News of the Day

Republican Lawmakers Looking to Streamline Wisconsin’s Water Pollution Credits System

Republican legislators began a push Tuesday to streamline Wisconsin’s water pollution credit-trading system, introducing a bill that would create a clearinghouse that they say would make it easier for large-scale facilities and farmers to trade with one another.

The bill’s authors, Sen. Rob Cowles, Sen. Jerry Petrowski and Rep. Joel Kitchens, say the measure could energize the credit-trading marketplace, saving taxpayers the cost of upgrading public facilities to meet new phosphorus standards and providing farmers with a new revenue source.

“Third-party trading could save some communities from passing multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plant upgrade costs onto residents for little water quality improvement, keep small manufacturers and food producers open and operating, and, perhaps, best of all, help to save some of our cherished farmers from hanging a ‘closed for business’ sign on the barn,” the lawmakers said in a memo seeking co-sponsors.

Wisconsin law currently divides polluters into two classes: so-called point sources, such as municipal sewage treatment plants that discharge pollutants directly into the environment, and nonpoint sources, such as farms that pollute through run-off. Point sources can exceed pollution limits for certain non-toxic pollutants in their state permits if they buy credits from non-point sources that have taken steps to reduce their non-toxic pollutants.

The stakes have grown higher for point sources since the Department of Natural Resources imposed tougher phosphorus restrictions on them in 2010. The state Department of Administration estimates that businesses and municipalities would have to spend at least $3.45 billion to comply. The DNR won variances from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency giving qualifying point sources 20 years to comply, but the clock is ticking.

The credit-trading option was created in the 1997-99 state budget but hasn’t caught on. As of Monday, the DNR had approved 15 trades with another 11 pending. Point sources and non-point sources simply lack the relationships to set up contracts. What’s more, if non-point sources don’t follow through on their pollution reduction efforts, it could put point sources into noncompliance with pollution limits in their permits. Point sources such as sewage plants or cheese factories don’t have the manpower to verify the non-pointers’ reduction work.

Under the bill, state officials would hire a private entity to act as a credit clearinghouse. The clearinghouse would contract with non-point polluters and pay them to undertake pollution reduction work that generates credits. Point sources could purchase the credits from the clearinghouse rather than deal directly with the non-pointers. Trades would have to occur within the same area as defined by the DNR.

The measure assuages point sources’ concerns about being liable if non-point sources didn’t really do the work to earn credits and help struggling farmers raise money by selling credits, in turn allowing them to buy pollution reduction technology. Point sources, meanwhile, could avoid spending on upgrading pollution controls, perhaps allowing small manufacturers to stay in business and saving taxpayers money on upgrades for public facilities, the lawmakers said.

 

President Trump Announces Delay in Tariff Hikes against China

President Donald Trump announced Sunday on Twitter that he would be delaying an increase in tariffs against China and plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to settle on a final trade agreement.

Trump said ongoing trade negotiations with China have been “very productive” and he would delay the tariffs, which were set to go into effect on March 1, ahead of a meeting with President Xi at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

“I am pleased to report that the U.S. has made substantial progress in our trade talks with China on important structural issues including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “As a result of these very productive talks, I will be delaying the U.S. increase in tariffs now scheduled for March 1.

He continued: “Assuming both sides make additional progress, we will be planning a Summit for President Xi and myself, at Mar-a-Lago, to conclude an agreement. A very good weekend for U.S. & China!”

Wisconsin Municipalities Depend Most on Property Taxes Among Midwest States

Cities and villages in Wisconsin rely more heavily on property taxes than any other state in the Midwest, and to a greater degree than most states nationally, according to a new report by the nonpartisan, independent Wisconsin Policy Forum.

In 2015, Wisconsin municipalities received 42.2% of their revenues from the property tax, but only 1.6% from sales and income taxes combined, WPF noted. Nationally, on average, municipalities got 23.3% of their revenues from the property tax with an additional 21.3% from sales and income taxes.

