News of the Day

State Regulator Says Wisconsin Data Breach Laws Lagging Other States

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says Wisconsin’s laws regulating how companies respond to data stolen by hackers are lagging other states. The agency says current law was passed in 2008 and doesn’t include penalties for companies that don’t alert consumers that a data breach has occurred.

According to a report out this month on data breach risks, recovery and regulation released by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, personal data is stolen by hackers on a constant basis. It says research shows that within the next 24 months, the probability of a significant breach at any given business or nonprofit organization is around 30 percent. In 2017, the Reference Bureau notes there were 1,579 data breaches that exposed nearly 179 million personal records.

Lara Sutherland, an administrator at DATCP, said Wisconsin’s data breach laws passed in 2006 with a technical revision in 2008 are lagging compared with other states. While the law instructs businesses and other organizations to notify consumers within 45 days that a data breach occurs, she said, “what’s significant about that law is there’s no enforcement mechanism.”

“So, if no one does any notification there’s no provision in the law that allows the state to enforce it,” said Sutherland, adding that organizations also don’t have to tell state regulators.

“There’s no requirement that they even tell the attorney general or the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection that a breach occurred,” said Sutherland. “So, it’s a law that has some prescriptions but very little teeth, which makes it hard to actually be effective.”

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau report, Wisconsin’s data breach laws are unclear on whether companies that don’t report can face lawsuits for negligence. According to the statute, “failure to comply with this section is not negligence or a breach of any duty, but may be evidence of negligence or a breach of a legal duty.”

While reporting breaches to the state isn’t explicitly required, Sutherland said many companies do and DATCP is able to help warn potential identity theft victims.

“By notifying the state if there’s a statewide data breach or a data breach in a hospital, the state can be a partner in helping get that information out to consumers so they can protect their data,” she said.

DATCP is looking to create a taskforce aimed at updating the state’s data breach laws, said Sutherland. No timeline was provided but she said the agency plans to begin engaging with stakeholders soon.


JFC Reworks Governor Evers Tourism Proposal

The Joint Finance Committee reworked Tony Evers’ proposal to promote tourism in Wisconsin, including paring back money designated for marketing.

The centerpiece of Evers’ plan was a call to put $5 million for the agency’s marketing appropriation while putting in another $186,700 for a new marketing position. He also wanted to add $200,000 over the budget for Tourism’s Native American Tourism budget, which is funded by tribal gaming.

Instead, Republicans approved placing nearly $1.6 million in general purpose revenue in the committee’s supplemental appropriation that Tourism could come back to seek later.

Republicans said they were hesitant to approve the proposed increase without additional information on how it would be spent. The agency plans to complete in July a new strategic plan to guide its future marketing strategy and didn’t have a defined role for the proposed new position.

The state now spends $12.5 million on tourism promotion, including just more than $1.8 million in GPR. The bulk of the effort is funded by tribal gaming revenues, and it hasn’t increased significantly since hitting $12.3 million in 2011-12.

Rep. Terry Katsma, R-Oostburg, said he couldn’t support the requested money because “there’s no concrete evidence of what’s going to be done.”

But Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, called what Republicans approved “anemic” and “pathetic,” saying it leaves the state behind others for investments in tourism.

“Your priorities don’t seem to be investing in local economies and local communities,” she said.

The marketing boost Evers proposed included an additional $3 million in 2019-20 that would support promotional efforts for national events, including the Democratic National Convention in July 2020 and golf’s Ryder Cup in September 2020.


U.S. Business Contributes Smallest Share of Taxes in Generation

U.S. corporations are contributing the smallest share of federal tax revenue in a generation.

That’s one of the findings in the Data Book for 2018, released by the Internal Revenue Service on Monday. In the fiscal year covered, the IRS processed more than 250 million tax returns and collected nearly $3.5 trillion in federal taxes paid by households and businesses.

The data show that the burden is increasingly falling on individuals. Their income taxes account for about $1.95 trillion, or 57% of total revenue. An additional 33% came from employment taxes. Corporations only paid 7.6% of the tax take — the lowest share since at least 1960, according to the IRS data.

The IRS report also provided data on tax audits and taxpayer attitudes. About two-thirds of respondents agreed that it’s their civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes, and an even bigger majority said that it’s not acceptable to cheat.

