Governor Evers Offers a Plan to Repeal Wisconsin’s Personal Property Tax

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers offered a plan Wednesday to repeal a tax on businesses even though he vetoed legislation to do just that less than two months ago.

Republicans who control the Legislature called the move hypocritical. Evers said he was offering a better plan to end the state’s personal property tax than the one he vetoed, which he has said was drafted in a “haphazard” fashion.

“This legislation will continue our efforts to support businesses and families as they bounce back from the pandemic while ensuring our local governments have the aid they need to remain whole,” Evers said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel of Saukville, a longtime backer of the effort to end the personal property tax, said the way Evers rolled out his plan “has all the hallmarks of political cover and not serious legislating.”

Republicans who control the Legislature this summer approved a bill to end the personal property tax alongside the state budget. The budget included a provision to provide local governments with state payments to cover revenue losses that would be caused by ending the tax.

Evers vetoed the bill to end the personal property tax because he said Republicans wrote it in a way that could have resulted in an additional tax break for utilities.

He said at the time he backed ending the personal property tax and approved the budget provision that set aside funds for local governments. He now wants to tap into that account for his plan to end the personal property tax.

In a news release, Stroebel accused Evers of “political posturing” and said his plan would treat outdoor advertisers and the makers of manufactured homes unfairly.

Evers said the new legislation was better than the bill he vetoed because it would ensure local governments would receive inflationary increases in state aid to cover their revenue losses.

U.S. to Ease Travel Restrictions on Fully-Vaccinated Foreign Visitors

The United States announced a new international air travel system Monday, opening travel for all vaccinated foreign nationals in early November, including those currently impacted by the U.S. travel ban.

“This vaccination requirement deploys the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of the virus,” said White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients. “Vaccines continue to show that they’re highly effective, including against the delta variant, and the new system allows us to implement strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Travelers will need to show proof of full vaccination prior to boarding U.S.-bound planes. A COVID-19 test will also continue to be required within three days of departure and proof of negative results must be shown. Enhanced contact tracing and masking will also be required, but there will be no quarantine mandate.

The new policy also adds more stringent testing requirements for unvaccinated U.S. travelers, who will need to test within one day of departure and once again after arrival.

Zients said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release a list of accepted vaccinations before the new policy goes into effect, as well as a contact tracing order that requires airlines to collect information such as phone numbers and email addresses of all U.S.-bound travelers.

 

Applications Period Opens for $10.8 Million in Grants for Summer Camps Impacted by Pandemic

On Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) announced it is accepting applications for over $10 million in grants designed to assist overnight summer camps serving school-aged children and persons with disabilities, and Minor League sports team organizations that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The two grant programs will provide financial support for organizations that provide valuable education and outdoor recreation experiences as part of Wisconsin’s continued bounce back from the pandemic.

“When it comes to pandemic assistance, the Evers administration is striving to ensure that all valuable parts of our economy receive support,” said DOA Secretary Joel Brennan. “As a lover of baseball and a father of two, I know first-hand the invaluable opportunities that summer camps and Minor League sports teams provide for our young people, and look forward to helping these organizations bounce back.”

The Minor League Sports Teams Grant program will provide funding of up to $200,000 per eligible organization, for a total of $2.8 million, while the Summer Camp Grant program will provide funding up to $50,000 per eligible organization, for a total of $8 million.

The grant applications launched today will be administered by DOA, and will remain open through October 15, 2021. Informational webinars and program FAQ to follow. Grant recipients will be announced later this fall.

Additional information, including grant program criteria, is available on the program websites:

Applicants are encouraged to submit questions and check the program websites for updates.

WILL Sues Town of Buchanan for Adopting, Implementing Unlawful Tax

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit against the Town of Buchanan, in Outagamie County, after the municipality adopted and implemented a “transportation utility fee” that violates state law and circumvents strict levy limits.

The Town of Buchanan adopted a “transportation utility fee” in late 2019 to generate revenue to pay for its roads. The “transportation utility fee” is charged to “all developed properties” and is used to fund “the cost of utility district highways, stormwater management, sidewalks, street lighting, traffic control” and “any other convenience or public improvement.”

But this fee – despite its name – is really an unlawful tax. Nothing in state law authorizes municipalities to charge a road-use fee; rather, road costs are financed primarily through property taxes, which are subject to strict levy limits and uniformity requirements. The Town of Buchanan appears to be using this fee to circumvent those limits on property taxes.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Buchanan was at its levy limit of $2.4 million last year. They are using this additional tax to levy $850,000 more from taxpayers—homeowners pay $315 annually and businesses and other properties pay between $200 and $8,000.

WILL is asking the court to declare the Town of Buchanan’s “transportation utility fee” illegal and issue an injunction to prevent Buchanan from levying, enforcing, or collecting the fee.

Nationwide Retail sales Rose 0.7% in August

Consumer spending unexpectedly accelerated in August as back-to-school shopping bolstered sales. Retail sales, a measure of spending at restaurants, stores and online, last month rose 0.7% to $618.7 billion, according to the Commerce Department.

Clothing and clothing accessories sales rose 3.3% month over month and were 38.3% above year-ago levels. Gasoline sales jumped 1.6% compared to July.

Retail sales excluding autos jumped 1.8% month over month compared with the 0.1% decline that was anticipated. Auto sales declined 3.6% last month.

Nonstore spending increased 5.3% and food and beverage store sales rose 1.8%, “perhaps reflecting Delta-driven fears pushing consumers back to shopping from and eating at home,” said Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

 

GOP Bill would Provide Jobless Pay for Workers who Reject Vaccine

A Republican-authored proposal would let Wisconsinites quit their job and still draw unemployment benefits if their employer requires the COVID-19 vaccine or proof of vaccination.

