News of the Day

Governor Walker Already Plans Vetoes for Parts of Newly-Approved State Budget

Governor Scott Walker has made known the items he’d like to veto after the Wisconsin State Senate passed the 2017-2019 state budget early Friday evening.

In a statement issued soon after the 19-14 vote on the budget that was 11 weeks late in getting approved, the governor said he spoke with senate leaders Friday night and agreed to veto the following items:

* Modifications to Public Finance Authority

* Initial Applicability of the Repeal of Prevailing Wage Law

* Transportation Projects Commission Changes

* Transfer of Segregated Funds (WisDOT Fed Swap)

* Tolling Implementation Study — some 2.5 million was set aside for a study looking into whether to allow toll roads in Wisconsin.

* Energy Efficiency Revenue Limit Adjustment

* School District Referenda Scheduling

* State Capitol Basement Renovations — a million dollars had been set aside for this work.

* Local Regulation of Quarries —  this provision would have  removed local oversight of rock quarries in the state.  Governor Walker says he’s vetoing this item because he believes changes of this magnitude should be addressed in separate legislation.

His office says all vetoes, including full summaries, will be included in the governor’s veto message.

WHEDA Announces New Small Business Financing Tools

At its annual conference on September 12, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) announced new capital funds to help small businesses expand.

The newly-created WHEDA/LRC Wisconsin Business Opportunity Fund totals $5 million and will finance equipment purchases and other types of hard assets for small businesses through the federal New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) program. NMTCs allocated by WHEDA are a resource to help generate job creation and economic development by promoting equity investment in low-income urban and rural communities. Legacy Redevelopment Corporation (LRC) will administer the fund.

An additional $6.1 million is being made available to support WHEDA’s Participation Lending Program approved in 2012 by Governor Walker and the state legislature. The Participation Lending Program can be used for purchases such as land, facilities and equipment as well as long term working capital.

The $11.1 million of capital for the two new programs is being provided by PNC Bank, Johnson Bank and Milwaukee LISC. A minimum of $3 million will be targeted for the Milwaukee area with the balance available statewide.

For more information on WHEDA programs, visit wheda.com or call 800-334-6873.

President Trump puts Regulation Monitors in U.S. Agencies

President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Friday to place “regulatory reform” task forces and officers within federal agencies in what may be the most far-reaching effort to pare back U.S. red tape in recent decades.

The sweeping order directs every federal agency to establish a task force to ensure each has a team to research all regulations and take aim at those deemed burdensome to the U.S. economy and designate regulatory reform officers within 60 days and must report on the progress within 90 days.

“Excessive regulation is killing jobs, driving companies out of our country like never before,” Trump said before signing the order. “Every regulation should have to pass a simple test; does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers?”

Each task force will make recommendations on which regulations to repeal or simplify, Trump said.The order says agencies should seek to repeal regulations that “inhibit job creation,” are “ineffective,” impose costs that exceed benefits or “create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory initiatives and policies.”

Assembly, Senate to Debate Budget, Foxconn this Week

Wisconsin state lawmakers have a busy week ahead, with the Senate and Assembly scheduled to debate both the state budget and Wisconsin’s $3 billion Foxconn incentives package.

The Senate will take up the Foxconn bill Tuesday. A version of the bill already passed the Assembly.

Assuming the Senate passes the Foxconn bill Tuesday, the full Assembly would convene to approve the changes Thursday.

The Assembly will also convene Wednesday to debate the full state budget, which passed the Legislature’s budget committee on a 12-4 party line vote last week.

Republicans hold a 64-35 seat majority in the Assembly, meaning the budget is all but guaranteed to pass, although Republicans could potentially amend the plan.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office says Republicans in that chamber have not finalized when they plan to take up the budget.

Equifax Data Breach: What Do You Do Now?

Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, reported a data breach yesterday that may affect as many as 143 million Americans – nearly 44% of the United States population.

