As Trump’s presidency approached Saturday’s 100-day mark, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporters sat down with his supporters across America’s Dairyland. Reporters spoke in depth with 17 voters who backed Trump in November to get their opinions of his performance. We asked them how Trump was doing, and to assign him a letter grade.
They gave him mostly solid grades and insisted the real-estate mogul will deliver on many of his promises from his anti-establishment, “drain the swamp” presidential campaign.
Property values in Milwaukee have increased about 4.5% citywide.
The new figures for 2017 include assessed values of residential properties in the city, which have increased approximately 3%, and apartments, which have jumped nearly 10%.
The increases mean the average home value in the City of Milwaukee is $103,000, up from $100,000 in 2016, an official said. That figure includes single-family homes, as well as two- and three-family homes.
While state legislators recently allowed the use of a marijuana extract for specific medical purposes, don’t expect marijuana legalization to expand anytime soon.
State Rep. Amanda Stuck told an audience in Appleton on Thursday that Wisconsin is a long way from allowing recreational or widespread medical use of marijuana.
“While (the CBD oil bill) wasn’t everything we wanted, it was a step in the right direction,” Stuck said. “…Frankly, I don’t think we are very close to having fully legalized medical marijuana.”
Republicans who control the state Assembly have set a Tuesday vote for a controversial bill to dial back oversight of high-capacity wells, even as Democrats and environmental groups continued to say the bill is being rushed to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker.
It’s at least the second time in recent weeks that critics assailed supporters of the bill as moving forward too speedily and without sufficient public input. The full Senate passed the bill earlier this month after one of its committees approved it by paper ballot.
“All signs point to this bill is being rushed and not thoroughly vetted,” said Amber Meyer Smith, a spokeswoman for Clean Wisconsin, an environmental group that opposes the measure.
Republican lawmakers would require University of Wisconsin System institutions to discipline and potentially expel students who disrupt speeches on campus, and mandate that UW stay neutral on political controversies.
Prompted, its sponsors say, by battles over free speech at UW-Madison and universities across the country, the bill makes Wisconsin the latest state in which lawmakers have sought to ensure controversial ideas are presented on college campuses by limiting the sometimes disruptive tactics of their opponents.
“We are making a pretty clear statement here that free expression should not be inhibited and will not be inhibited,” said Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, the bill’s lead author.
David Lewis remembers what it was like a few years ago immediately after the city of San Jose, California, passed a law prohibiting supermarkets and other stores from giving shoppers plastic bags for their purchases. Some vocal residents argued that getting a plastic bag at the grocery store was their god-given right. Some even threatened to vote out local officials who supported the ban.
“What we found was there were a few loud people who were very anxious about this change,” said Lewis, executive director of the environmental group Save the Bay. “But we really found no significant problem among consumers in adjusting.”
Lewis said that within about a week, most San Jose residents were bringing reusable bags when they shopped.
Lawmakers are closer to a gambling deal that could expand gambling in Florida and toss a requirement that sites offer dog racing or other live events if they want to feature card games.
But the fixes being debated by House and Senate leaders leave Florida’s gambling environment fundamentally broken, some industry leaders say.
The House, which has fought expansion of gambling, offered to allow voters to approve eliminating the requirement that track owners provide dog or horse racing if they want to offer card games like poker.
The Florida Constitution and the state’s famed Sunshine Law give residents the right to observe meetings held by their elected officials.
But a bill going to the state House floor today would render significant aspects of that constitutional guarantee meaningless by allowing local elected officials — from city and county commissioners to school board members — to meet behind closed doors and discuss public matters in secret.
The proposed law (HB 843) from Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, would exempt from open meetings requirements any gatherings between two members of a local, county or state agency board or commission. Those officials wouldn’t have to give any notice about their meeting and they wouldn’t have to keep any records of what they discuss. The exemption would apply to boards or commissions with at least five members.
An Ocala science teacher stands to lose his job after school officials said he harassed and called Future Farmers of America students “murderers” for raising livestock to be sold for slaughter.
Middle school teacher Thomas Roger Allison Jr., 53, has been placed on unpaid leave from Horizon Academy at Marion Oaks near Ocala, according to a Marion County school district letter documenting the case.
In a written recommendation for termination, Superintendent of Schools Heidi Maier said Allison “has engaged in a repeated, egregious pattern of mistreating, ridiculing, insulting, intimidating, embarrassing bullying and abusing FFA students, crushing their dreams and causing them to feel that they must discontinue FFA activities to enjoy a peaceful school environment.”
A prosecutor is wrong in arguing that Florida’s governor violated the state constitution when he took away almost two dozen cases from her office after she announced she’d no longer seek the death penalty, Gov. Rick Scott and Florida’s Attorney General argued in court documents filed Thursday.
Florida’s governors have had the authority to transfer cases for 112 years, even after Florida’s prosecutors went from being appointed to being elected by voters, according to a motion filed with the Florida Supreme Court by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
By Ben Yount – Watchdog.org
Legislation filed at the Illinois Capitol could have consumers waiting hours or longer for their prescriptions.
The idea is simple: make sure pharmacists aren’t overworked and that they have time to talk with patients.
The proposed fix isn’t as simple. Rob Karr, head of the Illinois Retail Merchants’ Association, said some lawmakers are pushing a plan backed by the Teamster’s union to limit pharmacists to filling no more than 10 prescriptions per hour. The legislation also mandates pharmacists take an hour-long break each eight-hour shift.
Karr says a 10-script limit might leave patients waiting or without their medicine.
“Let’s assume a pharmacist is on prescription nine, and a mother with two prescriptions comes in, does she have to wait until the next hour?” Karr asked. “What if a cancer patient, who can easily have 10 prescriptions by themselves, walks in and gets them filled. Does that constitute the bulk of the pharmacists’ duties for the next 45 minutes?”
