News of the Day

Governor Creates a COVID-19 Vaccine Incentive Program

Gov. Tony Evers is turning to cash incentives to persuade more Wisconsin residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a more contagious variant of the virus threatens the state.

Evers announced a new program Monday that would distribute through Labor Day $100 Visa gift cards to anyone in the state who gets their first shot of a vaccine from a Wisconsin provider between August 20 and September 6.

The governor told reporters at a news conference at Winnebago Health Department in Oshkosh that he had been skeptical of creating an incentive program but changed his mind after seeing results of a new program in Michigan that provides cash prizes ranging from $50,000 to $2 million.

“I’ll be quite frank with you, I was one of the skeptics of the discussion, but I saw how well this particular program worked in the state of Michigan,” he said. “Time for me to move beyond that and do the incentive. It is really important for us to make sure this school year gets off to a good start, and this is one of the ways to do that is to make that happen.”

The gift cards will be mailed to applicants and may take up to six weeks to be distributed. To receive the card, eligible Wisconsin residents should fill out a form available at, which will be used to verify the vaccine was administered.

FDA Grants Full Approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday granted the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine full approval. The federal agency reached the milestone of issuing the first complete authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine after an approximately three-month review of Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech’s application to the FDA for full approval.

The vaccine will be marketed as Comirnaty, with the full authorization applying to vaccine recipients age 16 and older, the FDA announced in a release.

The FDA’s emergency use authorization will remain in place for those between the ages of 12 and 15. The emergency use authorization also still applies for a third dose for immunocompromised people.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, like the other two available in the U.S., had been given emergency use authorization, allowing it to be administered only during the public health emergency. But under the full authorization, the FDA is giving permission for patients to get the shots once the public health emergency is declared over.

More than 204 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been administered across the country under the emergency use authorization, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Governor Announces New Round of Farm Aid from Latest Federal Relief Funding

Wisconsin farmers will be receiving another $50 million in direct payments later this fall.

Governor Tony Evers announced the new funding Wednesday for the Wisconsin Farm Support Program, which the state created last year to help farmers recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, the state distributed $50 million in direct payments to farmers who applied through the state Department of Revenue. Producers who made between $35,000 and $5 million in gross income on their 2019 tax filings were eligible for a payment up to $3,500.

Officials say the application period will open after the fall harvest to give farmers enough time to learn about the program and apply. DATCP and the DOR will work together to administer the program.


TSA Extends Mask Rule for Airline Passengers to January

Federal officials are extending into January a requirement that people on airline flights and public transportation wear face masks, a rule intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Transportation Security Administration’s current order was scheduled to expire Sept. 13. An agency spokesman said Tuesday that the mandate will be extended until Jan. 18.

The TSA briefed airline industry representatives on its plan Tuesday and planned to discuss it with airline unions on Wednesday. The mask rule also applies to employees on planes and public transportation.

Individual airlines declined to comment on the Biden administration’s decision, and their trade group, Airlines for America, said only that U.S. carriers will strictly enforce the rule. A broader group, the U.S. Travel Association, said the extension “has the travel industry’s full support.” The largest union of flight attendants said the move will help keep passengers and aviation workers safe.

Fisker, the Electric Carmaker Eyeing Partnering with Foxconn, Wants a Wisconsin Law Changed

The cofounder of the electric automaker partnering with Foxconn to possibly build vehicles in Racine County wants a Wisconsin law changed.

In an interview with Forbes published this week, Fisker CEO Henrik Fisker said that a nearly century-old state law could stand in the way of his company and Foxconn deciding to construct vehicles in (and bring jobs to) Mount Pleasant.

The law in question dates back to the 1930s. It requires franchised car dealers to sell vehicles to consumers; carmakers (i.e. Ford, Tesla, General Motors, Honda, BMW, etc.) cannot sell their vehicles directly to consumers, with few exceptions.

“The one sticking point for Fisker — now, this is still Foxconn’s decision — but the one sticking point for me would be that I don’t want to start producing a car in a state where I can’t sell my car direct,” Henrik Fisker told Alan Ohnsman of Forbes. “If they change those (rules) I think they will be in the lead, but right now they’re not.

Defenders of the law, including the Wisconsin Auto & Truck Dealers Association, say the ban on direct sales opens up more job opportunities and protects pre-existing automobile dealers.

WATDA President William Sepic said that the ban on direct sales protects consumers. Car salespeople are able to “be an advocate” between consumer and manufacturer, Sepic argued. By making it easier to take dealers out of the picture, consumers could lose out.

