News of the Day

Senate ObamaCare Repeal Bill Falls

The Senate rejected a scaled-back ObamaCare repeal bill in the early hours of Friday in a shocking vote that marks a major defeat for GOP leaders and the seven-year effort to repeal the health law.

The Senate voted 49-51 against the “skinny” bill, which would have repealed ObamaCare’s individual and employer mandates and defunded Planned Parenthood. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) provided the crucial vote against the bill, alongside GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

The so-called “skinny” bill was cast by Republicans as a way to keep their repeal hopes alive and get to negotiations with the House. Now, it appears that Republican hopes of repealing ObamaCare have been quashed.

In a speech from the Senate floor early Friday morning after the surprise failed vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said “it is time to move on.” “What we tried to accomplish for the American people was the right thing for the country,” McConnell said. “I think the American people are going to regret that we couldn’t find another way forward.”

Moving forward, McConnell invited Democrats to offer their ideas, but he seemed skeptical, saying that “bailing out insurance companies” would not be acceptable.

President Trump reacted on Twitter, saying the three Republicans and Democrats who all voted against the bill had let the country down.

Foxconn Announces $10 Billion Investment, Will Create 13,000 Jobs in New Wisconsin Campus

Foxconn Technology Group (Foxconn), the world’s largest electronics manufacturing services provider, announced yesterday it will invest $10 billion by 2020 to build a world-class manufacturing campus in Southeastern Wisconsin. The campus will create 13,000 new jobs in the state and represents the largest new greenfield investment made by a foreign-based company in U.S. history. Foxconn Founder and CEO Terry Gou made the announcement at the White House and was joined by President Donald J. Trump and Governor Scott Walker.

“This is a once-in-a-century opportunity for our state and our country, and Wisconsin is ready,” Governor Scott Walker said. “We are calling this development ‘Wisconn Valley,’ because we believe this will have a transformational effect on Wisconsin, just as Silicon Valley transformed the San Francisco Bay Area. Foxconn plans to bring the future of high-tech manufacturing to America, and Wisconsin is going to lead the way. We are honored Foxconn chose Wisconsin, and I thank Terry Gou for all he has done to make this happen.”

Employees at this new facility will manufacture state-of-the-art liquid crystal display (LCD) screens which will be used in everything from self-driving cars to aircraft systems and in the fields of education, entertainment, healthcare, safety and surveillance, advanced manufacturing systems, and office automation, among others. Foxconn is a global leader in manufacturing services for the computer, communication, and consumer electronics (3C) industry – championing innovation that touches the daily lives of people around the world.

“We are thrilled to build a state-of-the art display fabrication plant in America’s heartland, which will be the first of a series of facilities we are building in several U.S. states as part of a robust 8K+5G ecosystem in the United States,” said Foxconn Founder and CEO Terry Gou. “We thank President Trump and Governor Walker for their work to bring Foxconn to Wisconsin. Wisconsin offers a talented, hardworking workforce, and a long track record in advanced manufacturing, all of which presents an extraordinary opportunity.”

Foxconn first established operations in the United States in 1988 and has facilities and offices in Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. Their operations include manufacturing, assembly and R&D facilities, as well as offices which are involved in sourcing from U.S. supply chain partners, product servicing, and manufacturing sales.

“Cutting edge technology will be made in America; right in the State of Wisconsin,” Governor Walker continued. “Wisconsin has the best manufacturing workforce in the world, a top 10 business climate, and the education and transportation systems needed to attract this type of global corporation. We are moving Wisconsin forward.”

Senate Republicans Vote to Move Ahead on Obamacare Repeal

Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to open debate on repealing Obamacare, dramatically reviving an effort that many GOP lawmakers left for dead just a few days ago.

The vote is no guarantee that the fractured Republican caucuses can coalesce around a single health care plan. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us and I don’t think anybody’s taking anything for granted,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “If we can get something by the end of this week through the Senate it would at least position us so that we can get to conference with the House.”

The leading idea now is to repeal only a small portion of the health law in order to get a bill to a conference with the House.

