UW and Business are Powerful Partners for Growth

The Governor’s budget proposal for the University of Wisconsin System has sparked a debate on the role and mission of this world-class institution to our state. As policy makers discuss the implications of the current two-year budget on the UW System, the decisions made in the coming months will have a lasting effect on our universities and colleges for years to come. It is important that the discussion focus on how we can ensure that the UW System is nimble and responsive to an ever changing world as we work to maintain value and affordability.

A recent study found that 62% of all jobs in Wisconsin will require some postsecondary training by 2020. Currently, Wisconsin has a 39% postsecondary attainment rate among our working-age population. This not only presents a workforce development challenge in meeting the needs of our employers, but also impacts the prosperity of our families. As seen in our neighboring state of Minnesota, increased levels of postsecondary attainment can be directly linked to their higher per capita income, which is around $5000 higher than in Wisconsin.

Clearly, our state’s potential for economic and income growth is dependent upon our ability to develop our workforce in an increasingly technical and innovative economy. Our state’s citizens and employers will be depending on the UW System, as well as the Wisconsin Technical College System, to meet those needs. Campuses are thinking outside of the box to meet this challenge through initiatives such as the Flex Option, whereby individuals can get credit for what they know, and UW-River Falls’ Hudson Center, which provides mid-career and adult learners a convenient off-campus location to complete or seek additional advanced degrees. In order to ensure our future economic success, it is critical that the UW System reflect the needs of our students and goals of our state.

In many cases, our campuses are already answering this call and working with local businesses and industries to offer solutions to training a quality workforce. Several examples from campuses around the state help demonstrate the valuable private-public partnerships that foster growth and benefit Wisconsin’s students and employers. In La Crosse, Trane has joined with UW-La Crosse to establish an internship program to meet the company’s recruiting needs. The Manufacturing Outreach Center at UW-Stout works with manufacturers to help encourage growth and improve profitability. UW-Whitewater’s Incubation Program provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to successfully launch their start-ups with the support and resources of the University community.

Additionally, UW campuses are performing the kind of ground breaking research that aids innovative new industries and creates solutions to everyday problems to improve our quality of life. UW-Milwaukee is the only postsecondary institution in the nation with a center on freshwater science, which is an important issue to our agricultural and tourism industries, as well as a growing issue worldwide given the scarcity of freshwater. At Oshkosh, the university is working to improve energy independence by unlocking the energy potential of livestock material and biodigesters. Finding ways to efficiently use our resources and deriving value from waste materials is a topic of study at UW-Stevens Point.

These local and statewide initiatives show that bringing the needs and know-how of the private sector together with the University’s expertise and resources are powerful drivers of Wisconsin’s economy and communities. By meeting the workforce needs of our state, UW campuses provide a vital service in encouraging economic development and job growth. We know that a stable and qualified workforce is a top consideration of businesses as they seek places to expand or move their operations. Without a pipeline of talented graduates, businesses will choose to create jobs elsewhere.

While we more frequently hear of the challenges and missteps of the UW System, the initiatives described above show the value added that UW campuses provide to our state. Even as there have been disappointments relating to past administrative practices, the UW System under the current leadership has been working collaboratively with state leaders to rebuild relationships and address concerns. I believe that our state will not have a better opportunity than now to entrust the leadership of the UW System, the Board of Regents, and chancellors with greater ability to manage their operations. Providing greater flexibilities as we hold the University accountable will provide them with the ability to be nimble and responsive to our changing economy and encourage new initiatives and policies that improve student outcomes. Let’s use this opportunity to build on the UW System’s successes and position it to continue to be a world renowned institution.

Federal EPA Overreach Threatens Jobs, Family Budgets

A recent wave of federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations are receiving significant attention in Wisconsin and in states across the country, due to their potential impact on the everyday lives of residents and on economic development. These regulations may soon affect our gas and energy prices, our ability to use wood for home heating, and the ability to grow manufacturing jobs.

One of the EPA rules currently being considered would make significant changes to regulations on electricity generation, which has been called the “most sweeping federal regulations” on power plants in U.S. history. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), which is responsible for oversight of utilities in our state, has submitted information to the EPA describing the negative effect the regulations as currently drafted would have on working families and economic growth. A study of the impact of these new regulations on energy users estimated that the average Wisconsin household would see electricity and gas bills increase by nearly $500 per year by 2020. In a study completed by PSC, electricity rate increases of around 30% in Wisconsin were predicted in order to comply with these new regulations.

