News of the Day

Senate Committee Grills PSC Chair on Costs of Governor’s Carbon-Free Electricity Goal

Wisconsin’s top utility regulator wouldn’t say what it might cost consumers to meet Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to make the state’s electricity carbon-free but vowed Tuesday to seek creative ways to manage the transition to a clean energy economy.

During a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Utilities and Housing Tuesday, Public Service Commission chairwoman Rebecca Valcq said the agency should strive “at a minimum” to maintain rates competitive with neighboring states.

Across all consumer sectors, Wisconsin electricity rates are now the second-highest in the Midwest.

In response to questions from committee chairman Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, Valcq said she would scrutinize every rate case that comes before the commission to find a reasonable balance between the financial health of utilities and the interests of ratepayers. But she would not speculate on what would constitute “reasonable” rates.

LeMahieu asked whether the Democratic governor consulted utilities before including in his budget proposal a statutory goal of generating all electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050.

Valcq said she did not know but noted that four of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities have committed to slashing 80 percent of carbon emissions by 2050 and one — Xcel Energy — has pledged to be carbon-free.

The transition will require a combination of efforts, Valcq said, including improvements to energy efficiency, technological advances in battery storage and financing mechanisms to ensure consumers aren’t stuck paying for obsolete fossil fuel plants if they are retired early.

“There’s no silver bullet,” she said. “If any state can get out in front of it and come up with good solutions, it’s Wisconsin.”

Local Judge: The Upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court Election Could Impact all in State

Brian Hagedorn and Lisa Neubauer are competing to replace the retiring supreme court justice Shirley Abrahamson in the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election on April 2.

The Wisconsin supreme court rules on cases that don’t already have a clear legal precedent. Those decisions have an impact on all Wisconsinites, according to Judge Scott Horne with the La Crosse County Circuit Court.

Judge Horne said voters have a responsibility to look at candidates through a critical lens and select the one who will be the most fair minded and knowledgeable about the law.

Wisconsin AG Kaul Supports National Law to Combat Robocalls and Phone Scams

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul is joining the rest of his colleagues across the country to push for a new law that would put a damper on robocalls.

Kaul says the TRACED act would direct telecommunications companies in the US to create a system to detect and stop spoofed calls, and to stop selling spoofed numbers to scammers.

“They would be required to implement this technology within, I believe it’s 18 months. So that’s one of the good things about the legislation is that it puts a mandate in place.”

He says scam calls and robo calls are consistently the biggest threat to consumers right now. “That’s why the required implementation of a call authentication framework is really important because it will reduce the likelihood consumers get these calls with spoofed area codes.”

The bill would also make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute the crooks running these outfits, even if they’re based overseas.

Governor Evers Unveils $2.5 Billion Capital Budget

Gov. Tony Evers unveiled a capital budget Thursday that calls for $2.5 billion in new building projects around the state, an amount larger than any capital budget approved by former Gov. Scott Walker.

The state would borrow roughly $2 billion to pay for the budget, which includes more than $1 billion in new building projects throughout the University of Wisconsin System.

“This will be something that lots of people can find projects that they’ll appreciate,” said state Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan at a Wispolitics forum Thursday in Madison. Brennan said a backlog of building projects was part of the reason the capital budget would borrow so much more than it did in recent years.

“There’s so much of the stock of buildings at the university system that were built in the 50s and 60s and there is a lot of it that is getting beyond its usable life all at the same time,” Brennan said. “So I think there’s an opportunity there to make some investments that are not only doing things to make sure that we’re replacing buildings that are old but forward thinking and looking at where are we going in terms of economic development and workforce development in the state.”

Republicans said they were still reviewing Evers’ proposal, but at least a couple said they were concerned by the level of borrowing.

“Really sounds like the People’s Budget … so long as those people live inside the MSN/MKE bubble,” tweeted Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna.

“At a first glance, the level of spending and bonding is alarming,” said Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. “We’ll continue to review the capital budget proposal and discuss it as a caucus moving forward, but Senate Republicans are committed to protecting hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers.”


Wisconsin Export Growth in 2018 Well Behind National Average

Wisconsin companies exported $22.7 billion of goods from the state in 2018, a 1.8 percent increase from 2017, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The state’s export growth ranks 38th in the country and was well behind the 7.6 percent increase in exports nationally.

Canada remained the top destination for Wisconsin products in 2018, up 1.7 percent to $7.03 billion in goods. Shipments to Mexico increased 8 percent to $3.5 billion, keeping it as the number two destination for the state.

Imports from China into Wisconsin increased by more than $1 billion last year, a 14.4 percent increase that kept China as the top importer into the state.

Wisconsin Policy Forum – Governor Evers’ Budget: A First Look

Gov. Tony Evers last week opened debate over the state budget by proposing new funding for key priorities such as public schools and Medicaid health programs. Leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature immediately rejected much of the plan, signaling that the final 2019-21 budget is likely to take a far different form.

Still, it is worth taking a broad look at the governor’s proposal to see how it would affect the state’s spending, taxes, and overall financial health. It will be equally important to examine the Legislature’s eventual budget bill with the same lens.