There were some outliers, though. About 3 in 100 taxpayers said it’s acceptable to cheat “as much as possible.”

Wisconsin Technical College System on Track to Get $25 million Boost

Republicans on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee voted for more money for the Wisconsin Technical College System but not as much as what Democrats and the colleges requested.

The $25 million in new funding approved by the Joint Finance Committee was more than the $18 million Democratic Gov. Tony Evers initially proposed in his 2019-21 budget plan.

On Wednesday, Evers requested that lawmakers tack an additional $18 million onto the budget to fully fund the colleges’ request because Wisconsin is set to collect $753 million more in tax revenue than previously estimated, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released Wednesday.

“There is a balance to be had,” said Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls. “And there is a responsibility that we have to not go to that well too often or in too great of a way because the harm can be irreparable.”

Technical colleges spokesman Conor Smyth said the money would allow colleges to address local needs they have identified, such as adding course sections for high-demand programs such as nursing or creating new curriculum and programming in response to local employers’ needs.

Shrinking Labor Force Helps Push Wisconsin Unemployment Rate to Record Low

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 2.8% in April, a record low for the state. Reaching that figure, however, was partially the result of having nearly 15,000 fewer people in the labor force than at the same time last year.

The number of people classified as unemployed in the state did reach a seasonally-adjusted record low of 88,100 in April, down 1,500 from March and 6,800 from April 2018.The reading is the lowest figure in data that goes back to 1976. The Department of Workforce Development released the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday.

The official unemployment rate does not include people who have given up on looking for work, are marginally attached to the workforce or are employed part-time for economic reasons. Including those groups, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate averaged 5.7% from April 2018 to March 2019, according to BLS data.

Wisconsin has the seventh lowest rate in the country when using the fuller picture of unemployment.

Overall employment was up by 600 from March to April but declined 7,700 from April 2018. The result of lower unemployment and fewer people working was a drop in the labor force participation rate from 68.2% to 67.5%.


State of Wisconsin to See $753 Million Jump in Tax Collections

State government will see a $753 million jump in state tax revenue over the next few years, according to a new estimate released Wednesday by the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office.

Most of the increase, which is being driven by higher income and corporate tax collections, would be front-loaded, leaving state government with about $1 billion in its general fund on June 30, the day the current budget ends.

The higher numbers come as Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee are starting to vote piece by piece on Evers’ proposed budget for the next two years.

Shortly after the new estimate was released, Evers’ office announced the governor would make a $56 million payment to retire additional state debt. Evers also called on the Legislature to approve an additional $15 million for worker training as well as $18 million more for the Wisconsin Technical College System.

Republican leaders were less specific about what they want to do with the extra revenue, although Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, both floated the idea of cutting taxes.

While lawmakers and governors can add more money to the state’s rainy day fund if they choose to, deposits to the fund are mostly on auto-pilot.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if these estimates hold, it would mean a $291 million deposit in the rainy day fund, bringing its total balance to about $617 million.

Wisconsin Ranks 11th on Best States List for Second Year in a Row

Wisconsin is the 11th best state in the country, according to rankings from U.S. News.

The study used eight qualifications to determine their standing: Health care, education, economy, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and corrections and natural environment.

The Dairy State ranked in the top 10 for opportunity and natural environment.

The state’s lowest categories were crime and corrections and infrastructure. In both categories the state was ranked 30th.

“More weight was accorded to some state measures than others, based on a survey of what matters most to people. Health care and education were weighted most heavily,” the news release said about the study.

“Then came state economies, infrastructure, and the opportunity states offer their citizens. Fiscal stability followed closely in weighting, followed by measures of crime & corrections and a state’s natural environment.”

US Targets $300B of Chinese Goods for New Tariff Hikes

U.S. officials listed $300 billion more of Chinese goods for possible tariff hikes while Beijing vowed Tuesday to “fight to the finish” in an escalating trade battle that is fueling fears about damage to global economic growth.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office issued its target list after Beijing announced tariff hikes Monday on $60 billion of American goods in their spiraling dispute over Chinese technology ambitions and other irritants. Chinese authorities were reacting to President Donald Trump’s surprise decision last week to impose punitive duties on $200 billion of imports from China.