At the same time that the EPA is seeking new regulations on energy production that would increase rates paid by homeowners, the EPA is also enacting more stringent rules affecting heating systems that utilize wood as a fuel source. Wood heating is an economical alternative for many Wisconsin families, particularly in rural areas, and our state is among the top ten states in the use of wood and pellet stoves for heating homes. While wood heating has proven to be a cost-effective and renewable home heating source, the new EPA regulations are expected to result in increased consumer prices for wood stoves and furnaces. I joined nearly forty of my legislative colleagues in sending a letter to the EPA expressing our concerns with the impact of these rules on the budgets of Wisconsin residents.

A third rule being pushed by the EPA seeks to reduce ground-level ozone standards to levels so low that they may be unattainable and indistinguishable from naturally occurring levels. In fact, the ozone levels being proposed by the EPA are so extreme that twelve national parks would not be in compliance, including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. These new regulations are being proposed despite the fact that ground-level ozone has decreased by 33% since 1980 and the EPA scrapped similar proposed changes in 2011.

Areas that fail to meet ozone targets are classified as “nonattainment areas” and subject to stiff consequences. A number of counties in southeast Wisconsin have been subject to nonattainment classification and costly mandates, due in part to the effect of ozone levels in the greater Chicago area. While western Wisconsin has not been designated as a nonattainment area in the past, these new regulations may impact counties in our region should the Twin Cities area be classified as a nonattainment area as a result of the EPA’s proposed standards. The ozone regulations could require manufacturers in our area to compete with manufacturers throughout the Twin Cities metro area for credits before they would be allowed to expand their operations and create jobs.

While protecting our natural resources and ensuring clean air and water are important to our state and country, it is critical that regulations are enacted in a commonsense fashion and reflect the available technology to achieve compliance. Enacting costly, unattainable, and imprudent federal mandates on households, job creators, and state and local governments does not serve to improve our communities or economy. I look forward to continuing to work with my legislative colleagues to improve our environment using sound and rational protections rather than misguided Washington-driven policies.

Legislature Begins Work on State Budget

The State Legislature’s budget writing committee, the Joint Committee on Finance, formally began its work on the Governor’s budget proposal this week with briefings from state agencies. While legislators have been meeting with budget experts, agency officials, and interested parties since the Governor submitted his recommendations in early February, the briefings held this week were the first formal steps as the Legislature moves forward on the budget bill.

During these briefings, the committee had the opportunity to ask questions of state agencies on the provisions of the Governor’s budget proposal, including those relating to education, medical assistance, corrections, and natural resources. The briefings allow legislators to ask detailed questions about how various budget proposals would work and be implemented, as well as learning more about the cost or benefit to the state of specific provisions. These briefings can be viewed online at www.wiseye.org.

Later this month, the budget writing committee will be travelling around the state to receive input from citizens regarding their budget priorities. In an effort to ensure that residents of western and northwestern Wisconsin have a convenient opportunity to provide their input, I have consistently advocated for holding a budget hearing in our area to make the budget process accessible to area residents.

The co-chairs of the budget writing committee have released the schedule for this year’s budget hearings and I am pleased that one of the public hearings will again be held in our region. A public hearing in Rice Lake will be held on March 23rd at the UW-Barron County campus. In addition to Rice Lake, the budget writing committee has scheduled public hearings in Brillion, Reedsburg, and Milwaukee.

Individuals interested in testifying should register with legislative staff when they arrive at the hearing. Those that do not wish to testify, but would like to watch the proceedings, are also encouraged to attend. Written testimony can also be submitted to the committee by those unable to attend by submitting an e-mail at budgetcomments@legis.wisconsin.gov or by sending a letter to the Joint Committee on Finance, Attn: Joe Malkasian, Room 305 East State Capitol, Madison, WI, 53702.

Following the public hearings, the committee will begin its work on amending and adopting changes to the budget proposal. This process is expected to begin in early April and continue through May. More information on the budget writing committee can be found at http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lfb/jfc/, including a link to sign up for e-mail notifications of committee actions.

