News of the Day

Lawmakers Reach Agreement ‘In Principle’ to Avert Shutdown

Lawmakers said on Monday night that they had reached an agreement “in principle” to avoid a second partial government shutdown set to begin on Saturday.

Negotiators refused to discuss the particulars of the deal with staff expected to work frantically to release the legislation as early as Tuesday.

A congressional source told The Hill that the bill will include $1.375 billion for physical barriers, the same amount included in the 2018 fiscal year bill. The tentative agreement, according to the source, also specifically prohibits the use of a concrete wall. But, senior Congressional aides separately noted that it will fund approximately 55 new miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley sector.

If negotiators are able to hold an agreement together, it would mark a dramatic U-turn from earlier Monday when both sides were still divided on two key issues: funding for physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border and a snag on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds.

Lawmakers refused to discuss how they resolved the ICE fight, after Democrats proposed a cap on the number of ICE detention beds, arguing it would force the Trump administration to focus on “serious criminals,” and that numbers were in line with those from the Obama administration.

Congress has until Saturday to get the seven remaining fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills to Trump’s desk to fund roughly 25 percent of the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security.

Wisconsin Utilities and Environmental Groups Unite behind Solar, but Regulators Question Value

Regulators and consumer advocates are questioning the value of Wisconsin’s first large-scale solar project, while environmental groups are lining up in support of the investor-owned utilities as they embrace renewable energy.

Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. have jointly proposed to buy 300 megawatts’ worth of solar panels at two projects under development along Lake Michigan and in rural southwestern Wisconsin.

Both utilities say they need to replace aging fossil fuel generators and that the $405 million investment will cost customers $181 million less than other alternatives for meeting demand.

Environmental groups — often at odds with the state’s utilities — agree. “I’m convinced this is the best way forward for MGE and WPS,” said Michael Vickerman, policy director for Renew Wisconsin. “We’re seeing this happen all over the country. If capacity is required, large-scale solar is the most economic option.”

But Public Service Commission staff have questioned the economics, prompting concerns from consumer advocates.

The Citizens Utility Board, which represents residential and small-business customers, says staff raised valid concerns about the benefits and whether future policy decisions could leave customers having to fund additional investments.

“All of the decisions are being made now about what costs customers are going to shoulder,” said CUB executive director Tom Content. “Our risk is all up front, but our payoff could be questionable down the road.”

It will be up to the three-member PSC to determine whether purchasing the solar farms will impair the utilities’ efficiency, exceed their future needs or increase the cost of service without also increasing the value or quality of service. The commission is separately considering private developers’ plans to build the two solar farms, which have generated some opposition from neighbors.

Fatal Worker Injuries Remain Consistent in Wisconsin in 2017

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 106 Wisconsin workers who died due to injury in 2017. This number reflects a slight increase from 105 fatalities in 2016, but Wisconsin’s overall fatality rate dropped slightly from a rate of 3.6 in 2016 to 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers in 2017. 

The final count of occupational fatalities in the U.S. in 2017 was 5,147, according to figures the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released last month. This was a slight decrease from 5,190 total fatal incidents in 2016. The U.S. fatality rate decreased from 3.6 in 2016 to 3.5 cases per 100,000 full time employees in 2017.

Key findings for Wisconsin in 2017:

• Transportation incidents caused the most fatalities, as is typically true, though 2017 data show a continued trend in decreased incidents from the prior year, reduced from 38 incidents in 2016 to 35 in 2017. Management occupations, including farmers, were most prevalent with 27 incidents in 2017; transportation workers were the next most prevalent occupation type at 17 incidents.

• After more than doubling from 2015 to 2016, violent incidents declined from 23 in 2016 to 20 in 2017, the same number of incidents attributed to contact with objects and equipment last year.

• Of the 106 fatal incidents, only 9 were women in 2017, down from 16 of 105 total cases in 2016.

• Employees age 65 and over sustained the highest number of fatalities with 29 incidents, up from 23 last year.

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, part of the BLS occupational safety and health statistics program, compiles a count of all fatal work injuries occurring in the United States during the calendar year. The program uses diverse state, federal, and independent data sources to identify, verify, and describe fatal work injuries. 

DATCP Releases Top Ten Consumer Complaints for 2018

Telemarketing complaints are on the rise (4,860 complaints) and continue to top the annual list of consumer complaints collected by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). More than two out of every five complaints received by the agency in 2018 were in regard to calls from unknown numbers, unwanted sales calls or scam

Landlord/Tenant complaints held steady at the second spot with 1,188 complaints. Complaint allegations were primarily in regard to security deposit-related issues, with tenants claiming that inappropriate amounts were withheld or that a landlord failed to return deposit funds at the
end of a tenancy. Evictions and unauthorized entry were additional issues cited in many complaints.