There also are concerns about small town and inner city pharmacies that only have one pharmacist on staff.
Karr says the proposal is an attempt by the Teamsters to get from the legislature what they cannot get on their own.
The Teamsters represent a small number of pharmacists in the Chicago area.
“They’ve been unable to win these things at the bargaining table, so they are turning to the Assembly,” Karr said.
Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association and a practicing pharmacist, said his organization opposes the bill.
“We’re against the bill as it’s currently written,” Reynolds said. “That’s an unreasonable ask not only for pharmacy but for the public in general.”
Someone being released from a hospital might need as many as 12 or more prescriptions, Reynolds noted. What’s a pharmacist to do in that situation?
Reynolds said his association is lobbying lawmakers to vote against the measure.
The bill remains stuck in the House Rules Committee.
After promising unprecedented openness, House Speaker Richard Corcoran has spent long days and nights negotiating an elaborate budget deal in secret with Senate counterpart Joe Negron, keeping most other lawmakers and the public in the dark.
Like attorneys privately resolving a court case, the two lawyers are cutting deals on tax policy, public school spending, charter school expansion, major environmental projects and levels of local pork-barrel spending. They are also negotiating state worker pay raises, new pension and healthcare plans, changes to statewide tourism and job-incentive programs, and other issues — even a need-based college scholarship program for the children of farmworkers, a Senate priority.
Broward teachers can expect to receive between 3 and 5 percent salary boosts, with the most experienced instructors slated to take home an extra $2,000 per year.
Pay would be retroactive for the 2016 to 2017 school year if the School Board and teachers approve the deal.
About 75 percent of teachers would see 4 percent raises or higher, said Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Prosecutors plan to present testimony from a lineup of well-known political donors Thursday for the second day of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s federal fraud trial.
Michael Ward, the retiring CEO of CSX, is scheduled to answer questions, as are Husein Cumber, an executive with Florida East Coast Industries and member of JEA’s board of directors and Susie Wiles, a veteran political consultant who ran Donald Trump’s Florida presidential campaign.
Gasper Lazzara, an orthodontist and donor to civic causes, is also scheduled to talk about his support for One Door for Education, the self-described scholarship fund bogus that prosecutors said collected $800,000 but awarded just $1,200 in scholarships.
Greg Kirkland looked down his street near Kass Circle — the original commercial core of Spring Hill — and considered the future of his now 50-year-old community.
Most of Spring Hill lacks sidewalks, he pointed out, and Kass is dominated by down-market enterprises, including a thrift store and a used furniture outlet. The houses in Spring Hill are too spread out to support any real community hub, he added, and are mostly occupied by financially strapped residents.
Kirkland, 52, a flooring contractor who has lived in Spring Hill on and off for 15 years, said only partly in jest that it may be time to start over from scratch.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday revealed more details about his proposed tax cuts, and one provision in particular — the near-doubling of the standard deduction for married couples from $12,700 to $24,000 — has the nation’s largest lobbying group nearly apoplectic.
The National Association of Realtors had yet to respond to Trump’s proposal announced Wednesday afternoon, but a letter last month from NAR President William Brown to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dropped the verbs “devastating,” “debilitating” and “cripple.”
State Republican legislators are circulating a bill that would seal off huge chunks of police body camera video from the public, saying they want to protect the privacy of people shown in the footage.
Rep. Jesse Kremer and Sen. Patrick Testin’s bill would exempt footage of everything recorded in public except for injuries, deaths, arrests and searches from the state’s open records law. Video of officer-involved shootings that take place in public would still be accessible.
But if footage were taken in a place where someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a home, police would need permission from victims, witnesses and property owners before the video could be released to the public.
A state center for the mentally disabled had more than a dozen experienced candidates to choose from, but passed over them to hire a supervisor who has been investigated for four serious offenses and convicted of two over the past 11 years, records show.
The state had 12 applicants who had done work supervising staff at the Southern Wisconsin Center in Union Grove or at nearby state prisons and also had private-sector candidates such as a veteran, according to documents released to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel under the state’s open records law.
The U.S. Department of Labor certified a Trade Adjustment Assistance petition from former Brillion Iron Works employees on Wednesday.
The certification means the ex-employees will be eligible for additional re-employment benefits, such as job training, income support and job search assistance, paid for by federal funds, which are administrated by states. The program aids workers whose jobs are lost due to foreign trade.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin lobbied on behalf of the employees who filed the petition on Oct. 5, weeks after Metaldyne Performance Group, of Southfield, Michigan, announced the foundry would close by the end of 2016.
The Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District pledged $1.5 million to kick off two major metro development projects.
The board on Wednesday pledged $1 million for replacement of the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena and Shopko Hall in Ashwaubenon and $500,000 for The Shipyard on Broadway in Green Bay.
“This puts us on a fast track … actually taking a concrete step forward helps us get all that support,” Green Bay Economic Development Director Kevin Vonck said of Green Bay’s $500,000 grant.
A week after President Donald Trump called Canada a “disgrace” for policies that hurt Wisconsin dairy farmers, he’s slapping tariffs on Canadian lumber.
“It has been a bad week for US-Canada trade relations,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Tuesday.
The tariffs, of up to 24%, are aimed at Canadian exports of softwood lumber into the United States – material that’s used in the building industry.
The National Association of Home Builders, based in Washington, D.C., said the tariffs could drive up the cost of new homes.
State officials are offering financial help to Wisconsin dairy farms in desperate need of customers and for processors already oversaturated with milk to absorb more.
Gov. Scott Walker, who on Tuesday also weighed in on the international trade tension at the root of the crisis, announced that the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority will temporarily loosen the rules on a revolving capital loan program for dairy farmers and milk processors.
It’s not a long-term solution, state officials say, but it provides another resource for Wisconsin’s dairy farms affected by Grassland Dairy Products Inc., of Greenwood, which informed 67 dairy farms earlier this month, most from Wisconsin and some from Minnesota, it no longer would accept their milk after May 1.