What are your thoughts on the Governor’s budget? I welcome your comments and input. Please visit my website at www.harsdorfsenate.com or call my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745.

Wisconsin Continues Push for Income Tax Reciprocity

Reinstating the income tax reciprocity agreement continues to be a top issue on the minds of those that live in Wisconsin and work across the river. While there is a border between our two states, those that live in our area know that we operate as a region with economic and social ties to our Minnesota neighbors.

 

While most taxpayers affected by the agreement know the history of this issue, some background may be useful in outlining the current status of negotiations. In 2009, then Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty ended the long-standing income tax reciprocity agreement between Wisconsin and Minnesota. In Governor Pawlenty’s letter to Wisconsin officials he cited a delay in the timing of payments between the states as the reason for ending the agreement. Minnesota also supported conducting a new benchmark study to more accurately account for those that cross the border to work.

 

The current leadership of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) has put in a great deal of effort to try and restore reciprocity. To that end, Wisconsin DOR has made multiple offers to Minnesota that have addressed all the reasons listed in Governor Pawlenty’s letter to Wisconsin when the agreement was ended, including accelerated payments and completing a new benchmark study. Additionally, as stated by the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin has offered to “split the difference” between the level of reciprocity payments each state believes is accurate. Wisconsin’s latest offer to Minnesota, made last summer, has gone unanswered to date.

 

Disappointingly, the Minnesota Department of Revenue is continuing to demand a new provision that has never before been a part of the reciprocity agreement and is not included in any reciprocity agreements Minnesota has with other states. This provision would require Wisconsin to pay Minnesota an additional payment of about $6 million per year, based on Minnesota’s estimates. It is important to note that this payment would be in addition to the approximately $87 million Wisconsin would pay Minnesota based on the difference in income tax withholdings. It is frustrating that Minnesota has made this unprecedented demand for additional money that has killed any reciprocity agreement when proposed by any state. Their demands are preventing a new agreement from being put in place and resulting in tens of thousands of taxpayers in both states continuing to experience higher costs and inconvenience in filing their tax returns.

 

Along with other Wisconsin legislators along the border, I have continued to reach out to Minnesota state legislators to see what could be done to get things moving on reestablishing the reciprocity agreement. While it is the responsibility of the governors of our two states to reach an agreement, I will continue to work with interested parties on both sides of the river to see what opportunities are available to encourage a new agreement.

Harsdorf Statement on Governor’s Budget Address

“The Governor’s budget proposal provides us with a starting point that maintains our focus on tax relief, reforming government, and encouraging job growth. I am pleased to hear of additional investments for property tax relief and addressing the skills gap, which continue to be top priorities of residents and employers in northwest Wisconsin.”

“While there are several challenging areas of the budget that will receive significant scrutiny, including the University of Wisconsin System and transportation funding, I am encouraged by a number of the initiatives and reforms included in the budget proposal. I look forward to listening to citizen input and working with my legislative colleagues as we consider modifications.”

Harsdorf to Hold Listening Sessions

(State Capitol, Madison)… State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) has announced her latest listening session schedule for residents of the 10th Senate District. Listening sessions are intended to provide citizens throughout the district with the opportunity to talk with Harsdorf about issues of interest to them, to ask questions and to share their ideas and concerns.

 

“As we begin our work in the new legislative session, the input I receive in the listening sessions is invaluable in identifying the priorities of area residents. I appreciate the input and personal interaction with citizens that attend and share their thoughts,” said Harsdorf. “Given that many of my bill ideas come directly from suggestions raised by constituents, the feedback on how state government can be improved or reformed is critical in shaping my legislative agenda.”

