News of the Day

State of Wisconsin, UW-Madison to Raise Hourly Minimum Wage for Employees to $15

The State of Wisconsin, including UW-Madison, intends to increase the minimum wage for its hourly employees to $15 an hour, according to statements issued Friday by the university and Gov. Tony Evers.

For university employees, the increase from the current minimum wage of $13.27 per hour, which aligns with the city of Madison’s 2019 living wage, will go into effect in spring 2020. The wage increase stands to benefit university workers mostly in custodial, animal care and food-service positions. It will not affect temporary or student employees, according to the university.

With the state’s proposed compensation plan for 2019-2021, released Friday, Governor Evers is pushing to provide a 2% increase in wages for tens of thousands of state employees in January, and another 2% raise a year later.

Under the plan, all permanent state employees would earn at least $15 an hour by Jan. 3, 2021, with some state workers receiving the increase starting in June.  Funding for those raises was included in the 2019-21 state budget, but the specific details still have to be hashed out by the Evers Administration and the Legislature.

Wisconsin among 10 Slowest Growing States in Second Quarter

Wisconsin economy grew at an annualized rate of 1.1% in the second quarter, among the 10 slowest growth rates of any state in the country, according to new date from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The growth rate is unchanged from the first quarter.

Only one Midwestern state, Indiana, had a slower growth rate in the quarter at 1%. Three other states, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan, had growth rates of 1.1%. Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota and Missouri all topped 2%, led by Nebraska at 2.4%.

Manufacturing, the state’s largest sector by GDP, saw a slowdown from 2.1% to a 0.4% growth rate. The slowdown was primarily driven by durable goods manufacturing, which dipped from 5.9% to 0.6% and contributed 0.07 percentage points to overall growth.

The major contributors to growth included agriculture, accounting for 0.32 percentage points, utilities, a 0.27 point boost, and management of companies, a 0.26 contributor.

State Senate Approves Bill to End Miller Park Sales Tax

The state Senate has approved a bill to end by next summer the sales tax that funded construction of Miller Park. The 0.1 percent sales tax has been in effect in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha and Racine counties since 1996.

Under current law, the tax would end when the stadium district has paid off its bonds and satisfied reserve requirements. The district is expected to reach that point by early 2020. The bill would require the tax end by August 31, 2020.

Any excess collections would go back to the counties for property tax relief, public safety, parks and recreation or economic development.

The Senate passed the bill 33-0 Tuesday. The Assembly passed it in June. It goes to Gov. Tony Evers next to sign.

Wisconsin State Senate Denies Pfaff Nomination as DATCP Secretary

With Gov. Tony Evers seated in the chamber, Wisconsin Republican Senators on Tuesday voted against Brad Pfaff in his confirmation hearing to officially become the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. In a vote of 14 to 19, the Senate denied the DATCP secretary-designee after two hours of debate on the floor.

Throughout the hearing, Democrats blasted GOP colleagues saying Pfaff is among the state’s most qualified people to lead the agriculture department and that his only fault was disagreeing with Republican leadership last summer when he spoke up over funding mental health programs that were already approved in the state budget.

“Ag is in his DNA. The agricultural industry shaped his life and shaped his values,” said Sen. Jennifer Schilling. “Brad Pfaff is undeniably qualified for this job.”

Sen. Dave Hansen agreed, saying Pfaff spent his whole adult life helping farmers succeed.

“I think the people in that committee that day tells it all. They know he’s a smart and dedicated public servant for our rural community,” Hansen said. “Our industry is in crisis but it started a long time before Secretary-designee Pfaff took office. There is no evidence that he is disqualified from serving. This is all about our senators trying to score political points.”

But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald fired back, saying there has been a number of missteps during Pfaff’s tenure at DATCP to cause some lawmakers to reconsider their support.

“I can continue to make the case that that this person deserves it or this person does not. But there’s a whole slew of things, such as the ATCP 51 policy that people can bring forth as a reason to deny this confirmation,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to be comfortable when confirming appointees… and there are a number of senators who do not feel comfortable.”

Tuesday’s vote means Pfaff is now dismissed from his duties at DATCP headquarters in Madison. Gov. Evers will now need to nominate a new person to lead the department.

United States Formally Pulls Out of Paris Climate Accord

President Trump on Monday began the yearlong process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move in a statement.

“President Trump made the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because of the unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers by U.S. pledges made under the Agreement,” Pompeo said. “The United States has reduced all types of emissions, even as we grow our economy and ensure our citizens’ access to affordable energy.”

The landmark 2015 agreement signed by former President Obama requires the U.S. to reduce emissions about 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The agreement allowed the U.S. to begin the process to withdraw on Monday and finalize the U.S. exit from the agreement on November 4, 2020.

 

State and Local Officials Announce Beginning of Open Enrollment for Health Insurance Market

On Friday, state and local officials and stakeholders, announced the launch of open enrollment for the health insurance market. Open enrollment runs from November 1 to December 15 for individuals purchasing health insurance on the individual market.

Wisconsin residents should visit GetCovered.WI.gov to learn about their health insurance options or they can receive free help signing up for health insurance by calling or texting 2-1-1 to get connected with a local enrollment expert.

“There are more insurance options today than in the last few years,” said Insurance Commissioner Afable. “We’re encouraging everyone who has  considered the marketplace in the past to take another look. You might find a better plan to fit your needs with different coverage options or even lower  rates.”