Associated Bank CEO Philip Flynn expects another year of steady growth for Wisconsin’s largest bank.
Flynn told shareholders, directors and employees at the Green Bay-based bank’s annual meeting at the KI Convention Center that a solid economy, improving interest rate margins and low unemployment have helped the bank’s bottom line. He said he expects incremental growth in assets, loans, deposits and net income will continue in 2017 as it has since 2012.
The upper Midwest timber industry is welcoming the Trump administration’s announcement that it’s imposing tariffs averaging 20 percent on softwood lumber entering the United States from Canada.
The industry has been struggling in Minnesota and Wisconsin in recent years. The housing market crash in 2008 cut demand for softwood lumber products such as pine 2×4 studs and other kinds of boards used to build homes, which are among the products affected by the administration’s move. So industry groups in both states saw Monday’s announcement as good news for communities with sawmills, and for loggers who supply them.
Michigan community banks that weathered a storm of federal red tape, mergers and consolidations now see smoother sailing ahead thanks to the prospect of federal regulatory reforms aimed at ramping up economic growth.
The House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday will review an updated draft of the Financial CHOICE Act, which would revise the landmark Dodd-Frank Act. The latter, passed in the wake of the 2008 recession, placed greater federal oversight on financial institutions.
Two Michigan Republican lawmakers – Reps. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, and Dave Trott, R-Birmingham – are members of the Financial Services Committee and have expressed support for reining in parts of Dodd-Frank that they see as onerous for small businesses.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order in January that requires the Treasury Department to analyze Dodd-Frank and come up with recommendations to ensure that banks have the latitude to make loans in order to boost job creation.
Rann Paynter, the president and CEO of the Michigan Bankers Association, said there’s no question that the number of community banks in the state has shrunk since Dodd-Frank was enacted, mostly through consolidations in the industry.
Indeed, according to Federal Reserve statistics, the number of chartered banks in Michigan has gone from 132 in 2009 to 93 in 2016.
“Dodd-Frank is a factor in the mergers and acquisitions,” Paynter told Illinois News Service. “The regulatory burden that has been placed on the banking industry has been tremendous.”
Paynter’s views on Dodd-Frank parallel those of the Independent Community Bankers of America, whose 2017 “Plan for Prosperity” calls on Congress to ensure that the banks can continue to service mortgage loans, reduce data reporting requirements, cut red tape on loans to small businesses and reform the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which grew out of the Dodd-Frank reforms
Unlike most federal agencies, which are run by commissions, the CFPB is run by a single director who can only be fired for cause. And as the CFPB has passed down rules, fines and regulations, financial institutions have faced greater burdens, Paynter said, though the intent has been to protect consumers.
“But more often than not, that is not the case,” he said.
The CFPB lacks accountability because it doesn’t have a full board to oversee its operations, Paynter said.
“The focus of the CFPB should be more on entities that are not banks” and do not have the kind of oversight that banks are subject to, he said.
Still, Michigan’s community banks have managed to earn steady revenues in recent years, Paynter said, though the profit levels vary from bank to bank.
“I think profitability continues to improve in spite of an additional cost they must incur because of the additional regulatory burden,” he said.
Another voice of support for community banks recently came from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. Responding to questions from Michigan Rep. Trott at a congressional hearing, Yellen noted that the banks have been facing pressures due to the current low-interest-rate environment.
“Regulatory burdens on community banks need to be reduced,” Yellen said. “I would be very pleased to see Congress take steps in that direction.”
Trott and nine of his colleagues on the Financial Services Commission penned a letter to Trump in February supporting the president’s executive order on Dodd-Frank, which reversed some regulations that came about as a result of the banking law.
“Dodd-Frank has inhibited the American dream for so many for too long,” the members said. “It’s time for relief. This critical first step will get small community banks and credit unions lending again, businesses hiring again, and restore homebuyers’ access to affordable financing options.”
Neither Trott nor Rep. Huizenga responded to requests for comment.
Thaya Brook Knight, associate director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, said that changing the way community banks are regulated should be a politically feasible task, especially since no one blames the smaller banks for causing financial crisis in 2008.
“Relief for small banks is going to be an easier sell than some of the other changes,” Knight told Illinois News Network.
The number of new bank charters plummeted after Dodd-Frank was passed in 2010, she said, as uncertainty about the financial landscape set in.
Although Knight couldn’t say whether the challenges facing community banks affected some parts of the nation more than others, she said areas with small populations – such as parts of the Midwest – tend to feel the greatest impact.
“Small businesses rely overwhelmingly on small banks for financing,” Knight said.
The CFPB’s role will inevitably change since Director Richard Cordray’s term will end in July of next year, she said, clearing the way for a GOP-appointed director. Under Cordray, the bureau interpreted its authority in an expansive, ideological manner, according to Knight.
“This has been an agency that has been working to exert its authority in a way that’s as broad as possible,” she said.
Knight stressed that Trump will have opportunities to make appointments to agencies that decide how to implement the policies outlined in Dodd-Frank, such as the Securities Exchange Commission.
“One thing that is important to note here is that even though Dodd-Frank is a massive law, it is massive because of its breadth, but not its specificity,” Knight said, adding that Congress left it up to the federal agencies to deal with many of the details.
“It gives the president a fairly broad policy role to change Dodd-Frank even without changing the underlying law,” she said
State lawmakers reached a tentative deal on an $83 billion budget Tuesday that could end the session on time but could put them on a collision course with Gov. Rick Scott.
A day after a stalemate threatened to derail the legislative session, Republican leaders in the House and Senate privately hammered out the broad terms of a deal that ensures both sides can claim victory for their top priorities.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, confirmed that Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, would likely survive with an operating budget — but no money for financial incentives to help Scott attract businesses to Florida.