Equifax has set up a website (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com) that allows consumers to check if their information may have been exposed in the breach. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) advises all affected Wisconsin consumers to take additional steps to protect their credit record.

According to Equifax, hackers gained access to certain files between mid-May and late July of this year. Information in the breach includes consumers’ names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses. Some consumers’ credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, and dispute documents (that contain personally identifying information) were also accessed.

Equifax has established a dedicated call center at 866-447-7559 to answer consumers’ questions about the breach. The call center is open every day (including weekends) from 6:00 a.m. – midnight, Central Time.

If you believe you may have been affected by this data breach, take these next steps:

Download a copy of the DATCP fact sheet “Data Breach: What to do if it happens to you.

Consider placing a free 90-day (renewable) fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting one of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Experian (888-397-3742), TransUnion (800-680-7289), or Equifax (888-766-0008). When you place a fraud alert with one bureau, that bureau will relay the request to the other two companies on your behalf. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is actually you.

For an even higher level of protection, you may wish to place a security freeze on your credit reports. A freeze bars access to your reports to almost anyone without your express permission.

Request a free credit report from the three credit bureaus by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or calling (877) 322-8228. Check your report for irregularities.

Peter Barca to Step Down as Assembly Minority Leader

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca is stepping down from his post leading the Democrats in his house after 6 1/2 years in that role. Olivia Hwang, a spokeswoman for the Kenosha lawmaker and former congressman, confirmed he would be leaving his leadership post on Sept. 30 but remain in the Legislature.

Assembly Democrats have been increasingly concerned about the lack of effectiveness of their caucus, with many feeling the group often failed to have a unified strategy in floor debates.

Some members were upset with Barca’s prominent role in getting approval for an incentive package to bring a Foxconn Technology Group display screen plant to southeastern Wisconsin. Most Democrats oppose the package because of its $3 billion cost and provisions that exempt the company from some environmental rules.

Many of Barca’s colleagues were comfortable with his support for the package, but bothered by how closely he had worked with Republican leaders on the issue, said one person familiar with Thursday’s meeting. That person and others spoke on the condition they not be named because of the sensitivity of the meeting.

Those familiar with the discussions named Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) as one possible candidate to replace Barca. It was not immediately clear who else might run.

Wisconsin Budget Committee Approves Partial Repeal of Personal Property Tax

Owners of small businesses in Wisconsin would no longer pay property taxes on machinery, tools and patterns not used for manufacturing under a tax package approved Wednesday by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.

Lawmakers on the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee voted on party lines to eliminate a portion of the personal property tax, which applies, in general, to furniture, equipment, machinery and watercraft owned by businesses. The state would make payments to local taxing jurisdictions to replace the revenue lost from the tax — an estimated $74.4 million per year.

The co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee said the partial repeal of the tax took precedence over two proposals included in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget: a $203 million income tax cut and a $17 million back-to-school sales tax holiday.

Co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, told reporters the proposed income tax cut “wasn’t significant enough.”

“While we want to continue cutting taxes, especially for the middle class, at this point we felt that a lot of middle class people are small business people,” Darling said. “By reducing that personal property tax, we’re really helping small business as well as middle class families.”

The Republican-led committee voted last month to approve the governor’s proposal to eliminate the state’s portion of the property tax. Ending the forestry mill tax will amount to a reduction of about $180 million over the two-year budget period.

Despite its delayed passage, both Darling and Nygren praised the 2017-19 spending plan, 40 percent of which Darling said is directed toward property tax relief.

 

Wisconsin Budget Panel Approves Road-Funding Plan

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee Tuesday night approved a road-funding plan that would borrow about $400 million, raise fees on electric and hybrid vehicles, further study toll roads for interstates in Wisconsin but not increase the gas tax.

Committee co-chairs Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling both expressed disappointment that they failed to reach a longer-term solution for transportation funding, a perennial problem caused by deteriorating roads and not enough incoming fuel tax to pay for planned projects. Republican Gov. Scott Walker refused to sign-off on a gas tax increase to solve the problem, and instead called for delaying road work and borrowing more.