“Think about it like this,” he said in an interview Friday. “If you have three car dealers, they can each set different prices for the exact same car, and the consumer can pick and choose. Likewise, they can make three different offers on buying a used car.”

Wisconsin’s Real Estate Market Grew by 7% in 2020

On Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) released its annual Equalized Values Report. The report shows Wisconsin’s total statewide equalized property value as of January 1, 2021, was $654 billion, a 7% increase over the prior year; growth occurred in all property classifications. Equalized values are based on data from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2021.

Report highlights:

• Change in Equalized Value = $41.6 billion, a 7% increase from 2020
o $31.1 billion due to market value increases (5%)
o $10.1 billion due to new construction (2%)

Equalized Values are calculated annually and used to ensure statewide fairness and equity in property tax distribution. The Equalized Value represents an estimate of a taxation district’s total taxable value and provides for the fair apportionment of school district and county levies to each municipality. Changes in Equalized Value do not necessarily translate into a change in property taxes.

Census Bureau Releases Decennial Population Data for the State of Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s population rose to 5,893,718, a 3.6% increase from the 2010 census, retaining its position as the 20th most populous state. Its population growth rate ranked 34th among the 50 states. Altogether, the U.S. population rose to 331,449,281, the Census Bureau said, a 7.4% increase that was the second-slowest ever.

In Wisconsin, the census data show areas such as Dane County, Brown County (Green Bay) and Outagamie County (Appleton) gaining the most people, while Milwaukee County and 20 rural counties lost population.

Dane County added 73,431 people over the past decade, a 15% increase, making it the fastest-growing county in the state, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday.

The data show Milwaukee County lost 8,246 residents over the past decade, a decrease of 0.9%, for a 2020 population of 939,489, still the largest county in the state by far by population.

The county that shrank the fastest over the past decade was Richland County, in southwestern Wisconsin, losing 717 residents or 4% of its population. The next two biggest losers were in rural northern Wisconsin: Taylor County, which lost 776 residents and Rusk County, which lost 567 residents, both 3.8% declines.

State legislators will use the census data to ensure that Wisconsin’s political maps reflect how the state’s population has grown and shifted since the 2010 census. With a detailed understanding of where Wisconsin’s population resides in 2020, they can update the boundaries of the state’s eight congressional, 99 Assembly and 33 state Senate districts, and local leaders can redraw municipal and county board districts.


State Projects $1.7 Billion Surplus at End of Current Budget Cycle

Wisconsin’s current budget cycle is projected to end in two years with about $1.7 billion left over, one of the largest surpluses in recent memory.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau on Monday estimated the current two-year budget — which Republican lawmakers passed in June and Gov. Tony Evers signed into law — will produce a roughly $1.7 billion surplus in June of 2023, when the budget expires.

Fiscal Bureau director Bob Lang said the figure is one of the highest in recent memory. Having money left over at the end of the budget cycle provides lawmakers with more spending or tax-cutting opportunities in future budget cycles.

Before the latest state budget was signed into law, the Fiscal Bureau estimated Wisconsin would have a general fund balance of more than $5.8 billion as a result of “unprecedented” tax collections, a figure more than $4 billion larger than previous estimates.

The unprecedented surplus left lawmakers with a range of options for the 2021-23 state budget, including a $2 billion income tax cut adopted by the Republican-led Legislature.

U.S. Senate Set to Pass Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill on Tuesday

The U.S. Senate is poised to pass a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, capping off a lengthy, days-long debate. Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), wrapping up the chamber’s work for the day, said it had “come to an agreement” and that the Senate will vote on passing the bill at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

The bill, which includes approximately $550 billion in new spending, is substantially smaller than the plan initially outlined by President Biden earlier this year. But it includes new funding for things such as roads, bridges, rail, water and broadband.

Once the Senate passes the bipartisan bill, Democrats are expected to move directly to taking up the budget resolution that greenlights and includes instructions on drafting a $3.5 trillion spending package later this year.

Democrats are using the budget rules to pass both the resolution and the subsequent spending bill without GOP votes.

Biden Administration Extends Student Loan Pause Until January 31, 2022

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced a final extension of the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections until January 31, 2022. The Department believes this additional time and a definitive end date will allow borrowers to plan for the resumption of payments and reduce the risk of delinquency and defaults after restart. The Department will continue its work to transition borrowers smoothly back into repayment, including by improving student loan servicing.

“The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “As our nation’s economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment. It is the Department’s priority to support students and borrowers during this transition and ensure they have the resources they need to access affordable, high quality higher education.”

The Department will begin notifying borrowers about this final extension in the coming days, and it will release resources and information about how to plan for payment restart as the end of the pause approaches.