The Senate’s medical marijuana bill is headed to the floor and then most likely to court. The Appropriations Committee cleared the measure, which implements the constitutional amendment voters approved in November. Medical marijuana advocates, however, complain both the Senate and House bills prohibits smoking of the plant, a delivery method amendment supporters say voters approved.
Patient advocates, however, still prefer the Senate plan because it is less restrictive than a House proposal.
A federal judge on Tuesday blocked President Donald Trump from cutting funds to local governments that provide “sanctuary” to immigration violators, citing Miami-Dade County as an example of a community responding to the financial threat.
The temporary injunction by a San Francisco judge prevents Trump from following through with a Jan. 25 order that threatened funding cuts but hasn’t delivered any.
The day after Trump’s order, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez overturned county policy and directed local jails to accept all detention requests from immigration authorities.
Orange County’s property appraiser sued two mysterious groups that spent millions of dollars on mailers and other ads against him during last year’s election, accusing them of libel.
Rick Singh filed the suit in Orange Circuit Court on Tuesday against Leadership for Florida’s Future and For a Better Orange County. The complaint contends the two campaign committees “acted maliciously with knowledge or reckless disregard” and spread “untrue [and] false” claims in a series of campaign ads leading up to Singh’s re-election in November.
Illinois’ businesses are taxed higher than all of their neighbors. That’s according to a new report ranking states by their burdens on local companies.
Chicago-based Anderson Economics Group’s annual report on the level of tax burdens on businesses shows Illinois companies aren’t as taxed as much as they are in states such as New York and Hawaii. But the Land of Lincoln takes a higher share of business profits than neighboring states.
Indiana and Missouri took smaller pieces of their businesses’ profits than most other states at 7 percent each. Throughout the Midwest, Ohio (7.3), Michigan (8.0) and Wisconsin (8.7) all took a lower share than Illinois, which took 9.4 percent of its businesses’ profits in 2015. That was the year after income and corporate tax rates went back down from the tax increases passed in 2011. Minnesota took 9.7 percent.
“Illinois has the fourth-highest burden [in the nation] due to the corporate income taxes,” said Jason Horwitz, Senior Consultant at Anderson Economic Group. “Of all of the taxes levied on businesses, Illinois’ corporate income tax, which included the personal property replacement tax, is the highest among all the Midwest states.”
Illinois’ higher-than-their-neighbor tax burdens have companies looking for the exit, said Chicago-based Line Group’s president Al Panico.
“I can see of no reason to move to Illinois if I were looking to,” Panico said. “The fact of the matter is that the talent pool is equally rich in the neighboring states.”
The report is different from similar studies because it measures taxes as a share of companies’ profits. The largest portion of taxes paid by businesses is property taxes, to which Illinois has a higher rate than nearly any other state. But Horwitz said Illinois took about the same property tax portion of profits as other states, not including the personal property tax.
Illinois’ corporate income tax was close to being raised by another 33 percent when lawmakers included it in a proposal the state Senate called the “Grand Bargain.” Under their proposal, which is now stalled, corporate income taxes would have been raised to 7 percent.
Critics of a proposal to fully repeal the state’s prevailing wage laws decried it Monday as an assault on the wages of blue-collar workers, while proponents framed the move as frugal stewardship of public funds.
A state Senate panel gave the proposal its first legislative hearing Monday.
If enacted, it would mark another crushing defeat for Wisconsin labor unions. They, along with legislative Democrats, are among the staunchest backers of a prevailing wage, a minimum wage requirement for workers on public construction projects.
Gov. Scott Walker on Monday latched onto the possibility of funneling money from the state’s main account toward highways to try to help solve Wisconsin’s road funding woes.
Walker has vowed to veto any gas tax increase and on Monday downplayed the possibility of raising vehicle registration fees.
Instead, he told reporters he was working with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature to shift money from the state’s general fund to its transportation fund.
The School District of Beloit Board of Education is scheduled to discuss board member Pam Charles alleged disclosure of confidential closed-session information to an attorney.
The item is posted on the agenda for the 4:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting at Kolak Education Center, 1633 Keeler Ave. The item is posted for discussion in open session and will include a determination of what action, if any, will be taken.
When first contacted by the Beloit Daily News, board president Lisa Anderson-Levy said it was agenda item to discuss alleged disclosure of closed session confidential information to an outside party, but declined further comment.
Gov. Scott Walker on Monday offered a lukewarm assessment of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, an upcoming milestone pundits, politicians and historians use to gauge a president’s progress.
“Today actions speak louder than words,” Walker said. “What I look at is not what he says or even what he tweets, but really on what actions have been taking place.”
Walker said he appreciated that Trump had eased some regulations for manufacturers and farmers and praised him for putting in place “a top-notch Cabinet.” He also said he remains hopeful that Trump will repeal, replace and reform the Affordable Care Act and pass a tax cut package due out this week.
A bitter stalemate over spending forced the Legislature to suspend work on a budget Monday, stirring more bad blood among Republicans and putting an on-time adjournment in doubt.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, bargained privately by phone through last Friday and were making progress on issues such as public school spending and raises for state workers.
But problems began cropping up on the size of a cash reserve, total amounts for hometown spending and other areas, and ugly politics and seething animosity took over.
Did Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado show “bias” when he forwarded an email from an Airbnb host to a hotel lobbyist? Judge Beatrice Butchko said probably in a hearing last week.
In a transcript from the emergency hearing Wednesday, the judge questioned the mayor’s relationship with hotel lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez and issued a temporary restraining order blocking the city from going after local Airbnb renters.
During the hearing, the judge referenced public records showing that the mayor’s office forwarded an email from an Airbnb host in support of the platform to Lopez’s assistant on Feb. 14. “Mayor Regalado requested that I forward you this email for Jorge Luis Lopez,” the email read.