Republicans would aim to enact a bill repealing three parts of Obamacare: the individual and employer mandates and the medical device tax, according to Republican sources. It could be expanded or altered depending on where the bulk of the conference is.

“Whatever gets to 50,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

The goal would be to get an Obamacare repeal bill through the Senate and to a conference with the House. Or perhaps to pass a bill that the House would accept given opposition among some House members to a bicameral conference committee.

 

State Consumer Protection Hotline Subjected to ‘Spoofing ’

It appears the Wisconsin Consumer Protection Hotline phone number is being “spoofed.”

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has received a number of reports from consumers stating they received a call from the Consumer Protection Hotline today as our 800 number appeared on their caller ID.

The Bureau of Consumer Protection does not make phone calls to consumers using the 800 number. It is there for consumers and businesses to contact the Bureau to report a problem, file a complaint, or ask questions about consumer laws.

If we do call a consumer, the number that appears on a caller ID is our local phone number with a 608 area code. We will not call you “out of the blue” or randomly. We will only call consumers if you left a message for a return call or if you filed a complaint with us. We also identify ourselves and tell you why we are calling.

One consumer reported the message left by the caller was about the WI Do Not Call list. Others indicated there was no message, only that the 800 number appeared on their caller ID. Wisconsin consumers are not the only ones receiving these “spoofed” calls, as reports have come in from people in seven other states at this point.

Should you receive this call, don’t answer or engage the caller – just hang up.

DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel to Retire in August

Wisconsin’s longest serving agriculture secretary is about to call it a career. Ben Brancel, who served as the leader of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection non-consecutively for 10 of the past 20 years, announced at the agency’s monthly board meeting on Thursday that he will retire on August 13.

“It has been my pleasure to serve as Secretary,” Brancel wrote in a letter to the board. “I have given this much thought about when is the right time to retire. I came to the conclusion that there always will be unfinished business to be done, but now is the time to return to my family’s farm full-time in Marquette County as we plan for our first ever production sale. My son and daughter-in-law are now the sixth generation to farm the land. My first job was a farmer, and my last job will be a farmer.”

Brancel, who turns 67 later this month, is a fifth-generation beef producer from Endeavor, where he raises Angus beef cattle on a 290-acre farm with help from his wife, Gail. After serving on the Marquette County board of supervisor and local school board, he was elected to serve in the State Assembly’s 42nd district in 1987. Over the following decade, he would rise through the ranks and become Assembly Speaker until 1997 when then-Governor Tommy Thompson tapped him to run the DATCP after Alan Tracy left for another job.

After being replaced by former Governor Scott McCullum in 2001, Brancel was appointed by the George W. Bush Administration to serve as the director of the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency–a post he held until early 2009. He was then hired to serve as the part-time state relations liaison for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, a position funded from donor resources.

Ben returned to DATCP under Gov. Scott Walker’s appointment in 2011; and has been a hands-on secretary who was instrumental in drafting and implementing major legislative policies ranging from non-point source pollution revisions to updating implements of husbandry standards. He also took a personal role in helping dozens of Wisconsin dairy farmers find new buyers for their milk this past April when several dairy plants were forced to abruptly drop many of their patrons. And he took part in numerous international trade missions with the goal of spurring new business relationships with customers abroad.

In a statement, Gov. Walker called Brancel a leader who served with distinction.

“His leadership and counsel on agriculture and trade issues have been invaluable to me, and I thank him for his service and dedication to the people of Wisconsin,” Walker said. “We wish Ben and his wife, Gail, all the very best as they begin this new and exciting chapter.”

State of Wisconsin Launches Site to Connect Students with Internships

The state Department of Workforce Development is seeking to boost the number of college students with internships at Wisconsin companies with a new website that’s similar to its Jobs Center of Wisconsin.

The website, www.internshipwisconsin.com, and its flagship tool, WisConnect, seeks to match employers with potential interns.

College students with an active .edu email address can create an account, upload their resume and search for opportunities by geography, major and other categories.

