February 20, 2017
WEDA 2017 Legislative Day a great success
Last week, WEDA held its annual Legislative Day in Madison to strengthen WEDA's relationships with state lawmakers and raise the Association's profile in the State Capitol. The event was a great success, and certainly achieved its goals.
Although this was the first year WEDA held Legislative Day separate from the Governor's Conference on Economic Development, turnout was still strong, providing a boost to WEDA's advocacy efforts. The event provided WEDA members from across the state with an opportunity to join other economic development professionals to learn more about WEDA's current legislative priorities and meet with their legislators in the State Capitol to discuss them.
Before heading over the Capitol for legislative meetings, participants heard from several speakers. Among the presenters was Baker Tilly, who also sponsored WEDA Legislative Day. Baker Tilly provided members with a terrific overview of a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) study they are working on to help illustrate to policymakers and other key constituencies the economic development benefits of TIF, including the use of TIF as a job creation tool. Members also heard from two state lawmakers -- Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac) and Rep. Dave Steffen (R-Green Bay). Both Feyen and Steffen are supportive of key policies to drive economic growth and address the state's workforce shortage, and WEDA looks forward to working with them during the remainder of the legislative session.
To wrap-up the morning, WEDA Legislative Affairs Director Michael Welsh gave a legislative issue briefing to prepare members for their meetings with lawmakers in the afternoon. WEDA members met with legislators to discuss the following Issue Papers, which reflect WEDA's legislative priorities:
Whether you participated in 2017 Legislative Day or were not able to make it, it's never too early to think about next year. The WEDA 2018 Legislative Day is scheduled for Wednesday, January 31, 2018 in Madison, WI. Please SAVE THE DATE.
Legislature begins work on state budget bill
In early February, Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his two-year, $76 billion budget bill. After taking the last two months to comb though and absorb the roughly 1,000-page document, the State Legislature has officially begun the process to reshape the governor's budget proposal.
During the last week of March, the Joint Finance Committee - the Legislature's powerful budget committee - held state agency budget briefings, where the leaders of various state agencies testified before and answered questions from the committee on items included in the governor's budget that impact their individual departments. Among the agency heads that testified was Mark Hogan, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
Hogan's testimony focused in large part on two key budget issues impacting WEDC - restoring the corporation's base-level funding and reinstating their capital lending program. WEDA strongly supports both budget initiatives, which are critical to WEDC's overall efforts to expand economic development opportunities throughout Wisconsin:
- WEDC Lending Program – The budget bill as introduced would reestablish WEDC's capital lending program. Under the provision, the Corporation would be authorized to originate new loans, but only with proceeds of repaid loans. WEDA views the proposal as a positive step, as the loan program is a key component of WEDC’s economic development toolbox.
- WEDC Base Funding – The budget bill proposes to restore WEDC’s base funding, providing $6.3 million in the second year of the biennium. This is not new money, but rather the restoration of WEDC’s base funding, without which the Corporation’s ability to provide critical and timely economic development assistance to Wisconsin businesses would be limited.
While WEDA is supportive of several budget provisions proposed by Gov. Walker - including the WEDC-related items mentioned above -- WEDA is concerned about the governor's proposed modifications to the Historic Tax Credit (HTC) program.
The proposal would limit historic tax credit awards to $10 million annually and require credits be awarded competitively based on job creation potential. It would also require credits to be repaid if job creation goals are not met. Furthermore, the HTC is a critical community development tool, but not necessarily a job creation program. Tying the credit to job creation is not a practical benchmark and will only serve to discourage businesses from utilizing this effective economic development tool.
The WEDA Government Affairs Team is meeting with lawmakers, including those serving on the Joint Finance Committee, to express our concerns with the HTC proposal and voice our support for WEDC's lending program and base funding provisions. The Association is also encouraging members to engage in the advocacy process.
In fact, earlier this week, WEDA President Ed White provided testimony on behalf of WEDA to the Joint Finance Committee at the first of six public hearings the committee is holding across the state on the budget bill. The committee is holding its third hearing tomorrow in Berlin, WI. They also have the following three public hearings scheduled for the week of April 17:
- Tuesday, April 18 @ 10:00am – Spooner High School - 801 County Highway A, Spooner, WI
- Wednesday April 19 @10:00am – Ellsworth High School - 323 W. Hillcrest Street, Ellsworth, WI
- Friday, April 21 @ 10:00am – Marinette High School - 2135 Pierce Avenue Items, Marinette, WI
If you are interested and able to attend one of the public hearings to testify, please contact WEDA at firstname.lastname@example.org. You will be fully supported and provided with written testimony outlining WEDA’s budget priorities. This is a unique opportunity for WEDA members to engage in the legislative process and advocate for key economic development policies.