Another day, another study, another reminder of something most motorists may already know: We travel some of the most dangerous roads in America.
Four of the top five deadliest highways in the nation are in Florida, according to a study conducted by Geotab, a Canada-based global fleet management company.
U.S. 1 tops the list with 1,011 fatal crashes causing 1,079 deaths over the past decade. The highway runs nearly 530 miles through 13 counties along Florida’s east coast.
A Senate panel Monday turned state worker benefits into bargaining chips for the legislative session’s final two weeks. The Government Oversight and Accountability Committee voted to revamp workers’ health insurance and to steer new employees away from a traditional pension and into a 401 (k)-like investment plan.
Both ideas are House priorities that had yet to be heard in a Senate committee – usually a requirement for a proposal to be introduced on the floor. The Senate and House are expected to begin budget negotiations this week, a process that influences how the chambers resolve differences among competing bills.
The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act was sold as a way to rein in a freewheeling Wall Street, but Wisconsin bankers say the law has burdened community banks to the point of accelerating mergers and consolidation.
“2016 saw a significant jump in merger activity here in Wisconsin,” Rose Oswald Poels, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA), told Watchdog.org. The number of announced mergers last year reached 22 in the state, compared with 12 in 2015, according to Poels’ numbers
The added red tape from Dodd-Frank has burdened community banks while also limiting borrowing options for small businesses and homeowners, thereby hamstringing economic activity in Wisconsin, she said.
But Poels and others in the industry see a silver lining this year as the House Financial Services Committee moves forward on reforming Dodd-Frank, which was enacted in the wake of the 2008 recession. The committee on Wednesday will take up a new draft of the Financial CHOICE Act, which would alter provisions of Dodd-Frank that Republican lawmakers say have been particularly onerous to small businesses.
President Donald Trump signaled his desire to rethink Dodd-Frank banking regulations by signing an executive order in January that urges the Treasury Department to look at ways banks can be given more freedom to make loans in ways that will advance economic growth.
The Wisconsin congressional delegation will have a degree of influence over how Dodd-Frank reforms evolve in the House. Two of its Congressional members, Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau) and Gwen Moore (D- Milwaukee), both sit on the Financial Services Committee.
Neither lawmaker responded to requests for comment on reforming Dodd-Frank, but Duffy’s public statements leave no uncertainty about his position. In reaction to Trump’s signing of a House joint resolution that pulls back Dodd-Frank rules on energy producers, the congressman expressed a desire to lift federal red tape on businesses and families.
“President [Barack] Obama’s burdensome Dodd-Frank financial rules have held our economy back since the bill was passed,” Duffy said in a prepared statement.
Poels said that as a result of Dodd-Frank, consumers in Wisconsin can no longer get certain types of loans easily and quickly. Balloon notes, which do not fully pay down a loan over their term and require the repayment of what’s left of the principal balance, are more difficult for the banks to approve in the wake of Dodd-Frank, she said.
“Community banks in Wisconsin did a lot of portfolio lending in the form of balloon notes in the past,” Poels said.
Like other community banking associations, WBA wants to see changes in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Dodd-Frank assigned the power to issue far-reaching rules and fines. The banks see the bureau as lacking budget oversight because it gets its funding directly from the Federal Reserve, rather than having its budget overseen by Congress. The agency is also run by a single director rather than the traditional commission style of governance.
“You shouldn’t have a federal agency that doesn’t have any budget restrictions,” Poels said.
Despite the challenges of complying with federal regulations, she said Wisconsin’s banks are doing well financially.
“We do have an overwhelming number of banks in the state that are profitable,” Poels said.
But the cost of complying with regulation and the need for higher levels of cyber security mean there’s less money available for lending – and getting a higher return on investments, she said.
“When you look at comparative time frames from prior years, net profits have not increased as much as in past years,” Poels said.
Others also see Dodd-Frank as being ripe for reform this year in the Republican-controlled Congress. Thaya Brook Knight, associate director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, said Republican lawmakers are primed to get a record of accomplishments in place before the midterm elections in 2018.
“There is motivation among Republicans right now to get something done,” Knight said.
Reducing top-down federal rules on the smaller banks should be politically feasible because they were not seen as villains in the 2008 financial crisis, Knight said. But she added that altering the current rules on mortgage financing might be more difficult because housing issues are viewed as more political.
“Relief for small banks is going to be an easier sell than some of the other areas,” Knight said.
She could not say whether the banks’ challenges have affected some regions of the United States more than others, but Knight agreed that areas with small populations – such as large swaths of the Midwest – tend to have the greatest impact.
“Small businesses rely overwhelmingly on small banks for financing,” Knight said.
She also said that Trump will have the opportunity to rethink the way Dodd-Frank is administered by filling seats on the Securities Exchange Commission and by naming a new director of the CFPB in July 2018, when current Director Richard Cordray’s term ends.
“It gives the president a fairly broad policy role to change Dodd-Frank even without changing the underlying law,” she said.
Mullins Cheese, which says it’s the largest family-owned and operated cheese factory in Wisconsin, has tossed a lifeline to eight dairy farms that were at risk of closing from a trade dispute with Canada.
“My field staff looked at them and said, ‘My gosh, these are great, wonderfully kept farms,’” said Bill Mullins, the Mosinee cheese company’s vice president. “I had an opportunity to help a few of them.”
But while Mullins has stepped up and signed contracts to buy the milk from eight family-owned dairy operations, dozens of others haven’t been as fortunate. They face a May 1 deadline for when they no longer have a milk processor and could be forced to shut down.
The Madison Ethics Board this week will consider a complaint from an East Side resident alleging Ald. Sara Eskrich, 13th District, was improperly involved in the city’s awarding of a contract to a business group that includes her husband for a beer garden at Olbrich Park.