The latest U.S. list of 3,805 product categories is a step toward carrying out Trump’s May 5 threat to extend punitive 25% duties to all Chinese imports, the USTR said. It said a June 17 hearing would be held before Washington decides how to proceed.

Trump started raising tariffs last July over complaints China steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology and unfairly subsidizes businesses Beijing is trying to build into global leaders in robotics and other fields.

A stumbling block has been U.S. insistence on an enforcement mechanism with penalties to ensure Beijing carries out its commitments.

Odds of a settlement “remain high,” said Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics in a report. “But suddenly a number of other scenarios seem possible, even one in which the U.S., China and the global economy suffer a recession.”

Dairy Task Force 2.0 Trying to Match Impact of Late ’80s Effort

Supporters say the proposed Dairy Innovation Hub under consideration by the Wisconsin Legislature, one of 49 recommendations approved by Dairy Task Force 2.0, could match or go beyond the significance of the signature recommendation made by the first dairy task force in the late 1980s.

That task force told cheese producers to focus more on making specialty cheeses. At that time, the dairy industry was in the throes of an economic downturn as challenging as the current one.

As it turned out, the combined efforts of the Center for Dairy Research and the state’s cheese producers beginning in the early 1990s helped make specialty cheese a staple of the state dairy industry and strengthened its economic position, here and around the world.

While California overtook Wisconsin as the nation’s top milk producer that decade, America’s Dairyland stayed firmly on its perch as the country’s top cheese producer.

The funding concept for the research hub follows a similar plan the state of New York uses to help fund Cornell University’s Pro-Dairy program that links farmers and businesses in that state to research and key resources.

“The funds there don’t just go into what the state might look at as the big, black hole of the university,” said Mark Stephenson, chairman of Dairy Task Force 2.0. “It goes for a very specific program.”

That excites Shelly Mayer, a dairy farmer in Washington County and the executive director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

As an example, she cited research by UW-Madison dairy science professor Laura Hernandez that includes a new diet to lower instances of dangerous milk fever — caused by low blood calcium levels — in cows after they give birth. That has led researchers studying postpartum depression in women to look at Hernandez’s work.

“There’s a lot of linkages and synergies between animal health and human health that we haven’t even scratched the surface on,” Mayer said.

Wisconsin Republicans Votes to Scrap Governor’s Budget Proposals

The Republican-controlled Wisconsin budget committee voted along party lines Thursday to remove many of Gov. Tony Evers’ most significant proposals from his state budget. Removal kills them for now, but they could be added back later or passed as separate legislation.

Here’s what the proposals deleted from the budget would do:

— Expand Medicaid to cover an estimated 82,000 more poor people as part of a plan that would leverage additional federal money to spend an additional $1.6 billion on health care in Wisconsin.

— Legalize medical marijuana and de-criminalize the possession, manufacture and distribution of up to 25 grams of pot.

— Cap enrollment in private voucher schools starting in 2021.

— Increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.50 by 2023 and tie increases after that point to inflation.

— All-but eliminate a tax credit for manufacturers, which would save the state an estimated $516.6 million but which Republicans paint as a proposed tax increase on job creators.

— Repeal the state’s minimum markup on gasoline, which inflates the cost of gas to deter unfair competition. The committee was not striking Evers’ proposed 8-cent gas tax increase that’s part of his transportation-funding plan, but changes to that were expected to be made later.

— Make driver’s licenses available and grant in-state tuition to immigrants who are in the country illegally.

— Create automatic voter registration.

— Borrow up to $40 million to help cover the cost of replacing lead pipes, primarily in Milwaukee.

— Repeal the “right to work” law passed under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. That law prohibits requirements for workers to pay fees covering a share of the costs of union representation.

— End a tax deduction for private school tuition.

— Close the so-called “dark stores loophole,” which allows big box retailers to save millions in property taxes by assessing the value of their active stores as if they were vacant.

— Restore powers that Republicans stripped from Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul during a lame-duck session in December.

— End a freeze on property tax levies for counties and municipalities, allowing them to increase their levies by 2%.

— Treat 17-year-olds as juveniles for most crimes, rather than as adults, as they are currently.