WEDA Legislative Tracking: Senate passes broadband expansion bill
One of the main legislative issues WEDA was discussing with legislators on Legislative Day was Senate Bill 49, legislation aimed at expanding broadband access in rural parts of Wisconsin. The bill, which has strong bipartisan support, easily passed the State Senate Tuesday, April 4, and was sent over to the State Assembly for further consideration. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the bill is also expected to receive Assembly approval in the coming weeks, before it's signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.
The legislation provides $15.5 million in new funding during the current fiscal year (which ends on June 30, 2017) for the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant program. The program provides reimbursement for equipment and construction costs associated with broadband expansion projects in underserved parts of the state. Current law allocated $6 million for the program, but limits total annual grants to $1.5 million. Senate Bill 49 not only provides additional funding for the grant program, but it eliminates the annual cap limit. It also creates new criteria to ensure grant funding is directed to communities with little or no broadband access and to projects that will spur economic development.
Before approving SB 49, the Senate attached an amendment to the bill that would prohibit internet service providers from collecting information on their customers' use and browsing history without the customer's permission.
The Public Service Commission, which oversees the Broadband Expansion Grant Program, has the administrative framework in place to begin implementing the bill as soon as it's signed into law, and the agency is prepared to immediately open a new application process. This is important, as the new funding must be awarded by the end of the fiscal year.
Another bill supported by WEDA and discussed by members at Legislative Day is Senate Bill 127. The legislation will help address the growing skills gap identified by businesses across Wisconsin by enhancing the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Incentive Grant program. The program provides incentive grants to school districts that offer educational programs in industries and occupations with workforce shortages. School districts are eligible for grants of up to $1,000 for each pupil in the district earning an approved industry-recognized certification. However, the popular program is capped at $3 million per year. This has led to prorated grant awards to schools. Senate Bill 127 would eliminate the current funding cap on the program to ensure school districts receive full grant awards moving forward.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Workforce Development Committee, and the Assembly version of the bill (AB 192) has been sent to the Assembly Workforce Development Committee. There may also be an effort to include the proposal as part of the state budget bill.
As the legislative session continues to unfold, you can follow the progress of SB 49 and SB 127, as well as all other introduced legislation WEDA has reviewed and taken a position on, by visiting the 2017-18 Legislative Bill Tracker on the WEDA website. If you have any questions or comments on legislation included on WEDA's Bill Tracker, please contact WEDA at email@example.com.
QN: State legislation was recently proposed to eliminate the personal property tax in Wisconsin. The personal property tax is a levy on business equipment that is assessed in addition to tax assessments on real property. The bill would repeal the personal property tax beginning in 2018, but would direct the state to reimburse municipalities for the loss of personal property tax revenue. WEDA will monitor the bill as it moves through the legislative process.
QN: Former Democratic State Sen. Tim Cullen, who was mulling a bid for governor in 2018, recently ruled out a run for the state's highest political office. Cullen, who also served as secretary of the state's Department of Health Services in the late 1980’s, cited the constant need to raise money for his decision not to enter the race. Cullen is the latest high-profile Democrat to bow out of the 2018 governor's contest, joining Congressman Ron Kind, state Senate Minority lLader Jennifer Shilling, and Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser.
QN: HARIBO, the German-based candy company and maker of the “GoldBear” gummi candies, announced it will build its first North American manufacturing facility in Pleasant Prairie, WI. The $242 million plant, which is scheduled to be completed in 2020, is expected to create 400 jobs. The project, which will likely benefit from a WEDC incentive package, will be built in a new Pleasant Prairie business park that will be financed with a proposed Tax Incremental Financing district.
QN: President Donald Trump’s budget proposal released last month seeks to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program. The 42-year old program is currently funded at $3 billion per year. Gov. Scott Walker says he'll encourage Congress to maintain funding for the CDBG program.