Wisconsin is an employment-at-will state, which means if someone is fired or quits their job, they are ineligible for unemployment benefits, at least for a while. That worries State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), who said getting vaccinated should be left up to the individual, not government bureaucrats or employers.

Stroebel’s bill would carve out an exception allowing someone who gets fired or voluntarily quits because their employer requires the COVID-19 vaccine to collect benefits.

This proposal has been introduced and referred to standing committees in both chambers, so the next step is scheduling a public hearing.

However, if the bill does end up on the governor’s desk, it seems to be all but dead on arrival. Last month, a spokesperson for the governor tweeted that Evers would veto such a bill.

Attorney General Warns Wisconsinites of Increase in Ransomware Threats

 Attorney General Josh Kaul is advising Wisconsinites to be aware of ever-evolving ransomware threats. To date, the FBI has received 41 ransomware reports in Wisconsin this year, compared to 30 reports total in 2020.

“As technological threats continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, DOJ’s Cyber Unit remains committed to investigating cybercrimes throughout Wisconsin,” said Attorney General Kaul. “All of us can help combat the threat of ransomware by taking a few precautions: not clicking on links or attachments from unverified sources, using unique, complex passwords, and installing computer updates regularly.”

Ransomware is a type of malicious software cyber actors use to deny access to systems or data. The malicious cyber actor holds systems or data hostage until the ransom is paid. After the initial infection, the ransomware attempts to spread to shared storage drives and other accessible systems. If the demands are not met, the system or encrypted data remains unavailable.

A person may unknowingly download ransomware onto a computer by executing one of the following actions embedded with malware: opening an email attachment, clicking an advertisement, following a link, or visiting a website. Cyber actors continue to evolve their ransomware tactics over time to extort organizations and citizens. Awareness of these tactics is important to avoid unnecessary exposure.

Cyber-attacks may be prevented by following the Department of Homeland Security – Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) best practices for managing risks posed by ransomware: https://www.cisa.gov/stopransomware. To learn more, visit the CISA Ransomware Guide at, https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CISA_MS-ISAC_Ransomware%20Guide_S508C.pdf

Victims of ransomware attacks are encouraged to resist any urge to fulfill a ransom request. Compliance in response to a ransom does not guarantee the captured data will be returned. Compliance also encourages perpetrators to target more victims and offers an incentive for other cyber actors to get involved in this type of illegal activity.

If you believe you are a victim of a ransomware attack:

 

IRS: Cost of Home Testing for COVID-19 is Eligible Medical Expense; Reimbursable under FSAs, HSAs

The Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers today that the cost of home testing for COVID-19 is an eligible medical expense that can be paid or reimbursed under health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), or Archer medical savings accounts (Archer MSAs). That is because the cost to diagnose COVID-19 is an eligible medical expense for tax purposes.

The IRS also reminds taxpayers that the costs of personal protective equipment, such as masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, for the primary purpose of preventing the spread of COVID-19 are eligible medical expenses that can be paid or reimbursed under health FSAs, HSAs, HRAs, or Archer MSAs. Additional information is available on IRS.gov.

New Federal Rule to Require Businesses with 100+ Employees Mandate Vaccinations

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that federal government employees and contractors will now be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will create a rule for private businesses with 100 or more employees to require their employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

A senior administration official estimated that this new OSHA requirement will cover about 80 million workers and businesses that do not comply with the agency’s rule can face substantial fees — up to $14,000. OSHA will require these employers to offer paid time off for vaccination.

About 75% of the adult U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose and 64.4% of the adult U.S. population is fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State Alcohol Tax Revenues Surge During Pandemic

Revenues from the state’s excise taxes on alcoholic beverage sales rose to $73.8 million in the 2021 fiscal year that ended June 30, a 16.6% increase over the $63.3 million collected in fiscal year 2020, according to preliminary data from the Department of Revenue (DOR). These collections come from state taxes with rates that vary depending on the type of alcoholic beverage: beer, wine, hard cider, or liquor.

Wisconsin’s 16.6% preliminary annual increase in alcohol excise tax revenues far exceeds the generally modest increases seen in prior years. Between 2009 and 2020, the percentage increase in alcohol tax collections exceeded 2.4% in only one year.

Alcohol excise taxes in Wisconsin are based on the volume of beverage sold, rather than its price. Beer is taxed at approximately 6.5 cents per gallon; wine is taxed at 25 cents per gallon (about 6.6 cents per liter) if it has an alcohol content of 14% or less by volume. If its alcohol content exceeds 14%, it is taxed at 45 cents per gallon (about 11.9 cents per liter).

Hard cider is taxed at 6 cents per gallon if its alcohol content is less than 7%; if it exceeds that level, it is taxed at the same rate as wine. Distilled liquor, meanwhile is taxed at a far higher rate: $3.25 per gallon.

Beer taxes are paid by Wisconsin wholesalers and breweries on a monthly basis on sales of beer in Wisconsin or shipments into the state; all other alcohol taxes are collected on Wisconsin sales and shipments into the state through monthly payments by distributors, out-of-state shippers, and Wisconsin manufacturers and wineries. In addition, the state’s general 5% sales tax also applies to alcohol sales and is collected by retailers based on price – we did not look at any state of Wisconsin data on general sales taxes.

Wisconsin has long ranked among the bottom tier of states for the rates at which it taxes alcohol. Its beer tax rate is among the nation’s lowest, ranking 48th among the 50 states in 2021, according to the Tax Foundation. Two of the other states with the lowest beer tax rates – Missouri and Colorado – share a tradition with Wisconsin as major beer producers. However, Wisconsin’s wine tax rate also ranks low at 43rd and its liquor rate ranks 41st.