There are also more than 200,000 Wisconsin residents currently insured by high-quality plans through HealthCare.gov. Open enrollment is the opportunity for them to shop around to make sure they are getting the best coverage to meet their needs.

Wisconsin insurance rates for 2020 are 3.2 percent lower on a weighted average than 2019 rates and there are also more options for insurance plans on the individual market than in previous years.

Alliant to Build 1 Gigawatt of Solar Generation in Wisconsin

Alliant Energy announced plans Thursday to build up to 1,000 megawatts of solar power by the end of 2023 as part of a transition to clean energy sources.

That’s nearly 10 times the state’s current solar-generation capacity and would more than double the amount expected to come online within the next couple of years in large-scale solar farms now undergoing the permitting process or under construction.

If built, it would generate enough electricity to meet the annual needs of about 250,000 typical Wisconsin households.

The company did not specify how or where it would develop the solar energy or whether it plans to buy any of the half-dozen large solar farms now being developed in the state.

Alliant, which has pledged to cut 80 percent of its carbon emissions by 2050, said “changing economics, customer sustainability goals and better renewable technology” are driving the commitment to solar energy.

“We’re accelerating our transition to a clean energy future and putting renewable energy to work for our customers,” CEO John Larsen said in a statement. “For more than 100 years, our mission has been to deliver safe, reliable and affordable energy services.”

AARP Wisconsin Survey Reveals Strong Small Business Support for Retirement Savings Program

Seventy-seven percent of Wisconsin small business owners are supportive of a retirement savings program that would help employees save for retirement at their jobs, according to a new poll released by AARP today. Nearly half of small business owners expressed concern about their employees having enough money saved for retirement.

“Wisconsinites are working as hard as ever, but many do not have a way to save for retirement out of their regular paycheck,” said Lisa Lamkins, Advocacy Director at AARP Wisconsin. “The results of this survey show that small business owners agree legislators should support a Wisconsin retirement savings option to help make businesses in the Badger state more competitive and to give more Wisconsin residents an easy way to save for their retirement.”
Among the survey’s other key findings:

• 70 percent of small business owners think that more should be done to encourage Wisconsin residents to save for retirement.

• 80 percent agree that retirement savings options help small businesses attract employees and stay competitive.

• 85 percent of respondents agree Wisconsin lawmakers should support a Wisconsin retirement savings option.

For more findings from the AARP poll, visit www.aarp.org/WIsmallbizsavings.

Wisconsin Leaders Stress Importance of 2020 Census

With the 2020 U.S. census only a few months away, government officials are rallying together to encourage Wisconsinites to fill out the proper paperwork. The deadline to respond to the U.S. Census Bureau’s survey is April 1.

Gov. Tony Evers joined Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, and U.S. Census Bureau regional director Marilyn Sanders on Monday at Journey House in Milwaukee to begin working on counting as many Milwaukee households as possible.

“At the end of the day the census is not just a head count,” Evers said. “It’s about visibility, voice and values.”

According to Evers, in 2010, Wisconsin had one of the highest census participation rates in the country. During Monday’s press conference, Evers signed an executive order creating Wisconsin’s Complete Count Committee to help make sure every Wisconsin resident is counted next year.

The Wisconsin Complete Count Committee will work to educate residents on the importance of the census and help reach hard-to-count communities such as low-income residents, people with disabilities, communities of color, communities with children under age 5, as well as reaching out to the department of corrections and parole officers.

The committee will also recommend and coordinate specific roles for state agencies to ensure an accurate and complete count in the 2020 census. The committee with also coordinate efforts and resources through the U.S. Census Bureau and other local complete count committees.

An accurate count of residents ensures continued federal support and fair elections in the future. Census data also impacts how much federal funding states get for education, Medicare, food stamps and transportation.

More than 180 Wisconsin Businesses Impacted by Fraud Case

Nearly 200 businesses across the state missed close to a collective $1 million in employee wages after their contracted payroll company, now embroiled in an embezzlement case, failed to make proper payments.

Department of Revenue Secretary Peter Barca said the businesses had contracted with online payroll and human resources provider MyPayrollHR, which last month admitted to a $70 million embezzlement case. MyPayrollHR contracted with more than 1,000 businesses across the country, including about 188 in Wisconsin.

In early September, companies that contracted with MyPayrollHR found that the company had stopped processing employee payroll transactions, resulting in insufficient direct deposits for some employees.

MyPayrollHR has since shuttered, and owner Michael Mann has been charged with fraud.

“They just kind of went out of business precipitously and then left these small businesses holding the bag,” Barca said.

Mann, who owned several companies including MyPayrollHR, was charged with bank fraud last month, according to a September criminal complaint filed in the Northern District of New York. Mann claimed he committed fraud in response to business and financial pressures, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Mann took part in a form of fraud known as “kiting,” in which he wrote checks drawn on one business account and deposited them into a second account, and then reversed the process by immediately writing a check from the second account back to the first. The practice inflates the balance on both accounts, creating the appearance of more funds than are actually present.

Barca said the department still is working to determine how many businesses missed October tax payments. Small business owners will see penalties waived, he said.

Barca said the missing September payments have since been identified and rectified by most businesses owners, but the debacle left some companies potentially open to tax penalties or late payment interest fees with the Department of Revenue.

“I would say you could certainly estimate, at a minimum, it’s between a half a million and million-dollar hit, just on payroll taxes alone,” Barca said. “We’re working with them to make sure all their returns are filed and that there aren’t any penalties.”