Eskrich, through her attorney, has filed a 12-page motion to dismiss the complaint, contending that the allegations are baseless and that her behavior has been above board, appropriate and in full compliance with the city’s Ethics Code.
Jason LeSage is tired of the steps.
Two long flights of them up to the west-side apartment he and his son have called home for some time now. In February, he started poking around the housing market, working with a Realtor and looking at starter homes in Green Bay.
But LeSage, a first-time homebuyer who just had an offer accepted last week, quickly learned this is no time to just poke around.
“It seemed like every time I looked at something, there was already an accepted offer or someone would sneak in and buy it,” LeSage said. “It was actually pretty easy (to buy a house.) The actual looking for the house was pretty difficult, though.”
… It was a moment of clarity for the left in Wisconsin: In races that pit a conservative versus a liberal, voters prefer the conservative virtually every time — even badly damaged ones. In the most recent Supreme Court election, progressives couldn’t even muster a candidate against one-term incumbent conservative Justice Annette Ziegler.
Undoubtedly, much of the right’s success is due to the way conservatives have successfully framed Supreme Court races as “law and order” competitions, where the candidate on the right typically supports tough sentences for criminal behavior and the liberal candidate favors letting felons out on the street.
An Ohio-based dairy has sued the state of Wisconsin over its ban on the sale of ungraded butter.
In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, for the Western District of Wisconsin, Minerva Dairy argues that the ban is an anti-competitive restriction that protects Wisconsin based dairies while blocking sales from other states.
Similar lawsuits have been filed before. Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection officials said they had not seen the Minerva lawsuit yet and could not comment on it.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in March as employment grew by 16,400, according to figures released today by the state Department of Workforce Development.
The figures, compiled from a survey of 985 households, also showed unemployment declining by 10,300, to 107,100, and the state’s labor force participation rate ticking up 0.1 percentage point, to 68.4 percent.
GREEN BAY – Members of the City Council rejected a proposal Tuesday night to end their access to city health insurance.
Eliminating health benefits for City Council members would have saved little, but it would have been an important symbolic gesture, Alderman Joe Moore said.
“Every time there’s a budget shortfall, we ask the constituents to do without or maybe delay a project, we ask the staff not to fill positions or do without,” Moore said. “We’re asking everybody else to make sacrifices. Let’s put skin in the game.”
Gov. Scott Walker is open to amending a private school tuition tax benefit, two-thirds of which is going to families making more than $100,000 a year, though he isn’t seeking any particular changes himself.
In January the State Journal wrote about how the state is spending $8 million a year to subsidize private school tuition for families making more than $100,000.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority threw out a petition to bar judges at all levels from hearing cases involving the largest donors to their election campaigns.
The court voted 5-2 on Thursday to reject a rule change suggested by 54 retired Wisconsin judges that would’ve required judges to recuse themselves if they have received campaign donations of certain sizes from any parties in a case. The suggested amounts ranged from $10,000 for state Supreme Court justices to $500 for municipal judges.
By Carrie Salls – Watchdog.org contributor
TALLAHASSEE – Florida residents have the sixth lowest state tax burden in the U.S., according to a recent WalletHub report.
“Florida has the sixth lowest total tax burden at 6.79 percent mostly because the state has no income tax,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez said. “One of the advantages is that residents here pay the third lowest total taxes at $2.385 per capita, but there’s also a notion of ‘you get what you pay for’ in terms of government services, according to our taxpayer Return On Investment report.”
Florida TaxWatch president and chief executive officer Dominic M. Calabro said the low tax burden is a plus for Florida families and businesses.
“Florida’s tax climate makes it an attractive option for families and businesses alike to move to and flourish,” Calabro said. “A lower tax burden allows businesses to create more jobs and expand, while allowing taxpayers to have more money in their pockets that can then be spent and funneled back into the economy.”
Calabro said Florida still could do more to reduce the tax burden. His organization “also called for burdensome taxes to be cut to improve our tax climate further.”
The proposed changes include reducing or eliminating the state’s business rent tax and communication services tax.
According to a briefing published by Florida TaxWatch, “Florida subjects commercial lease and license payments to the state and local sales tax and it is the only state in the nation that does so.”
As a result, Florida TaxWatch said the state government mandated an increase of up to 8 percent in occupancy costs for all business that rent property, “a cost they would not incur in any other state.”
“Florida businesses pay more than $1.7 billion a year as a result of this tax,” the briefing said.
In addition, Florida TaxWatch said renters must pay local option sales taxes, increasing the tax burden for these businesses by an estimated $230 million.
In a separate briefing, Florida TaxWatch said, although the combined state and local tax rate in the state tops out at 7.5 percent, the purchase of cell phone and other taxable communications services drives the tax rate to more than 14 percent and even in excess of 16 percent.
“Florida has one of the highest tax rates on communications services in the nation,” the briefing said.
Richard C. Auxier of the Urban Institute/Tax Policy Center, said it’s important to understand what rankings like the ones reported by WalletHub “say and what they don’t say.”
Accordiing to Auxier, Urban Institute has found that “state tax cuts do not automatically lead to economic growth.”
Auxier said “politicians certainly care about rankings like WalletHub’s, but the study only analyzed property tax, individual income tax, sales tax and excise tax.
A business considering moving its operations to Florida would want to know about other taxes such as corporate income taxes, gross receipts taxes, fees and all the taxes levied at the city or county level, he said.
In addition, he said state residents are also affected by different taxes.
“For example, Florida does not tax income,” Auxier said. “That’s great if you’re earning a lot of money. But if you’re not earning much, Florida’s no income tax is not helpful and its high sales tax is harmful, and there are states with far better tax systems for you.”
Auxier said “businesses think about a lot of things other than taxes.” He said a 2016 study ranked highway access, availability of skilled labor and cost of labor as the most important business location factors, “with tax incentives and rates ranking fifth or lower.”