Telecommunications remains in the number three spot in the Top Ten list with 681 complaints. Complaints were lodged against a wide spectrum of service providers, with customers making allegations about billing disputes, misleading representations, unauthorized charges and performance issues.

Home Improvement moved up one spot to number four in the list with 489 complaints. Home improvement complaints include a wide range of allegations, with consumers alleging that contractors failed to provide the services promised under a contract, charged for services or repairs that were not performed, failed to honor warranties or provided unsatisfactory workmanship.

In only its second year as a formal complaint category, Medical Services jumped two spots to number five with 255 complaints – an increase of more than 30%. These complaints cover services related to clinics, hospitals and professional services in the medical field and were overwhelmingly about billing disputes, misrepresentations and unauthorized charges. 

Rounding out the top ten for 2018:

6.) Identity Theft (250 complaints)
7.) Motor Vehicle Repair (196)
8.) Gas Pumps (169)
9.) Motor Vehicle Sales (155)
10.) Fuel Quality (119)

In all, DATCP received 11,303 complaints to the Bureau of Consumer Protection. The agency returned more than $4.6 million in funds to Wisconsin – the majority of which were returned to consumers in the form of mediated refunds, negotiated settlements or court-ordered restitutions.




Governor Evers Announces Tax Relief Plan

Yesterday, Governor Tony Evers announced that his budget will include a responsible tax relief plan that will cut taxes for hard-working Wisconsin families by 10 percent, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and end a costly tax giveaway to millionaires—without adding to the deficit.

Under the Evers plan, middle-class families with a Wisconsin adjusted gross income below $80,000 for single filers and $125,000 for married-joint filers will receive a new nonrefundable credit equal to 10% of the remaining tax liability after all other credits (besides the credit for taxes paid to other states).

“I promised Wisconsin’s hard-working families that I would not only provide the tax relief they deserve, but that I would provide tax relief in a responsible and sustainable way,” said Gov. Evers. “This is what the people voted for and it’s what we know they support. I’m calling on Republicans to work with me and with Democrats in the Legislature to put people first and cut taxes for Wisconsin’s hardworking families without increasing Wisconsin’s budget deficit.”

The Evers plan will also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for families with one or two children. Beginning with tax year 2019, the credit rate as a percentage of the federal credit for families with one child will nearly triple, from 4 percent to 11 percent, and the rate for families with two children will increase from 11 percent to 14 percent. Increasing the credit for those categories brings Wisconsin closer to parity with the median EITC provided by other states.

In addition, the Evers plan will rollback a Republican giveaway to some of Wisconsin’s highest earners by capping the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit (MAC) for manufacturing claimants. Agricultural firms would continue to have the credit as it exists under current law.

Lobbying Groups Spent $70 Million over Latest Legislative Session

Lobbying organizations in Wisconsin spent just under $8 million more on their efforts influencing policy in the 2017-18 session than they did the session prior, according to data submitted to the state’s Ethics Commission.

Initial figures reported Friday show nearly 800 lobbying organizations racked up about $70 million and the equivalent of about 15,585 days, or 43 years, of work attempting to sway the course of Wisconsin lawmakers and officials.

Lobbying organizations are required by state law to report the total amount of time and dollars spent directly communicating with lawmakers or state officials, as well as the time and money spent preparing and researching for communications affecting current or future areas of legislation.

The group that spent the most money lobbying Wisconsin lawmakers and officials over the last legislative session was the conservative Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business organization that has consistently been a top tier spender on elections and lobbying.

Over the 2017-18 session, the group spent about $1.4 million on its lobbying effort, largely consistent with the $1.3 million it spent in the 2015-16 session, when it also was the state’s top spender. The single largest piece of legislation the group was lobbying on over the 2017-18 session was a bill that would have made changes to the state’s workers compensation law.

The second-largest lobbying group over the latest session was the Wisconsin Hospital Association, which reported spending about $1.3 million, similar to the 2015-16 session, when it spent about the same amount and also clocked in as the second-biggest spender.

Most of the Hospital Association’s money gets spent on lobbying. It has an interest in influencing policy related to health care, insurance, taxes, medical education and mental health and psychiatric care, among other things. In the latest session, the single-largest topic the group lobbied on was Medicaid funding.

