December 19, 2014

Wisconsin business lobby outlines priorities for next session

WMC's Kurt Bauer

WMC’s Kurt Bauer

Wisconsin’s top business lobbying group is urging lawmakers to drop the state’s highest personal income tax rate, raise gas taxes, and pass a right-to-work bill.

Kurt Bauer, CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce, outlined the group’s recommendations in a letter posted on its web site Monday. In it, Bauer said the state has made a remarkable transformation from what he calls an “anti-business to a pro-business state” under Republican leadership. However, he says more needs to be done to attract new companies and jobs.

Among the steps Bauer called for is an elimination of the top income tax bracket, which he argues would offer relief to many small businesses, and could finally push Wisconsin off the list of the nation’s 10 highest-taxed states. Former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle added a 7.6-percent income tax bracket in the last decade, to help eliminate budget deficits at the time.

Frac sand mining is another concerns touched on in the letter, with Bauer arguing that “radical environmentalists who have so far failed to stop fracking have now targeted frac sand mining.” The sand, used in drilling for shale oil, has been a target of frequent controversy in the state with many communities passing ordinances to limit the development of new mine. Bauer said WMC will “dvance legislation to promote statewide regulatory certainty and uniformity.”

Bauer also said the simplest way to pay for new and improved highways is a modest gas tax increase, plus a hike in the vehicle registration fees. He said, “bonding isn’t a long-term solution.”

On right-to-work, Bauer said it would help economic development as well as give workers more freedom. Lawmakers expect to at least debate right-to-work in the next legislative session, even though Governor Scott Walker has so far indicated the measure is not a priority for him.

Bauer also said Wisconsin would change its family medical leave law so it’s the same as the federal version and said the state should look for ways to reduce worker’s compensation costs.

Governor Walker says review of proposed Kenosha casino ‘ongoing’

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

Governor Scott Walker says he’s still thinking over the Menominee Indian Tribe’s plans to build a casino in Kenosha.

In a statement released late Tuesday, the governor says the process is ongoing and “very complicated,” due largely to existing compacts with the tribes, which were negotiated by then-Governor Jim Doyle. He says “Due to the compact amendments negotiated by Governor Doyle, the proposed casino could cost the State hundreds of millions of dollars over multiple years, so we want to make sure the project does not have an adverse impact on our state’s taxpayers and the budget. Tribes with casinos make yearly revenue sharing payments to the State, and we have already seen an impact on the state budget because of the Potawatomi’s decision in June to withhold their required payment.”

Walker says a Potawatomi compact amendment that was chosen by an arbitrator has been submitted to the federal government for review. If approved, it would require the state to make payments to the Potawatomi to help off-set any financial losses at the tribe’s Milwaukee casino.

The governor stresses the amendment is not an indications of whether he plans to approve or reject the casino. He says it’s just another step in the process of gathering information about the impact of the project. Walker says he continues to “work toward a win on all fronts” as he considers the proposal.

Wisconsin officials urge safe shopping on Cyber Monday

Official holiday tree in the rotunda of the state Capitol building. (File photo, WRN)

Official holiday tree in the rotunda of the state Capitol building. (File photo, WRN)

Today is Cyber Monday and many retailers will be rolling out discounts, but you need to be careful doing your shopping online. Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection spokesperson Jerad Albrecht says Cyber Monday shopping is generally safe so long as you’re sticking to respected and big name retailers. “Honestly, if you’re sticking with a company you already know and trust, you’re probably off to a pretty good start. The things that are particularly worrisome are the things that come through text message and unsolicited emails.”

Wisconsin Better Business Bureau CEO Ran Hoth says making sure that coupon or email you’re getting is legit is key. “If you see a link from someone you’re not familiar with, that’s beginning of the potential compromise of your computer with the download of a virus or malware, and it could be a lot worse.”

Albrecht says that you really need to scrutinize those deals, especially when you come across a rock bottom discount on your social media streams. “There will be a lot of too good to be deals, particularly on social media websites, and people just need to be aware that that sort thing of thing is out there and to be careful and cautious of what they’re clicking on.” Many scammer may try to use accounts that have been compromised to send out link spam to friends, so make sure to check those deals, even if you think it’s coming from someone you.

Hoth adds that many scammers will try to fool you with phony tracking emails from UPS or the Postal Service. “Make sure you’re on the main domain site of shipping company and you’re not being compromised.” No legitimate shipping company will force you to install or download a program to track your packaging.

If you do run into any problems, you can contact either the Better Business Bureau or DATCP.


Wisconsin farm groups say more is needed on immigration reform

President Obama’s executive order on immigration did little to address the needs of Wisconsin’s agriculture industry. Farmers here – particularly dairy farmers – are heavily reliant on the labor of immigrant laborers.

Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden, said farmers were disappointed that the president’s executive order did little to address what he calls a frustrating situation. “They have a hard time hiring folks, simply because they’re a little bit unsure of their legal status here, and then you have farmers competing with farmers for the workers that are legal,” Von Ruden said.

Karen Gefvert, Director of Governmental Relations for Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, agrees that farmers are frustrated. “It’s really become a pretty fragile discussion,” she said. “We’re not only talking about the business side of things, we’re talking about the humanitarian, emotional side of things.”

Both organizations supported a comprehensive immigration package which was passed by the U.S. Senate in 2013 – but which was never brought up for a vote in the House.

We were little disappointed to see that he (Obama) didn’t have much to say about agricultural workers,” Von Ruden said. “We need both a short-term and long-term solution,” Gefvert said. “The president’s executive action gives us some, but not enough.”

Wisconsin officials urge consumers to keep an eye on Black Friday prices

As you gear up for the start of the holiday shopping season, state consumer protection officials are reminding you to read the fine print this Black Friday.

Retail stores are looking to pull in customers with deeply discounted doorbuster deals, but Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection spokesperson Jerad Albrecht says you need to do your research both before you get to the store and while you’re shopping inside. “There’s going to be a minimum amount in the store that’s going to be listed in the advertisement, and as long as they have that there, they’re up to what they need to have for documentation.”

Administrator Sandy Chalmers adds that there’s lots of fine print this weekend. “Look for disclaimers on limited quantities, internet-only prices, special sale hours, and return/exchange policies.”

Wisconsin law requires stores to charge their lowest advertised price for a product and Albrecht says you can challenge them to stick to it. “If something in a flyer for a particular price, or if something is advertised on the shelf at a particular price, it needs to ring up at that price at the register.” If there is a discrepancy, make sure you’ve got the right model and item that’s advertised, and bring your documentation with you.

You’ll also need to be conscious on what sort of deals are advertised on your Twitter or Facebook feeds this week. Albrecht says plenty of scammers will be trying to throw out phony ads and phony websites for coupons in the next several days. “Scammers are able to build pretty elaborate and pretty trustworthy looking sites, so again just be careful what you click and be reasonable what your expectations are, and you really shouldn’t have much of a problem.” As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Other basic tips from DATCP include making sure you keep your receipts for all purchases, and get gift receipts. Be aware that any sort of clearance or “open item” may have different policies on returns and exchanges and make sure you find out what those are before you go through with your purchase.

If you do run into a problem, call DATCP at 608-224-4942.