News of the Day

AAA: Gas Prices Continue to Climb, Not Stopping Anytime Soon

The prices at the pump continue their steady climb as summer travel hits full stride. According to AAA, crude oil prices will hit a seven-year high this week.

The national gas price average is expected to increase to $3.25 a gallon this month. Unfortunately, it’s not going to stop there.

AAA expects gas prices to rise another 10 to 20 cents through the end of August.

The last time the national average gas price was at $3.25 was in late 2014.

Veto Limbo: How Governor Evers could Change the Next State Budget

Gov. Tony Evers is expected to take action on the state budget this week, but how he may use his powerful veto pen to change the two-year spending plan remains unclear.

According to the governor’s office, Evers, a Democrat, officially received the state budget from the GOP-controlled Legislature on Friday. Under state law, he has six days, excluding Sunday, from receiving the budget to act on it. His actions could range from signing the plan with no changes — something Republicans have called for — to vetoing the entire budget, or using his veto pen to make changes, a process known as a partial veto.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, the governor said he wouldn’t comment on his plans, but noted “there’s a large amount of money in the budget for tax cuts,” adding that his veto pen could “balance that out.” He also called the budget’s funding for K-12 schools “inadequate.”

“We’re going to be spending just about every waking moment over the next couple days figuring out what our position will be on that,” he said of the budget signing. “So, stay tuned.”

Governor Evers has one of the powerful veto pens in the country, with the ability to delete words, numbers and punctuation from the budget. According to a 2020 memo from the Legislature’s nonpartisan research office, most other governors are limited to eliminating or reducing spending amounts in budget bills. In contrast, the Wisconsin governor can make changes to any part of the budget, including policy language.

According to Republican leaders, the 2021-2023 budget was strategically written to limit Evers from making any big policy changes with his veto pen.

Speaking with reporters last week, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the GOP majority worked to create a budget that would give Evers little to work with.

“The intent of the finance committee was to produce a budget that had very few new policies, new programs, very few words involved,” LeMahieu said.

Battle Against Scam Calls Intensifies

Still getting too many robocalls? The Federal Communications Commission now requires that carriers implement stricter measures to combat these annoying calls.

STIR/SHAKEN, the new FCC mandate for phone carriers, is designed to curb fraudulent robocalls and illegal phone number spoofing. The latter is a common scheme where a scammer sends a fake caller ID – typically disguised as a local caller – to hide their actual identity.

The goal is for providers to verify that a caller ID is authentic and matches the number that will show up on your phone. The deadline for implementation by carriers was June 30.

“While there is no silver bullet in the endless fight against scammers, STIR/SHAKEN will turbo-charge many of the tools we use in our fight against robocalls,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

Though the deadline for large providers was June 30, the FCC said small voice service providers with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines get an extension until June 30, 2023 – but that extension may be shortened, the FCC added.

Americans received just under 4 billion robocalls in May, according to YouMail. While down from April, the volume was still huge. Robocalls averaged 128.7 million calls per day and 1,490 calls per second, according to YouMail.

I-94 East-West Expansion Approved in Legislature-Passed Budget

The Wisconsin Legislature green lights the expansion of the long-stalled I-94 East-West corridor. Former Gov. Scott Walker stopped it, then in 2020, Gov. Tony Evers revived it. But state law says the Wisconsin Department of Transportation needs legislative approval to spend money on the project. That could come if the governor signs the budget the legislature passed.

The proposed I-94 East-West expansion will add lanes from the Marquette to Zoo Interchanges, a roughly 3.5 mile stretch of the interstate, which Gov. Evers says is one of the most congested and dangerous roads in the state. WISDOT adds that the stretch has twice as many crashes as the average of similar roads in the state.

The governor’s budget proposal asked for $40 million in bonding for the expansion project, which the legislature kept in the budget they approved this week and will send back to him for his signature.

If the governor approves this item in the budget, don’t expect construction any time soon. That’s because the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has ordered a supplemental environmental impact study. It’s goal is to hear from the public, study issues like water runoff, and to see if the pandemic may have changed traffic patterns along this route. Wisconsin Secretary-designee of Transportation Craig Thompson says the earliest they could get final federal approval is late 2022.

Governor Evers, Oneida Nation Chairman Hill Sign Compact Amendment Permitting Event Wagering

Yesterday, Governor Tony Evers and Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill signed a historic compact amendment that expands allowable gaming at Oneida Nation casinos and affiliate locations in the state of Wisconsin to include event wagering. This compact amendment will be the first to allow event wagering, including sports betting, to occur in Wisconsin.

“Event wagering,” as defined by the compact amendment, can include sports and events betting such as wagering on nationally televised award shows, professional sports league drafts, and professional sporting events such as the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball.  The current compact amendment does not allow for wagering on Wisconsin college athletics. Wagering is also prohibited on the outcomes of elections for public office and for events with participants under the age of 19.

The compact amendment signed today follows months of negotiations between the Oneida Nation and the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s (DOA) Division of Gaming. The agreement will be sent to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Bureau has 45 days to review and approve the compact amendment.

If approved, the Oneida Nation can begin expanding operations to allow event wagering at Oneida Casino. The compact amendment also allows for remote event wagering on land owned by the Nation or held in trust for the Oneida Nation by the federal government that contains a commercial building owned or leased by the Oneida Nation. The Oneida Nation hopes to begin offering event wagering in time for the upcoming football season.

State Legislature Approves State Budget, Sends to Governor Tony Evers

The state Legislature has approved and sent the next two-year state budget to Gov. Tony Evers. The plan would spend billions less than the governor proposed.

