News of the Day

DATCP: Stop Gifting to Scammers this Holiday Season

This holiday season, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is reminding shoppers to make sure their gift purchases are not going to scammers.

“Every year we receive complaints from people who thought they were buying holiday presents but never got them,” said Lara Sutherlin, Administrator of DATCP’s Division of Trade and Consumer Protection. “It’s important for consumers to recognize how they can protect their holiday purchases from a scam.”

Shopping Online

• Avoid suspiciously deep discounts or free offers, including social media posts or emails that offer these deals. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
• Verify websites before ordering. A quick internet search can help you verify the company’s information and find any warnings about their website.
• Check that you are using a secure website (“https” rather than “http”) before entering your password or any personal or banking information.
• Pay by credit card. Federal law gives you the right to dispute charges if you report them to the credit card company within 60 days of receiving your statement.
• Keep a paper trail, and carefully review your credit card statements after the holidays for any unauthorized charges.

Buying Gift Cards – Watch for the following common gift card scams:

• Phony surveys that promise a free gift card in exchange for your personal information. Scammers sell your personal information and no gift card is ever sent.
• Unsolicited messages, such as email, text, social media or internet ads that promise a free gift card. Do not click on any links and delete the message.
• Online auction sites selling discounted or bulk gift cards. The cards may have been tampered with, have already been used, or expired.

 

Wisconsin Transportation Commission to Meet for First Time in Five Years

A Wisconsin transportation panel tasked with overseeing major highway projects is scheduled to meet for the first time in five years next month.

The 15-person commission, which has only convened six times in the last two decades and includes legislative members who have never attended a meeting, last assembled on Dec. 1, 2014.

But Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday the Transportation Projects Commission will meet again on Dec. 6 in the state Capitol — a gathering that will include three new citizen members appointed by the governor.

Evers said the meeting would give the body, tasked with approving major road plans for study and signing off on their enumeration for construction, an opportunity to review the status of key projects. 

“The state budget we approved earlier this year includes long-overdue investments in our comprehensive transportation system,” he said in a statement. “The TPC serves a vital role in fostering stronger communication between the state legislature, transportation stakeholders and the public about major highway projects.”

The only project that’s been enumerated without the commission’s recommendations was Interstate 41 between Appleton and Green Bay, which was included in the budget, according to the Department of Transportation.

Milwaukee Offers Molson Coors $2 Million Incentive to Bring Jobs Here

The city of Milwaukee will offer Molson Coors Brewing Company a $2 million incentive package as part of the company’s restructuring plans, which include bringing “hundreds” of jobs to Milwaukee.

In October, Molson Coors announced plans to streamline its operations, which involved moving its corporate headquarters from Denver to Chicago. The structuring plans also will include a shift in functional support roles from several locations around the country to Milwaukee.

As part of the offer, Molson Coors will be required to engage certified small businesses enterprises for at least 25% of the design and construction of the company’s office renovations. Also, at least 40% of labor hours for the renovations must be performed by certified workers under the Residents Preference Program, which requires Molson Coors to meet certain resident hiring goals.

“We want to ensure that the people who live in this community and sometimes the people literally in this neighborhood, are helping to build the future of this city,” Barrett said.

However, even as state and local officials continue to praise Molson Coors’ decision to reinvest in Milwaukee, the exact number of jobs that are coming to Milwaukee is still unknown.

“There will be a gain of jobs in Wisconsin in the hundreds,” said Gavin Hattersley, Molson Coors CEO. “We haven’t finalized that and we’re stilling working through it with our employees.”

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers Signs More Bills

Gov. Tony Evers more than doubled the total number of bills he has signed into law in the last week, approving nearly three dozen measures in the last four days.

But he also vetoed another four bills, bringing his tally up to 11 pieces of legislation that he’s rejected in their entirety.

At the start of last week, Evers had only signed 21 bills into law,  which WisPolitics.com reported was the fewest at that point in a session since 2001, when 18 were codified. But by Friday, that number had risen to 55.

The latest actions came after the state Assembly sent all 28 bills that were enrolled in the chamber to Evers’ desk, while the Senate passed along the 24 bills that were enrolled there on Tuesday.

Legislation is periodically sent to the governor on pre-designated dates, though leaders in both chambers can choose to move up the time frame, or the governor can call for bills to be sent to him. The next closest date for bills to be sent to Evers is Dec. 5.

 

No USMCA Deal Yet as Window Narrows for 2019 Vote

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she doubts Congress has enough time left to pass the USMCA this year, but Democrats and the Trump administration will continue talks next week to work out a compromise on remaining issues.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) midday to discuss the last sticking points of the deal. Democrats want President Donald Trump’s trade chief to deliver on stronger enforcement mechanisms in the USMCA before a House vote is held. But lawmakers emerged without any announcement.

The House has only eight official session days left in the 2019 calendar year, although lawmakers are expected to stay on an extra week in December to resolve budget issues and avert a government shutdown.

Despite the short time window, Neal is still hopeful that a deal could be struck soon that would allow Congress to pass the pact this year. He said he would talk with Lighthizer again before Thanksgiving, and even joked he would be spending the holiday with the trade chief.

“We’re going to stay right at this through the next week, and we’re going to have a couple counterproposals,” Neal said. “With all seriousness, we do think we’re down to two-and-a-half, maybe three issues.”

Bill to Compel State to Weigh Pros, Cons of Proposed Occupational Licenses

A recently introduced bill in the Legislature would prevent lawmakers from adopting new occupational licenses without state officials first having weighed the proposed credentials’ likely costs and benefits.

The proposal, introduced Friday as Assembly Bill 605 and Senate Bill 541, would require the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to evaluate new occupational licenses before lawmakers vote on them.