Meanwhile, Auxier said individuals consider schools, commute times and other issues when deciding whether to move to a specific state or area.
“All those things – roads, workforce, schools, parks, etc. – are affected by a lot of things governments do and spend on,” Auxier said.
Auxier said some independent state tax commissions use rankings like the ones reported by WalletHub to boost their argument for cutting income taxes or corporate taxes.
Enterprise Florida communications director Nathan Edwards feels that Florida’s low state tax burden and lack of government interference in spending decisions have benefits for the state’s residents and businesses.
“Business dollars go a lot farther in Florida given the state’s tax advantages, tax exemptions and no state personal income tax,” Edwards said. “Businesses and citizens know how to spend their money better than government. Florida’s leaders recognize this and keep government out of the way.”
SAINT PAUL – Minnesota workers shoulder the fourth highest individual income tax burden in the country, according to a recent report from WalletHub report.
According to statistics provided by WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez, Minnesota’s individual income tax rate is 3.59 percent.
Gonzalez said that rate is not entirely bad news for the state because “Minnesota actually offers the best government services in the country, thus the taxes paid by residents are put to good use.”
But NFIB Minnesota director Mike Hickey does not agree, saying the state’s taxes are too high.
“On all of these [tax] rankings, we compare badly” to other states, Hickey said.
Minnesotans have the 17th highest sales and excise tax burden, the 23rd highest property tax burden and pay the fifth highest in state taxes overall, according to WalletHub.
Hickey said a solution to the state’s tax burden would be “a new governor.”
Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has been Minnesota’s governor since 2011. The next election for Minnesota governor is next year, though Dayton has said he will not seek a third term.
Hickey said bills have been introduced in the Minnesota legislature that are designed to reduce the business/commercial tax rate in the state, as well as to address a high equipment purchase tax rate.
“That’s how difficult it is to try to get tax relief up here,” he said.
He said the state also has a high capital gains tax, meaning those who are successful in that area are “paying a lot.” Hickey said that is bad for Minnesota because “the most successful are getting the most jobs.”
“Look for a big battle in Minnesota,” Hickey said.
According to Hickey, Minnesota’s 9.85 percent individual tax rate affects businesses and farmers as well, as the state is “way out of conformity” with national averages.
Jeff Van Wychen, a Tax Policy fellow at North Star Policy Institute, said “state taxes alone are not a good standard by which to judge the relative taxes in a state.”
“Some states – such as Minnesota – rely more heavily on state tax revenues to fund public services and less heavily on local taxes; this is done in order to reduce dependence on regressive local property taxes and to equalize the ability of different regions of the state, which can vary significantly in terms of the size of their local tax base, to adequately fund public services,” Van Wychen said.
In addition, Van Wychen said taxes in high per capita income states, like Minnesota, tend to be higher than in low per capita income states because they receive less assistance from the federal government, have higher wage costs and a higher cost-of-living.
“In order to measure the relative size of government among the 50 states in a way that adjusts for differences in the level of federal assistance and wage costs, and that takes into account local taxes, it makes sense to look at total state and local general revenue as a percent of personal income,” Van Wychen said.
Using this measure, he said Minnesota ranks 25th in the nation based on 2014 state and local finance data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and personal income data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
In addition, Van Wychen said “Minnesota’s relatively high tax level has enabled the state to invest more heavily in E-12 and higher education than many other states,” and “these investments in turn have contributed to robust economic growth over the last half century.”
Tax Foundation policy analyst Morgan Scarboro said her foundation’s most recent tax report in 2012 ranked Minnesota eighth, finding that “the average Minnesota taxpayer paid $5,185 in state and local taxes, amounting to 10.8 percent of state residents’ total income.”
However, Scarboro said Minnesota has the third highest individual and corporate income tax rates in the country at 9.85 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively.
“They also have a unique statewide business property tax that’s levied 95 percent on commercial and industrial property [businesses] and 5 percent on cabins,” Scarboro said. “There’s an automatic inflator that’s outpacing inflation, so the collections of that harmful tax are increasing faster than inflation every year.”
Scarboro also said Minnesota has “a needlessly complex property tax system with 52 property classifications,” while the average number of classifications is six.
“Ultimately, the state suffers from high marginal tax rates and an unnecessarily complex system,” Scarboro said.
GREEN BAY – Some Brown County lawmakers are raising concerns about a multimillion-dollar proposal to replace the aging Veterans Memorial Arena and upgrade a neighboring exhibition hall.
A briefing about the proposal Wednesday lasted more than an hour as a half dozen lawmakers raised issues ranging from costs to the availability of parking.
At issue is a consultant’s recommendation that the county replace the 60-year-old Veterans Memorial Arena and neighboring Shopko Hall with a modern exhibition facility. The AECOM study, funded by the county and the village of Ashwaubenon, recommends a 100,000- to 120,000-square-foot exhibition center.
Costs have been estimated at $70 million to $85 million, with an estimated annual economic impact of $13 million.
“It’s hard for me to swallow that this place would support itself,” said Dave Kaster, a Bellevue supervisor.
Monica and Dave Roskopf say they are thankful but not more optimistic about their future as dairy farmers after President Donald Trump took their side in a dispute with Canada this week.
The Roskopfs, who own a family farm outside the small Dodge County community of Iron Ridge, own one of 75 affected farms. Their processor, Grassland Dairy, says Canada will no longer buy its products and, in turn, they will stop purchasing milk from dozens of Wisconsin farmers on May 1st.
Milwaukee made the Conde Nast Traveler list of “6 U.S. Cities to Watch in 2017,” thanks to its vibrant restaurant scene and “endless party” during the summer.
The magazine compares Milwaukee favorably to Chicago, Minneapolis and Madison and says “Milwaukee has many, if not all, of the same qualities that make these sister cities buzz — and then some.”
The co-chairman of the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee says he is open to ending the freeze on University of Wisconsin System tuition in the next two years.