The state Senate approved the spending plan Wednesday night, about 24 hours after it was passed by the state Assembly on a mostly partisan vote. The vote was largely along party lines in the Senate too, with three Democrats voting in its favor: Sen. Janet Bewley from Mason, Sen. Brad Pfaff from Onalaska and Sen. Jeff Smith from Brunswick. After the session, state Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, touted the passage of the most conservative budget in a generation.

The budget will move to Evers’ desk, where he could use his veto pen to make changes or veto the plan entirely.

The budget is the product of the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee, which made major changes to the spending plan proposed by the governor earlier this year. Overall, it would spend billions less than Evers called for and omit major proposals from the Democratic governor, including legalizing marijuana, expanding Medicaid and raising the minimum wage. It also includes a $3.4 billion tax cut the governor didn’t propose.

The governor hasn’t said whether he will sign or veto the budget. Evers has one of the most powerful veto pens in the country, with the ability to delete words, numbers and punctuation from the budget. For the last budget, he used his veto authority to increase school funding by about $65 million, along with about 75 other changes. 

Governor Evers Vetoes Bill That Would Have Ended Federal Unemployment Benefits Early

Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a bill on Tuesday that would have ended Wisconsin’s participation in federal pandemic relief programs that increase the amount of government assistance available for unemployed people. The supplemental assistance is set to expire on Sept. 6, but at least 25 states started phasing it out earlier this month.

The bill would have reduced the maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Wisconsin from $670 per week to $370 week. It also would have prevented the state Department of Workforce Development from waiving unemployment work search requirements for any reason related to COVID-19. It passed on party-line votes in both chambers of the Legislature.

“Eliminating this lifeline for many Wisconsinites will cause continued economic hardship for those impacted the most by the pandemic and create additional hurdles to return to family-sustaining jobs,” Evers wrote in his veto message. “As a result, the entire state economy likely would be negatively affected.”

“The Legislature needs to confront issues surrounding child care, wages, and workplace COVID-19 safety for those returning to the workforce,” Evers wrote. “Eliminating the supplemental federal benefits while simultaneously failing to address systemic problems faced by individuals remaining in and returning to the workforce is irresponsible.”

Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, disputed Evers’ assertion that there is no link between the extra money and the state’s workforce shortage.

“Every single employer I have talked to is challenged to find workers. Hardworking employees, who have been stretched very thin, tell me that they are getting tired,” Marklein said. “From restaurants to manufacturers to city governments to state parks. Every single employer is competing with the government’s unnecessary enhanced unemployment checks.”

Unemployment insurance should be a “safety net,” not a “brick wall for employers,” Marklein argued. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, argued the veto only serves to add “one more hurdle” for businesses trying to recover from the pandemic.

Americans Leaving Unemployment Rolls More Quickly in States Cutting Off Benefits

The number of unemployment-benefit recipients is falling at a faster rate in the 22 other states canceling enhanced and extended payments this month, suggesting that ending the aid could push more people to take jobs.

The number of workers paid benefits through regular state programs fell 13.8% by the week ended June 12 from mid-May — when many governors announced changes — in states saying that benefits would end in June, according to an analysis by Jefferies LLC economists. That compares with a 10% decline in states ending benefits in July, and a 5.7% decrease in states ending benefits in September. Workers on state programs would lose the $300 weekly federal enhancement but could continuing receiving the state benefits.

Jefferies also found somewhat larger decreases in the number of people receiving benefits through pandemic programs in states curtailing benefits, though the data lags behind by an additional week. In many cases, those recipients will be cut off entirely when their state ends participation in the federal programs.

Other economists and many Democrats say other factors, including lack of child care and fear of Covid-19, are also keeping many potential workers out of the labor force.

Republicans to Vote This Week on $87.5 billion GOP-Authored Budget

The state Legislature this week will vote on the $87.5 billion GOP-authored biennial budget.

Republicans on the budget committee made use of an estimated $4.4 billion surplus to work more than $3 billion in tax cuts into the proposed 2021-23 biennial budget, but also stripped away several of Evers’ high-profile measures like Medicaid expansion and drastically reduced other proposals like the governor’s call for $1.6 billion in K-12 spending.

All told, the Republican biennial budget spends $87.5 billion in total, $37.3 billion of that in taxpayer money. Evers’ plan would spend $91.2 billion, with $38.6 billion of that from state taxpayers, according to a Thursday report from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said last week the GOP-authored budget makes the most of the state’s unprecedented surplus, while also taking into account billions in federal stimulus funds, to provide more than $3 billion in tax cuts, including plans to eliminate the state’s more than 170-year-old personal property tax, which businesses pay on furnishings and equipment.

Governor Evers Announces More Than $140 Million for Wisconsin’s Tourism and Entertainment Industries

Yesterday, Governor Tony Evers announced more than $140 million in grants to businesses and organizations that play an integral role in Wisconsin’s tourism and entertainment industries. The new grant programs will be invested in industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, including live event venues, movie theaters, summer camps, minor league sports, and the lodging industry. Additional investments will be made in reopening Wisconsin historical sites and marketing support for Wisconsin’s tourism industry.

The investments announced by Gov. Evers today include:

• $75 million for lodging grants;
• $11.25 million for movie theaters;
• $12 million for live event small businesses;
• $2.8 million for minor league sports teams;
• $10 million for live venues;
• $15 million for destination marketing organizations;
• $8 million for summer camps;
• $1 million for the Wisconsin Historical Society to assist in reopening historical sites; and
• $7.5 million to increase marketing support for Wisconsin’s tourism industry.

These investments are being funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) and will be administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration and the Department of Revenue.

Individuals and businesses interested in receiving more information about the grants, including application, should sign up to receive alerts here.