Other states tend to rely on a broader combination of revenues, including local sales taxes, local income or license taxes, charges for services, and federal aids. In Wisconsin, state law allows only  the state to levy an income tax and reserves the sales tax for the state, counties, and a limited number of municipalities that qualify as “premier resort areas.”

Gov. Evers Budget will Include Move Toward $15 Minimum Wage Proposal

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said the budget he introduces Feb. 28 will include steps toward raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour and dialing back the manufacturing tax credit to fund a middle-class tax cut.

Evers said phasing in a higher minimum wage will be “a slow process.” Gousha asked whether Evers might follow the lead of Illinois, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed a bill calling for a $15 hourly minimum by 2025. Evers said his proposal “will be similar to Illinois” in terms of the phase-in period.

Medicaid Expansion to Cost Wisconsinites $600 Million per Year

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison released a new study revealing the true cost of Medicaid expansion to Wisconsin families. Though proponents highlight certain savings to the state, Medicaid expansion is expected to result in increased costs to families with private insurance – as much as $700 per year for a family of four, resulting in a net cost to Wisconsin of $600 million.

The Study: The Impact of Medicaid Expansion: Examining the cost to consumers and the net impact on Wisconsin, by WILL Research Director Will Flanders, and Noah Williams, Director of CROWE and Professor of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reviews data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia comparing private sector health insurance costs and emergency room visits in states that expanded Medicaid eligibility and those that did not. The results include:

  1. Expanding Medicaid will increase the cost of healthcare on Wisconsinites with private insurance, on average, by $177 per year – up to $700 for a family of four.
  2. Emergency room visits would actually increase in Wisconsin, by over 52,000 visits per year.
  3. In total, Medicaid expansion is expected to cost Wisconsin over $1 billion per year – borne in large part by increases in private sector healthcare costs.
  4. Even when ‘savings’ to the state are included – Medicaid expansion will cost Wisconsin $600 million per year.

Anti-Fraud Initiatives Saved Taxpayers more than $416 million over 10 Years

More than $51 million in fraudulent and erroneous refunds and credits were blocked during the 2018 tax season in Wisconsin.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, its use of identity verification tools helped protect identity theft.

“Identify verification is extremely important to us. It helps ensure that the identities of tax filers are secure and protected, and that their tax dollars are not stolen,” said Wisconsin Department of Revenue Secretary Peter Barca. “Cybercrime and identity theft have become more common. As a result, we’ve implemented a number of measures to combat it.”

DOR uses analytics to identify tax returns that indicate possible identity theft. If there is a concern, DOR sends a letter to the tax filer asking them to complete a quiz, enter a Personal Identification Number (PIN), or submit documentation to confirm their identity.

“Our systems are very secure, but when criminals steal someone’s personal information from other sources, they may use it to file a fraudulent tax return,” said Barca.

Wisconsin Employers Report the Impacts of Caregiving while State Recognizes National Caregivers Day

The Wisconsin Family and Caregiver Support Alliance is releasing the results of its new statewide employer survey to recognize February 15 as National Caregivers Day. 

National Caregivers Day is observed annually on the third Friday in February, recognizing the care providers, both paid and unpaid, who provide personal cares of all types to people with disabilities, older adults and other family members and friends who require support to remain
healthy and living in their homes and communities. It is estimated that in Wisconsin, 549,000 caregivers are providing 588,000 million hours of care to loved ones annually, valued at nearly $6 billion dollars.

Employers recently confirmed the impact of caregiving on the Wisconsin workforce in a survey sponsored by WFACSA and released this month. The survey was taken by a total of 222 employers across various sectors of the state economy. On average, companies report that 44% of their employees have family caregiving responsibilities with nearly a quarter of employers reporting that caregiving increases stress in the workplace.

The most common strategies Wisconsin employers indicated they used to support their employees with caregiving responsibilities were allowing flexible schedules (74%) and making referrals with Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) (50%).

Suggested strategies include:

Flexible Work Hours:

Caregiving employees are seeking increased flexibility over their work environments. Help employees remain engaged and productive using telecommuting and remote positions.