Foxconn Says It will Move Ahead with Gen 6 LCD Display Plant in Mount Pleasant

After a week of headlines suggesting Foxconn was abandoning or at least reevaluating plans for a LCD display fabrication facility in Mount Pleasant, the company now says it will move ahead with a Gen 6 fab at the complex.

The company is moving ahead with the projects it said it would build in the next 18 months. Those facilities include assembly, packaging and molding operations. Building those facilities first would allow the company to ship components to Mount Pleasant for assembly while the fabrication facility, which would actually make the screens, is built.

Getting operations up and running would help the company increase its employment in the state, allowing it to potentially earn payroll tax credits. The company needs at least 1,820 employees in 2020 to earn any tax credits for job creation.

The Gen 6 plant, however, is still a departure from Foxconn’s original plans. When the project was first announced, the company said it would build a Gen 10.5 plant to make the largest screens in the world. The larger screen market, however, has been plagued by oversupply in recent years.

Estimate: Wisconsin will have $1.8B in New Revenue for Next Budget

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the GOP-controlled state Legislature will have about $1.8 billion in new state tax revenue as they craft the next budget, according to a report released Wednesday by the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau on Wednesday released estimates of revenues and expenses for the state over the next three years.

In addition to new revenue projections, the numbers also show the state is projected to end the current budget on June 30 with nearly $700 million in the bank.

The estimates come as the Democratic governor and conservative majority at the State Capitol begin the early stages of budget negotiations.

“(Evers) has inherited one of the best budget scenarios in a generation,” Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, tweeted after the report. Nygren is the co-chair of the state budget committee. “The state is in a strong fiscal condition and there is no need to raise taxes.”

The governor’s office rejected Republicans’ assessment.

“The people of Wisconsin deserve an honest conversation about the challenges facing our state,” said Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff. “Gov. Evers has inherited a budget from Republicans defined by eight years of failing to fully fund our public schools, ignoring our criminal justice system crisis, tax policies that prioritize millionaires instead of working Wisconsin families, no long-term solution on transportation, and attempts to gut healthcare protections for millions of Wisconsinites.”

Governor Taps Bipartisan Task Force to Solve State’s Transportation Funding Shortage

Gov. Tony Evers has named a bipartisan task force to tackle a problem that bedeviled state leaders two years ago and likely will again this year: the ongoing funding crunch for the state’s transportation network.

The 34-member group is meeting for the first time Thursday at the state Department of Transportation headquarters in Madison.

In his State of the State address last week, Evers said the task force will find a “bipartisan policy solution” to be included in his budget plan for the two-year cycle starting in July. Such a solution could include increasing gas taxes, hiking vehicle registration fees, collecting highway tolls or some combination of those.

It includes five lawmakers: Sens. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon; Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green; and David Hansen, D-Green Bay; and Reps. Bob Kulp, R-Stratford; and Debra Kolste, D-Janesville. It also includes former Rep. Robb Kahl, D-Monona, now head of a construction industry trade group.

Local government officials include Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna.

Evers vowed during the 2018 campaign to find a long-term fix for funding roads, bridges and transit.

The state DOT has delayed or canceled a host of major freeway projects in recent years and increasingly turned to borrowing to pay for other projects. The department’s data also show state highway conditions will deteriorate badly in the next decade without an infusion of new revenue.

Wisconsin Department of Revenue Kicks Off Tax Season

Wisconsin’s tax season, like the federal tax season, officially begins today. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) expects filing activity will be brisk, particularly the first few weeks and the last few weeks of the season.

This year’s individual income tax filing deadline is Monday, April 15. DOR would like to remind taxpayers not to file until they have all their tax documents. Having to file an amended return later will significantly delay a refund.

People may use the free, fast and accurate Wisconsin E-file online tool to file their state income taxes, or they may choose to use third-party software from an approved vendor. Like other online tools, Wisconsin E-file does the required math to prevent errors and allows direct deposit or withdrawal from a bank account.

“Providing excellent customer service is very important to us,” notes Secretary Barca. “We encourage taxpayers with questions to submit them online or call DOR’s individual customer service line at 608.266.2486.”

Taxpayers will find a number of helpful resources available on DOR’s website at including:

 a list of free tax help sites across Wisconsin and more information about them

 an online application that will check the status of your refund

 a mobile app available free of charge from the Apple or Android app stores

 DOR’s video center with information on e-filing, free tax help and tax credits

As in previous years, DOR cannot issue refunds until March 1, if it cannot verify wage and withholding information from employers.