the resoution.

“It’s common sense to not be able to increase spending through a veto,” Vos said in a statement. “I plan to have a caucus discussion on the amendment in the near future.”

The governor’s spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, dismissed the proposal as the action of “sore losers” who “want to change the rules every time they don’t get their way.”

“Republicans in the Legislature chose to ignore the will of the people, but Gov. Evers listened to the people who overwhelmingly said they wanted to see more investments in our public schools,” Baldauff said. “To be clear, this is a temper tantrum in response to Gov. Evers using his authority to align the budget more closely with the will of the people and put more money into our kids’ schools

 

CBO Weighs in on a $15 Minimum Wage

Under a $15 minimum wage, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 17 million workers would see higher pay — plus some smaller number who already made more than $15 but might get raises too — while 1.3 million would lose their employment.

This implies the policy would kick one person out of his job for every 13 people who got a direct pay boost. And naturally those raises don’t come from nowhere; they’re paid by businesses, which in turn earn money from customers.

Adding together the various effects — higher wages, lower employment, higher prices, etc. — the CBO estimates that, on balance, a $15 minimum wage would give $7.7 billion to folks below the poverty line, boosting their income 5.3% percent, and $14.2 billion to folks between one and three times the poverty line, boosting their income 3.5%.

Everyone above that loses a small percentage of income (0.1 to 0.3%, depending on which income group we’re talking about), but these amounts add up to $30.5 billion, meaning that the policy costs Americans in general $8.7 billion net.

Governor Tony Evers Signs State Budget into Law

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed the Republican-crafted state budget into law Wednesday after issuing 78 line-item vetoes and moving to increase school spending by around $65 million in the next two years.

The actions came after the GOP-controlled Legislature approved the $81 billion spending plan last week, sending it to the governor’s desk.

The version of the plan Republicans approved featured some $2 billion less in spending than what Evers originally requested, and it didn’t include measures such as accepting the Medicaid expansion, providing $1.4 billion more in education funding and raising the gas tax for the first time in more than a decade.

Still, Evers during a news conference at the Capitol Wednesday credited his budget and administration for being able to “finally move the needle” in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

“But I have to make this clear: this budget is just a down payment on the people’s budget,” he said, as he pledged to continue pushing for the state to take the federal Medicaid expansion dollars.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, called Evers’ 78 vetoes “minimal” and said the GOP budget was “kept intact” for the most part.

“None of (the vetoes) jump out at me so significant that I think you can make the case that he really changed the document that we passed on the floor of the Senate last week,” he told reporters.

Governor Evers has until Friday to act on Budget

Gov. Tony Evers has until Friday to act on the state budget lawmakers sent him last week.

Evers can allow it to become law without his signature, use his partial veto authority, or reject the document outright.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, whose signature Friday sent the budget to Evers, said he is “optimistic” the governor will sign the appropriations bill.

“There is no good reason that Gov. Evers would not choose to sign the bills that we are moving forward, especially with a budget that we’re doing today,” he said, referencing legislation to delay the closure of Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison along with the budget.

Regardless of how Evers chooses to handle the two-year spending plan, Vos said lawmakers would “probably would not come back until October.”

“If there was some kind of a dire need, of course, I’d talk about it with our leadership team and Sen. Fitzgerald to see if we could come back sooner,” he said.

But the Rochester Republican noted that government funding will continue at the previous level if Evers chose to fully veto the document and thus Republicans would be unlikely to feel pressure to quickly propose a new budget.

“Last year we didn’t pass a budget until September and nobody noticed any difference,” he said.

President Signs Bipartisan IRS Reform Bill

President Trump on Monday signed into law a bipartisan bill to make improvements to the IRS.

“This signing is the culmination of a lengthy, bipartisan process undertaken by the Ways and Means Committee to implement pro-taxpayer reforms at the IRS for the first time in more than 20 years,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “New protections for low-income taxpayers, practical enforcement reforms and upgraded assistance for taxpayers and small businesses will all now go into place.”

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), also praised the measure’s enactment. “Thank you to President Trump for signing this historic legislation, which is the biggest and boldest step in over 20 years to redesign and restructure the IRS into an agency with a singular mission — quality taxpayer service,” he said.

The law makes a host of targeted improvements to the IRS, aimed at bolstering its customer service, modernizing its information technology, helping victims of tax-related identity theft and strengthening taxpayers’ rights during the IRS enforcement process.

Among the provisions in the new law are establishing an independent appeals office, preventing low-income taxpayers from having their cases referred to the IRS’s private-debt collection program and creating a single point of contact at the IRS for identity theft victims. It also includes a provision to increase the penalty for failing to file a tax return, so that the bill does not add to the deficit.

 

Nation’s Largest Coal Producers Look to Merge that Supply Nearly 60% of Wisconsin Coal

The nation’s largest coal producers want to merge two Wyoming mines that supplied more than half the coal burned last year in Wisconsin power plants, raising questions about the potential impact on ratepayers.

Peabody and Arch Coal last week announced plans to form a joint venture that would control seven mines, including five of the most productive mines in the country. The companies said the move would allow them to cut costs in order to compete with natural gas and renewable energy sources.

The two mines, which share a 7-mile property line in the Powder River basin, last year produced more than 10.4 million tons of coal delivered to Wisconsin power plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). That’s more than 57% of the state’s total supply.

What the merger, which is subject to approval from the Federal Trade Commission, means for Wisconsin utilities and their ratepayers is uncertain.

Representatives of the largest coal-burning utilities said the companies are still evaluating the potential effects.

“At this point it is too soon to say what, if any, impact this will have,” said Brendan Conway, spokesman for We Energies, the state’s largest utility, which last year got more than two-thirds of its coal from the two mines.

Arch and Peabody said in a news release that the joint venture would result in cost savings of $120 million a year .

Whether those savings would be passed along to customers remains to be seen, said Brett Watson, a resource economist who studies the coal industry at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

Wisconsin Senate Approves Online Tax Bill, Income Tax Cuts

The state Senate has approved a bill that would require online vendors like Amazon to collect and remit sales taxes from third-party sellers in perpetuity, a move that would trigger income tax cuts.

Under the bill , revenue from the taxes would cover reductions in the two lowest income tax brackets. Taxpayers could expect an average reduction of $27 for 2019 and $59 for 2020.

The Senate approved the bill unanimously Wednesday. The Assembly passed it last week. The measure goes next to Gov. Tony Evers. His spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email asking if he supports the bill.

Coupled with an income tax cut plan Republicans inserted in the state budget, taxpayers could expect a total annual reduction of $91 in 2019 and $124 in 2020.