Employers who have created a Job Center of Wisconsin profile are able to use the same sign-in information to access the site and internships posted on the Job Center site will also be posted on WisConnect. Employers will be able to search for candidates by key skills, major and location.

The project is a partnership between the department, the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

“Employers tell us they want and need more talent, and we must do all we can to point students towards an internship or other professional experience, which can be instrumental in retaining new graduates right here in Wisconsin,” said UW System President Ray Cross.

Lawmakers allocated funding last year to create two Department of Workforce Development positions focused on coordinating efforts to boost internships with higher education institutions.

The department says three-quarters of interns who are offered a full-time position accept it and more than half of those who come on full-time stay for at least five years. The external hire five-year retention rate is 36 percent, the department says.

State Senate Republicans Unveil Budget Plan

State Senate Republicans have announced a plan to end the 18-day standoff over the state’s overdue budget. The 2017-19 state spending plan released Tuesday provides the most detailed look at where Senate Republicans stand on unresolved areas of the budget, such as taxes and funding for schools, roads and bridges.

While Tuesday’s proposal is intended to restart budget discussions, Fitzgerald acknowledged, even as he unveiled it, that he’s not sure if the Senate could pass the measure as-is. “I’m not going to make that prediction that I have the votes right now,” Fitzgerald said.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said the Senate plan contained few new proposals, but a “wide gap” remains on transportation funding, the main issue holding up the budget’s passage. Still, Assembly GOP leaders said the plan’s arrival is good news.

“It’s good to see Senate Republicans have solidified their positions and are ready to come back to the table,” Assembly Republican leaders, including Vos, said in a statement.

Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson also tweeted Tuesday that the governor “welcomes the initiative by the state Senate to move the process forward while keeping his priorities largely intact on K-12 education funding, property tax relief, and transportation. The governor will continue to champion income tax relief.”

The budget proposal includes K-12 school proposals that have largely been negotiated with Assembly Republican leaders, including increasing the number of families eligible for a taxpayer-funded voucher to attend a private school, Fitzgerald said.

On transportation funding — where the gap between Assembly and Senate GOP leaders appears greatest — Fitzgerald said his plan would avoid delays to major highway projects, in part with $712 million in new borrowing.

Assembly Republicans have said they won’t support new road borrowing without a plan to pay for it. Senate Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker have resisted proposals to provide more revenue for roads and bridges.

The Senate GOP plan uses most of its extra borrowing to fund massive freeway projects in southeast Wisconsin, including on U.S. Interstate 94 near Milwaukee. It also would repeal the prevailing wage requirement for state-funded projects, as Walker proposed. Two years ago, Walker and lawmakers repealed prevailing wage for projects funded by local governments.

The Senate plan would eliminate 200 state Department of Transportation staff positions and end DOT studies of possible future highway expansions, including one for the Madison Beltline. Fitzgerald said the plan does not move the state closer to collecting highway tolls, a step state leaders had weighed heavily in recent months.

The Senate plan includes several key tax changes, including eliminating the state’s personal property tax and alternative minimum tax. It excludes Walker’s proposal for a state income tax cut, which would cut the tax rates of the two bottom income brackets.

Another Walker proposal that doesn’t make the Senate plan is a sales tax holiday for two days in August for school supplies, which would cost the state about $22 million in revenue.

 

McConnell Abandons Obamacare Repeal and Replace Effort

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug late Monday on the Republican effort to overhaul the U.S. health insurance system and pledged the chamber will now focus on only dismantling the 2010 health care law.

“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” the Kentucky Republican said.

McConnell said the Senate will now take up the House-passed health care bill and amend it with legislation the Senate supported in 2015 to repeal the 2010 health care law “with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period to a patient-centered health care system that gives Americans access to quality, affordable care.”

Before McConnell’s announcement on the next steps, President Donald Trump tweeted Monday night that “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!”

Democrats have made it clear they won’t support anything that would repeal the law but indicated they would discuss changes to stabilize the health insurance marketplaces.

“Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health care system,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer in a statement issued before McConnell announced next steps.