 

Listening sessions have been scheduled around the 10th Senate District, which is comprised of parts of Burnett, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, and St. Croix Counties. Below are the dates, locations and times of the listening sessions:

 

Thursday, January 29

3:00 PM-4:00 PM, Menomonie, Dunn County Justice Center, Room 1402 (615 Stokke Parkway)

 

5:00 PM-6:00 PM, New Richmond City Hall, Lower Conference Room #1 (156 East First Street)

 

Friday, January 30

 

12:00 PM-1:00 PM, Grantsburg Village Hall, Board Room (316 South Brad Street)

 

2:00 PM-3:00 PM, Osceola Village Hall, Board Room (310 Chieftain Street)

 

Monday, February 2

 

4:00 PM-5:00 PM, Hudson, Town of Hudson Hall (980 County Road A)

 

If you would like more information please feel free to call Sen. Harsdorf’s office at 608-266-7745 or 1-800-862-1092 or e-mail Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

 

Tax Relief Remains Priority

As we look forward to the 2015-16 legislative session, continuing to reduce the tax burden on Wisconsin residents remains a top priority. In the last legislative session, we were successful in making significant progress in again reducing property taxes for homeowners and small businesses. As I travel the district and hear from area residents, property taxes continue to be the most frustrating and burdensome issue for seniors, working families, and small businesses.

Due to the State Legislature’s efforts to invest in property tax relief last session, Wisconsin property owners received a welcome reduction in their recent property tax bills. While the experiences of individual property taxpayers may vary due to changes in property assessments or local factors, such as approved referendums, the owner of a median-valued home in Wisconsin is expected to see a $100 drop in their 2014 tax bill.

This property tax reduction is the result of over $400 million in surplus revenue that the State Legislature and Governor committed to buying down the technical college levy as part of last spring’s tax relief measure. I have long supported efforts to reduce the impact of technical colleges on our property tax bills, including authoring legislation in prior sessions that would shift greater responsibility for technical college funding to the state. Given my position on this issue, I was pleased to work with my colleagues to enact this property tax relief.

In our area, it is estimated that a typical homeowner in the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College District will see $124 in savings, while a typical homeowner in the Chippewa Valley Technical College District will see $115 in savings. Over $45 million in state revenues were committed to reducing the property taxes levied by these two technical college districts alone.

This property tax relief built upon our previous work to hold the line on property taxes, which has resulted in a lower property tax bill in 2014 than in 2010 for the owner of a median-valued home in our state. By comparison, under the prior administration, property taxes rose $230 on the same median-valued home between 2006 and 2010. If the trend of property tax increases seen during the 2006-2010 timeframe was maintained, property taxes on a typical homeowner would be nearly $400 higher than they are today.

I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to hold the line on property taxes and find ways to bring further relief to taxpayers. Please stay in touch by visiting my website at www.harsdorfsenate.com or calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745.

Top Ten Wisconsin Stories of 2014

An eventful 2014 has drawn to a close and the end of the year provides us with a good time to reflect on the year that has passed. Here are the top ten headlines and events of 2014 in Wisconsin in my view.

Growing Economy – Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has dropped to 5.2%, the lowest since October 2008. 51,000 private sector jobs were created in Wisconsin between November 2013 and November 2014.

Tax Relief – Surplus revenues were returned to hard-working taxpayers, including $400 million in property tax cuts to reduce the technical college portion on property tax bills.

St. Croix River Crossing – 2014 saw significant progress on the St. Croix River Crossing, including the construction of piers rising from the river. The new bridge is scheduled to open in fall 2016.

Encouraging Job Creation – The State Legislature continued its focus on boosting jobs and the economy through additional investments in worker training and reducing unnecessary red tape for employers.

Addressing Heroin Addiction – The H.O.P.E. package and other bills were passed to begin addressing the heroin epidemic in Wisconsin. Given the impact of this addiction on young people and families in our western Wisconsin communities I was pleased to be the Senate author of H.O.P.E.

GAAP Deficit Reduced – The state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report was recently released, showing a reduction in the state’s GAAP deficit of $1.6 billion over the past three years. The improvement in this stringent accounting method demonstrates the improving fiscal health of our state.

November Election – Voters in the fall re-elected Governor Walker and returned Republican majorities to both the State Senate and State Assembly.

Transportation Fund Protected – Voters also approved by a 4-1 margin a state constitutional amendment to protect the transportation fund from future raids for other spending purposes.

Wisconsin’s Positive Outlook – Moody’s improved Wisconsin’s bond rating outlook to positive in recognition of the state’s honest budgeting, improved rainy day fund, and stable retirement system.