“We can’t freeze tuition forever,” Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, told the Wisconsin State Journal, making him the second member of the Joint Finance Committee to indicate interest in allowing limited UW tuition increases.
Residents looking for relief from flooding without paying more in taxes have at least two champions on the City Council.
Council members John Moss and Jessica Abbott have come up with an alternative to City Manager Dave Hansen’s proposed budget, which calls for a real estate tax increase of 1.25 cents per $100 of assessed value to help pay for full-day kindergarten and a stormwater fee increase of 2.5 cents per day for five years to make a dent in $450 million in needed drainage infrastructure repairs and upgrades.
The issue is new to the Virginia Supreme Court, but not to landowners whose property already has been surveyed without their permission for two proposed interstate natural gas pipelines.
The court heard arguments on Wednesday in two cases testing the legality of a state law that allows gas companies onto private property without landowner consent to survey routes for pipelines, including an appeal by an 83-year-old widow whose Augusta County land already has been surveyed for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Warren County real estate owners can expect an increase in their next tax bills.
The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to adopt the fiscal 2018 budget that assumes an increase in the real estate tax rate from 62 cents to 65 cents per $100 of assessed value. The majority of the additional revenue from the tax increase will cover the cost to open and operate the new middle school for the first year.
Treasurer Anthony Burfoot surrendered to federal marshals Wednesday afternoon to begin his six-year prison sentence on public corruption and perjury convictions.
The city’s former vice mayor walked up to the U.S. District courthouse about a half-hour before a 2 p.m. deadline imposed by the court.
Speaking with reporters on the steps, he maintained his innocence and professed his love for Norfolk.
Efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare are gaining new momentum in Washington D.C. weeks after House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., pulled a replacement bill from the floor after it failed to gain enough Republican support.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said he has been asked by the White House to revive plans to change the nation’s health care law.
“Keeping the status quo is unacceptable,” Davis said. “If we do nothing, in the year 2020, because of planned reduction in Medicaid reimbursements, the state of Illinois is going to have to come up with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. I don’t think anyone in Springfield thinks we can make that happen right now.”
Many other states face the same predicament. In addition, roughly one third of U.S. counties have just a single insurer on the individual market, driving up costs.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-New Jersey, told Advance Media that a vote on a new bill could come as soon as next week.
“It’s not dead,” MacArthur told Advance’s Newark-based The Star-Ledger. “I spoke with the vice president and the [House] speaker over the weekend, and it’s moving.”
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that replacing Obamacare will be key to his tax reform plans.
While it’s remains unclear what the proposed health reform would look like, Castle Group Health President Mark Gurda said it’s hard to trust anyone in the debate.
“I don’t think there are any credible sources you can rely on for dictating the road forward,” Gurda said. “Do you trust the Democrats in the health care reform? Not necessarily. They got us to this point, and they think there’s nothing wrong. If the Republicans go along and say there’s nothing wrong, you may find yourself in September with a third or half the country with no insurers. You can’t play that chicken game. The stakes are too high.”
Politicians aren’t the only ones in the debate who can’t be trusted, he said.
“Can you trust the insurers to do what’s right for the public? Not necessarily. I unfortunately am in the camp that it’s going to get worse before it gets better for 2018,” Gurda said.
One major criticism of the previous reform attempt was it included a provision to allow for a 30-percent penalty that insurers could levy against people who re-upped insurance after having it lapse.
“What we’re asking Americans to do is to be able to keep continuous coverage,” Davis said. “If you have coverage, make sure you keep it. Otherwise you may have to pay a little bit more.”
Critics said that’s still an individual mandate which is a key part of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Reform advocates warn if nothing is done soon, insurers will vanish from the Obamacare exchanges and offerings left behind, if any, will be too expensive for the people who need it most.
The Washington Redskins practice in Virginia; their corporate home is in Virginia, and most of the players and coaches live in Virginia. But they play their home games in Maryland.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants to change that. He’s spent hours, and a few state dollars, trying to convince Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to build a stadium in Northern Virginia.
A stadium deal probably won’t happen before McAuliffe leaves office next year, thanks to Virginia’s one-term limit on governors. But some of the men looking to succeed McAuliffe are ready to take up the fight.
State Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Va. Beach, is welcoming – to a point.
“We’d love to have the Redskins move to Virginia,” he said.
But how much state money should be involved? “Zero. I think it’s totally inappropriate. We just cut $1.2 billion out of the budget. We made some hard choices, some very hard choices. And quite frankly, I don’t think it’s a priority to help subsidize a billionaire to move to Virginia.”
Former Presidential Republican candidate Carly Fiorina is “strongly considering” a run to unseat Hillary Clinton’s former running mate Tim Kaine for Virginia senator in 2018, an adviser to the former Hewlett-Packard CEO told CNN.
Fiorina, who bowed out of the presidential race in February 2016 before a short stint as Ted Cruz’s running mate, has been considering a run against Kaine in Virginia since November, said Frank Sadler, former campaign manager for her presidential run and the former executive director to her PAC.
Sadler said that Fiorina will likely make a formal decision about running for Senate in the fall.
Issues surrounding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be in front of the Virginia Supreme Court Wednesday.
The cases will focus on surveying, and whether or not it’s legal. Landowners have been fighting the pipeline and their surveying efforts. Wednesday, that fight goes to Virginia’s highest court.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run about 600 miles between West Virginia and North Carolina. The current proposed path runs through sections of Highland, Bath and Nelson Counties.
Gas prices in Virginia are the highest they’ve been this year, says AAA Tidewater.
Unleaded gas in Virginia now averages $2.23 per gallon — three cents more than last week, 14 more than last month and 29 more than it was last year. Virginia ranks No. 10 for least expensive gas in the country, just behind Kansas and Louisiana, a news release from AAA Tidewater said.