“This is one that’s left unsolved,” Nygren said, while defending the plan for making progress.

The transportation deal would borrow roughly $402 million for roads, including $250 million included in a separate bill to complete rebuilding of Interstate 94 from Milwaukee south to the Illinois border. That is about $100 million less in borrowing than Walker called for.There would be no new money for two massive interstate projects in the Milwaukee area, on I-94 between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges and north of the Zoo. There could be other delays on road projects, but there were no immediate details. There would be $144 million to expand I-94 to six lanes along 7.5 miles in St. Croix County in western Wisconsin on a trucking route into the Twin Cities.

Darling said she was “very disappointed” with the delay in finishing that work around Milwaukee, calling it short-sighted.

“We’re going to have orange buckets up all over the place for years,” she said.

The budget plan would include a new $100 fee on electric vehicles and $75 for hybrid vehicles. That’s on top of the usual $75 fee for vehicles now. The argument is the electric and hybrid vehicle owners pay less of their share in gas taxes but still use the same roads that depend on money from the gas tax to be maintained. It would generate about $8.4 million over the next two years.The state would spend $2.5 million studying the possibility of interstate tolling, with a report due to the Legislature in 2019. Tolling would require federal approval. Republicans were also calling for limiting local government oversight of quarries primarily used for public works or private construction projects. It would not apply to frack sand mines.

The GOP proposal would also repeal a minimum salary requirement, known as the prevailing wage, for state building or highway projects. The Legislature eliminated the prevailing wage for local projects in 2015. The committee also voted to cut 200 positions at the state Department of Transportation.

The full Legislature must pass the budget, and Walker has to sign it, before it takes effect.

Repeal the Obamacare Health Insurance Tax

If Congress does not change the part of Obamacare that taxes health insurance premiums, the Health Insurance Tax will cause the cost of those premiums to go up $944 million in Wisconsin in 2018.

Wisconsin companies will see health insurance premiums increase by $552 for family coverage. Seniors in the Medicare Advantage program could see their premiums go up $474 per couple. Individual consumers could see their premiums jump $182.

The tax increase will hit the state’s BadgerCare Plus program, too, for $34 million.

Obviously, nobody wants this to occur. But if Congress does nothing, then Wisconsin and the rest of the country will see even higher health insurance costs and state budgets will take a hit, too, from increased Medicaid costs. Repealing and replacing Obamacare may be stalled, but Congress can still act to repeal this tax – and they should.

Wisconsin Receives $66 million from Feds to Help Ease its Transportation Budget

Wisconsin is getting $66 million in additional federal funding for roads, lending a small bit of good news for Republican lawmakers as they try to write the state’s transportation budget next week.

The state is receiving nearly twice what it normally gets in what is known as redistribution aid, but far less than the $341 million in aid that it sought.

The $66 million in additional aid could help the Legislature’s budget committee as it seeks to reach a compromise between Senate Republicans and Assembly Republicans. The GOP controls both houses, but have differed on how to fund roads and help close a $1 billion gap between the state’s road building plans and the amount of money it is expected to have available for transportation over the next two years.

The Joint Finance Committee could take up transportation funding as soon as Tuesday.

Differences among Republicans remain significant. Asked Thursday if the additional money made it easier to reach a transportation deal, state Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said, “Not really.” “In the grand scheme of things, $66 million is not going to do it,” said Nygren, the co-chairman of the budget committee.

Wisconsin has received $34 million annually on average through that program in the past five years, according to the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office. The most the state has ever gotten since 2012 is $40 million.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration this year sought to dramatically increase how much it gets through the program and asked for $341 million.

While it fell well short of that amount, the $66.4 million it received was the largest amount the state has ever received, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

 “We could not be more pleased with this historic amount of funding that is being received,” Transportation Secretary Dave Ross said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear which projects the money would go toward.