State Estimates Employers will Save $637 Million on Unemployment Taxes by 2018

Recently, Gov. Scott Walker  touted the savings of $637 million in unemployment taxes for businesses paying into the state’s unemployment program.

The majority of those savings, $482 million since 2013, are the result of an improving economy and roughly a quarter come from changes made to unemployment tax schedules since 2016. Walker says the state went from having the highest tax to the lowest over the last three years, resulting in $155 million in savings, including an estimated $20 million in the 2018 tax year.

Funding for the unemployment trust fund comes from roughly 140,000 covered employers in the state, meaning the savings from tax schedule changes amounted to about $1,100 per employer over three years and the improving economy savings resulted in $3,440 per employer over five years.

Walker pointed out that the state’s unemployment trust had a $1.4 billion deficit in December 2010 and was one of 30 states to use federal loans to pay benefits during the Great Recession, but now has a $1.3 billion positive fund balance as of June 30.

“With a significantly improved business climate, economic growth and smart UI system reforms, employers are adding jobs and Wisconsin workers are finding good-paying opportunities to support themselves and their families,” Walker said.

After hovering around 4.2 percent for much of 2016, the state’s unemployment rate has steadily fallen over the first five months of the year to 3.1 percent in May. Month-to-month declines in unemployment have picked up since the start of the year, averaging a drop of about 6,100 or 5.3 percent.

Employment, meanwhile, has averaged a 0.5 percent increase from one month to the next this year, a jump of about 14,000.

Walker also touted reforms to the state unemployment program instituted in recent years. Those changes included a rule making a failed or refused drug test count as a failure to accept suitable work, although those who do fail could keep their benefits by enrolling in drug treatment and completing a job skill assessment.

The changes also lowered the wage threshold for suitable work by 5 percentage points and require those with an expectation of reemployment to job search if they were going to be laid off for more than eight to 12 weeks.

Wisconsin Republicans Propose Sweeping Changes to Department of Transportation

A group of Republican lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of legislative proposals aimed at making the state Department of Transportation more efficient and accountable.

The proposals, rolled into an omnibus bill, come as the majority party struggles to reach a consensus on the broader issue of how to fill a project $1 billion deficit in the transportation fund. The dispute has brought progress on the state budget, now 12 days overdue, to a halt.  While that debate centers on whether the state should borrow money or raise revenue, the lawmakers behind the “DOT Reform” bill say regardless of the budget outcome, changes are needed within the agency.

The new proposal is being spearheaded by Sens. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, and Reps. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, and Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield.

“This bill will restore taxpayer confidence in an agency that has strayed from the sound fiscal and good-government principles we expect,” Sanfelippo said in a statement.

Under the bill, DOT would have more options for project delivery to bring down costs and shorten completion times. The bill would also create a Technical Review Committee to review contract proposals, and create incentives to use Wisconsin-based contractors.

The amount of engineering work allowed to be done by DOT staff would be limited to 20 percent, and the agency would be required to revise its funding formula to be based on need rather than baseline funding.

The agency would be required to report its progress to the Legislature, and would be subjected to an operational and financial audit.

The bill also includes proposals that have already been introduced as separate legislation. Roundabouts could not be constructed without approval from local communities, and communities could not implement a wheel tax without approval granted through a referendum. The state auditor would appoint an inspector general to investigate the operations and finances of the DOT, and a portion of federal funds would be “swapped” with state dollars to cut down on federal regulations. The bill also includes a repeal of the state’s prevailing wage.

“After demonstrating a poor use of taxpayer dollars, substantial reform is essential at the DOT,” Kapenga said in a statement. “These reforms have been proven around the country to save significant money and deliver projects in a more efficient and effective manner. It is part of what is need to help get the agency back on track.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he supports most components of the bill, including the prevailing wage repeal.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in both chambers to improve the DOT to bring about a more effective and efficient agency,” Vos said in a statement. “However, it’s important to understand that reforms alone won’t resolve the transportation funding issue that must be addressed in order to maintain a reliable and safe highway system.”