Specifically, the DSPS would have to consider both the “financial burden” that any proposed rules might impose on people and businesses and the ways in which other states regulate whatever job is up for licensing. After looking at various types of regulation, state officials would then have to pick whichever is “least restrictive,” according to the bill.

Rep. Rob Hutton, a Republican from Brookfield and an author of the latest licensing proposal, said his main goal is to require state officials to consider whether new credentials are actually needed before adopting them.

“Many times we vote to create a new occupational license without understanding the full impact that license may have on the workforce and public safety,” Hutton said in a statement. “This legislation will ensure that we have a better picture of the effect an occupational license will have so we can make more informed policy decisions.”

A DSPS report from December examining the state’s occupational-license system recommended eliminating or consolidating 28 of the 280 professional licenses the state regulates. Most of the credentials under review were found by the DSPS to be unnecessary. Among them were credentials for dance and music therapists or cigarette salespeople, none of which has to do the construction industry. The agency, however, recommended consolidating the state’s seven-tier license system for blasting and suggested eliminating a credential for engineering-systems designers.

 

Wisconsin Delays Medicaid Work Requirement

Wisconsin had planned to start Nov. 1 a work requirement and other stipulations for childless adults on Medicaid, but the state has delayed implementation until early next year.

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker proposed limiting Medicaid coverage to four years for poor adults without dependent children unless they work, train for a job or participate in certain other activities. The plan, approved by the federal government Oct. 31, 2018, was set to start Nov. 1.

In a Nov. 1 report to the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said the department is working with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, to finalize details of the work requirement.

In September, Palm asked the finance committee to delay implementation of the work requirement until Jan. 30. The committee granted the extension through a passive approval in October.

Three other aspects of Walker’s plan are set to begin Feb. 1, Palm said. They include charging monthly premiums of up to $8, charging emergency room visit co-payments of $8 for non-emergencies, and allowing members to reduce their premiums through “healthy behaviors,” such as not smoking or maintaining a healthy weight.

Nine states have had Medicaid work requirements approved, but in three of the states — Arkansas, Kentucky and New Hampshire — the programs have been set aside by the courts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Only one other state, Indiana, has implemented the program. Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, Ohio and Utah have not.

Wisconsin at Risk of Losing $217M in Federal Transportation Money

Wisconsin could be at risk of losing $217 million in budget authority for transportation next year under a provision passed in a 2015 federal highway funding bill.

According to data released by the Federal Highway Administration in early November, Wisconsin is faced with the loss of $217 million in contract authority under a rescission that’s scheduled to take effect on July 1. Section 1438 of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act included a mandated rescission of $7.6 billion for all states.

A Wisconsin Department of Transportation spokeswoman said the agency is still trying to determine the effect the rescission will have on next year’s transportation budget. The provision will affect contract authority, not actual “spendable funding,” the spokeswoman noted.

“The department is working with (the Federal Highway Administration) to determine the impacts, which we believe will be less than reported,” according to WisDOT. “We also have been in working with our congressional delegation in an effort to repeal this legislation.”

Debby Jackson, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association, said the state’s risk of losing contract authority comes after a years-long fight over transportation spending in Wisconsin and could cause significant troubles if it takes effect.

“A lot of people worked hard during the last state budget to get more money into the transportation fund to slow the decline of our transportation infrastructure,” she said. “If this rescission of federal contract authority were to happen, it would be a step in the wrong direction.”

New York Times Accuses FedEx of not Paying Taxes

The New York Times accused FedEx on Sunday of essentially having lobbied President Donald Trump to sign tax cuts into law with the promise of  businesses using the saved money to reinvest in and further grow their  companies, and then failing to invest the billions of dollars that it reportedly saved as a result of the tax cuts.

“In the 2017 fiscal year, FedEx owed more than $1.5 billion in taxes. The next year, it owed nothing. What changed was the Trump administration’s tax cut – for which the company had lobbied hard,” The New York Times reported on Sunday. “

Late on Sunday, FedEx CEO Frederick Smith responded to The New York Times’ story by calling it factually incorrect, claiming that The New York Times is the company that does not pay federal income taxes, and challenging the publisher of The New York Times to a debate on tax policy.

“The New York Times published a distorted and factually incorrect story on the front page of the Sunday, November 17 edition concerning FedEx and our billions of dollars of tax payments and billions of dollars of investments in the U.S. economy,” Smith wrote.

“Pertinent to this outrageous distortion of the truth is the fact that unlike FedEx, the New York Times paid zero federal income tax in 2017 on earnings of $111 million, and only $30 million in 2018 – 18% of their pretax book income.  Also in 2018 the New York Times cut their capital investments nearly in half to $57 million, which equates to a rounding error when compared to the $6 billion of capital that FedEx invested in the U.S. economy during that same year.”

Property Taxes are Single Largest Tax for Wisconsin Residents

Wisconsinites are spending less of their money on taxes overall, but more of their tax bill are property taxes imposed by local municipalities and schools.

According to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, “property tax levies by municipalities, schools, counties, and other local governments represent the single largest tax in the state” at 3.5 percent of personal income in 2017.

“Property taxes in Wisconsin are seen as too high because that’s the only option local governments have,” said Jerry Deschane, the executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. “This isn’t a spending issue, this is a how we raise revenue issue.”

The non-profit organization represents 593 of the 602 municipalities across the state, including Milwakuee and Madison. Among other things, it provides resources and lobbying efforts for its members.

Deschane said that are those property taxes remain high, they become a strain on people who don’t have the discretionary funding to re-allocate to their increased property tax bill.

“With a property tax, you can’t defer the third bedroom in your house, you have to pay the whole property tax bill,” he said. “Property taxes are very inflexible compared to people’s economic circumstances.”