Evers would increase spending in the state’s general fund, or main account, by 3.8% in fiscal year 2020 to $18.5 billion and by 7.4% in fiscal 2021 to $19.8 billion. This two-year increase of $2.7 billion in general purpose revenue (GPR) does not factor in additional spending of federal funds or money from separate state accounts such as the transportation fund. The budget also calls for significant increases in overall spending. All funds expenditures would rise by a proposed 5.4% in 2020 to $40.7 billion and 4.9% in 2021 to $42.7 billion.

To help cover the new spending, the governor’s budget would use both a net increase in income and capital gains taxes and additional revenues in existing taxes due to economic growth. The governor is proposing a 10% income tax cut for low and middle-income earners plus an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and several other smaller income tax cuts. However, the tax decreases are outweighed by several other larger increases that would primarily affect upper-income earners.

For example, the budget would place limits on who could claim an income tax credit for manufacturers and add to capital gains taxes in certain cases. It would also raise income tax collections by mirroring some provisions of the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and hiring more auditors to enforce current law.

Overall, the bill would increase state GPR tax collections by $688.7 million over the next two fiscal years. This total does not include $608.7 million in new gas taxes and vehicle registration and title fees sought by the governor that would flow into the state’s separate transportation fund to pay for additional spending on state highways, local roads, and other infrastructure projects.

The additional GPR taxes, however, do not cover all of the proposed spending. The budget bill also would draw down a surplus in the general fund, which is expected to close the current fiscal year on June 30 with $691.5 million. Under the Evers proposal, the state is projected to close the next two-year budget cycle in June 2021 with just $105.3 million in its main account.


Accurate, More or Less? A Look at Wisconsin’s 2018 Weights and Measures Numbers

When you shop for a product at your local Wisconsin business, you expect to get the correct amount of product for your money and to be charged the correct price for the items. Keeping a fair marketplace takes a good faith effort from businesses to ensure that their scales, registers, and pumps are accurate and requires regular monitoring to ensure that businesses are held accountable for these responsibilities.

To this end, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) tests product scales, registers, gas pumps, and fuel quality at stores throughout the state every day. The final numbers are in for the department’s 2018 field inspections, and consumers faced a fair marketplace throughout Wisconsin yet again last year.

“Year after year, Wisconsin businesses show that they respect their customers and take their responsibilities seriously in keeping their measurement and sales devices accurate,” said Lara Sutherlin, administrator for the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection.

DATCP’s weights and measures team conducted 258,720 inspections at 6,580 business locations statewide in 2018. In line with results from recent years:

• Wisconsin gas pumps continued to provide the correct amount of fuel, or even over-deliver, in nearly 100% of our tests in 2018.

• Prices at the register were also accurate or in a consumer’s favor in nearly 99% of our tests.

• Tests on scales used to weigh products specifically sold by weight were accurate or measured in the customer’s favor almost 100% of the time.

• Products sold by weight were labeled accurately in almost 99% of tests.

Inspectors also tested 5,036 fuel samples for quality last year, and nearly 99% of the samples met required national standards.


Darling says GOP will Hold Line on Taxes, Spending in Budget

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said Republicans will hold the line against the tax hikes and increased spending that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed in his first budget.

“I think the level of spending is outrageous, and I think the level of intimidation for a lot of our reforms is really unnecessary,” she said.

Darling said Republicans “dug out of a hole” and grew the economy in Wisconsin since 2009, when Dems controlled the guv’s office and both houses of the Legislature.

“If we have this level of spending and taxation, we’re going to go back to 2009 and I’m really afraid of that,” Darling said.



Governor Evers to Raise Gas Tax, Increase School Funding, Roll Back Walker Proposals in State Budget

In his first budget proposal, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will increase Wisconsin’s minimum wage, raise the gas tax, provide new funding for schools and give income tax cuts to middle income families.

To pay for his priorities, Evers’ two-year spending plan which he calls the “People’s Budget,” would roll back part of a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit program, expand Medicaid, use much of the state surplus, raise fees in transportation and limit the long-term capital gains tax.

Evers introduced the budget proposal Thursday night in the state Assembly chambers, but many of the provisions are likely not to pass the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had previously hinted that Republican leaders may create their own base budget if Evers includes proposals they do not agree with. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has called any plan that includes raising any income or sales taxes a “non-starter.”

State statutes require that Wisconsin have a balanced budget annually.  Evers’ budget increases spending by roughly $2 billion a year each year of the biennium from current spending, an increase of about 5 percent a year.

To pay for some of his priorities, Evers will spend down a surplus that is expected over the next two years. The state will enter the 2019 biennium with a $616 million surplus, and Evers budget would end the 2021 biennium with only $20 million. Evers’ administration said it will not spend any money from the state’s rainy day fund.


Governor Evers Appoints Former Legislator to DNR Board

Gov. Tony Evers has appointed a former legislator to the state Department of Natural Resources board.

The board’s chairman, Fred Prehn, introduced Fred Clark as a board member at the board’s meeting Wednesday. He replaces Preston Cole, whom Evers appointed as DNR secretary in December.

The DNR’s board liaison, Laurie Ross, said Evers appointed Clark late Friday.

Clark, a Democrat, represented Sauk and Columbia counties in the state Assembly from 2009 until 2015. He currently serves as executive director of conservation group Wisconsin’s Green Fire. He also has worked as a forest ecologist for The Nature Conservancy and as a DNR forester.