Oral Chemotherapy Parity – Legislation was enacted to help ensure cancer patients have access to the treatment that is most effective in fighting their cancer, whether it is intravenous or oral chemotherapy.

It is an honor serving as your State Senator and I look forward to continuing to work to move Wisconsin forward in 2015. I wish you and your family a healthy and happy New Year! Please stay in touch by visiting my website at www.harsdorfsenate.com or calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745.

Wisconsin Voters to Decide Future Use of Transportation Fund

With a number of hard-fought campaigns being contested this election season, voters may not have heard much about the proposed amendment to the state Constitution that will be decided on November 4th. Under Wisconsin’s Constitution, proposed constitutional amendments must be passed by both the State Assembly and State Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approved by voters in a statewide referendum. The proposed constitutional amendment that voters will decide though the statewide ballot question this fall is whether revenues deposited into the transportation fund should be available for other spending purposes by state government.

Currently, tax and fee revenues that are collected for transportation purposes, such as the gas tax and vehicle registration fees, are deposited into the transportation fund to fund our state’s transportation needs. As a result of past decisions to use tax revenue from the transportation fund for spending on other state programs, the state’s transportation fund was financially compromised. While the current administration and State Legislature have sought to reverse this trend by using surplus funds to restore these past transfers from the transportation fund, it is projected that the state’s transportation needs will outpace transportation fund revenues by $650 million in the next two years.

Following the transfers of money from the transportation fund, I and many of my legislative colleagues sought to find way to prevent similar raids in the future. By placing limits on the use of transportation fund revenues in the state Constitution, these funds would be protected from being used for purposes other than which they were collected for from taxpayers. I was a co-sponsor of the resolutions proposing this constitutional protection, which were approved by wide, bipartisan votes in both the State Senate and State Assembly.

The specific question that will be brought before voters on November 4th will be: Shall section of 9 (2) of article IV and section 11 of article VIII of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin’s transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?

A “yes” vote in favor of this question will limit the use of the transportation fund for transportation purposes only. A “no” vote against this question would allow future governors and legislators to use transportation fund revenues for other spending priorities.

I hope this information is useful as you make your decision for this fall’s election. Please feel free to contact me on this or any other issue by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

State Legislature Continues Focus on Tax Relief

While the State Legislature concluded its legislative session this spring, work continues in the State Capitol as hearings are being held on a number of complex issues that may be considered next session. I am pleased to have been appointed to two committees that are considering further reforms to Wisconsin’s tax structure as we keep the focus on reducing our state’s tax burden and improving our state’s business climate.

Last week marked the first meeting of the Legislative Council Study Committee on the Review of Wisconsin Technical College System Funding and Governance. Given the reliance of technical colleges on the property tax and the interest in reducing the property tax burden, technical colleges have received a significant amount of attention from citizens and legislators. This Study Committee seeks to look further into the issues that have been raised in regards to the role of local and state technical college boards and the funding of technical colleges.

The Study Committee is charged with looking at the technical college system to determine if changes to the governing structure are appropriate, as well as considering changes to the mix of property taxes and state funding. As the vice chair of this Study Committee, I am pleased that we have area residents involved in technical fields participating as members of the Study Committee.

Given the concerns I have heard from taxpayers in our region, I have long supported reforms to the technical college property tax levy. To this end, I authored legislation in a past legislative session proposing to increase state aid while reducing the technical college property tax levy. This past session we made progress in this effort by passing legislation to reduce the technical college property tax levy by increasing state funding for technical colleges. The tax relief package we passed this spring used over $400 million of the state’s budget surplus for property tax relief by reducing the property tax levy for technical colleges.

I am also one of a number of legislators who are part of the Legislative Council Steering Committee for Personal Property Tax. The personal property tax is an issue I hear frequently as I visit our Main Streets and talk to small business owners. Many small business owners express their frustration with paying onerous taxes on equipment such as ovens, cameras, or compressors year after year, after having paid sales taxes on the same piece of equipment when it was purchased. This tax is burdensome for small business owners to track, imposes double-taxation of equipment, and is a hassle for local property tax assessors to administer. The committee will be fact finding and considering reforms that may be advanced.

Which state tax do you believe is in most need of reform? Please feel free to share your thoughts with me by visiting my website at www.harsdorfsenate.com or calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745.