Technology:

Analytics may help businesses analyze root causes, such as the need for manager training, review of compensation strategies for caregiving employees, or a change in the work culture that will address caregiver stress or help with fulfilling work duties.

Health, wellness and adequate employee training:

Another area of importance is multi-faceted wellness programs including a
comprehensive employee assistance programs, training and educational opportunities during worktime like “Lunch and Learn” sessions. The training can focus on anything from local resources available to help care for an aging parent with dementia to navigating paperwork and benefits for an adult child with disabilities.

Forget Paris – Wisconsin Already Shifting away from Fossil Fuels

Gov. Tony Evers must have needed an easy win on Tuesday, when he vowed to fight climate change by committing Wisconsin to the terms of the Paris accord. That agreement calls for a 26-28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from the 2005 levels by 2025 – something Wisconsin already made enormous strides toward long before Evers got elected.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) keeps detailed records on energy production, consumption, and emissions. According to its data, Wisconsin’s residents, businesses and government have increasingly demonstrated their commitment to the environment.

Between 2005 and 2016, Wisconsin reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 14.4 percent and overall energy consumption dropped by 10 percent. Wisconsin’s use of coal for energy production dropped 32 percent between 2005 and 2016, according to EIA’s data. The result of all these trends – today Wisconsin gets 20 percent of its energy from non-carbon sources (that includes all renewables and nuclear).

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) predicted in 2016 that renewable energy would continue to make up a larger percentage of the state’s energy production.

“Rather than being driven by future requirements of the Wisconsin RPS, this growth trend is driven by other forces, such as market opportunities, customer demand for additional renewable energy, and multiple processes involved in citing new projects. Therefore, actual production could be lower or higher than these aggregated electric provider estimates,” according to the PSC.

Wisconsin Once Again Seeks To Restore Tax Reciprocity With Minnesota

Northern Wisconsin leaders lobbied the Wisconsin Department of Revenue on Tuesday to restore a tax reciprocity agreement with Minnesota that ended almost a decade ago. The state’s new Department of Revenue Secretary-designee Peter Barca is hopeful a deal can be reached to save Wisconsin residents money.

The agreement ended Jan. 1, 2010, impacting around 80,000 people in the two states. The deal that had been in place for more than 40 years allowed people living in one state and working in another to file just one income tax form in their home state. Minnesota and Wisconsin would then resolve payments at a later date.

“Minnesota feels like why should we have to end up suffering a financial loss in order to help the people of Wisconsin,” Barca said.

A deal would mean that Wisconsin would pay around $106 million a year to Minnesota because the Badger State has more residents working across the border, Barca said.

Barca said Wisconsin has submitted another proposal to Minnesota, noting he’s spoken with his Minnesota counterpart, Minnesota DOR Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly.

“She said she would take a fresh look at it, and our goal, of course, would be to have obviously (an agreement) for the 2020 tax season,” Barca said. “We would have until early fall to get it done.”

Barca said their proposal would include making quarterly payments to Minnesota to offset around $158 million in revenues the state would give up under an agreement.

A spokesman with the Minnesota DOR said they would consider any future proposals and whether they are in the best interest of Minnesota.

Assembly Approves GOP-Backed Income Tax Cut Proposal

The state Assembly voted Tuesday to advance a Republican-backed income tax cut, despite doubt over whether Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will sign it.

The Republican bill would use money set to roll over from the current budget to fund a middle-class tax cut that would save the average taxpayer $170 a year, according to the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office. It would be effective January 2020.

Evers and Democratic lawmakers have pushed for a similar tax cut, also aimed at middle-income earners. The primary difference between the plans is how they are funded. Rather than using existing state funds, the Democrat-backed plan would be paid for in part by rolling back a tax credit for manufacturers.

That rollback would only pay for about 60 percent of the Democrats’ tax cut. The remaining funding is expected to be unveiled as part of the governor’s budget proposal later this month.

Evers has said he is unlikely to sign the Republican bill, but stopped short Tuesday morning of saying he would veto the measure. Instead, he said he was hopeful there would be room for compromise between the GOP and Democrat-backed plans.