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Legislature Continues Jobs Focus
Through distractions on a wide range of other legislative issues this week, the legislature continued to find ways to help improve our state’s business climate.
 
On Tuesday, the Senate passed several special session bills with the intent of helping create jobs, two on 33-0 votes.  Those included:
  1. WHEDA loan guarantee expansion: One of the tools available to the state to promote business growth is loan guarantees by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA).  The Senate voted 33-0 to expand the number of businesses eligible for the loans by:
    1. More than doubling the maximum loan guarantee, from $200,000 to $500,000;
    2. Increasing the size of the business eligible from 50 employees to 250 employees; and expanding the program statewide.
 
Film Tax Credit: The Assembly this week will take up a bill the Senate voted 33-0  last week to promote Wisconsin’s film industry and attract new film productions to the state (Special Session Senate Bill 3), by reducing the application fee for state tax credits to a $500 flat application, down from 2% of production expenditures or $5,000.
 
The legislature is also working to pass reforms aimed at one of the most significant factors on a business’ bottom line: frivolous lawsuits.
 
NFIB identified the high cost of liability insurance as “the No. 2 problem for small-business owners, right after the price of health insurance.”
 
In a 2010 survey, 67% of respondents said that the litigation environment in a state is likely to impact important business decisions, including where to locate.
 
NFIB also reports that a recent Harris poll showed that 61% of small businesses said that litigation concerns made their product or service more expensive, and 73% said their business suffered because litigation is very costly and time-consuming.
 
The state also held the line on government spending by announcing that there would be no automatic raises for state employees in the next two years.  Union bosses responded by calling it another attack on workers, but this budgetary frugality reflects the sacrifices that state citizens have been enduring for years.  The compensation plan includes no massive layoffs or furloughs, and creates a new system of merit pay for the best and brightest.
Local Jobs Numbers Announced
The Department of Workforce Development announced the latest metro and county unemployment data this week, showing all 12 metro areas with a lower unemployment rate compared to the previous month.
 
Full details, including a county-by-county breakdown, are available in the DWD release.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State says Milwaukee metro lost jobs in September.
Racine Journal Times: City jobless rate declines, so does the number of jobs.
Wausau Daily Herald: Wausau, Marathon County unemployment rate down slightly.
Portage Daily Register: Jobless rate dips for Columbia County.
The Chippewa Herald: Area unemployment rates fall in September.
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram: Eau Claire metro area job growth best in state.
La Crosse Tribune: Local jobless rate drops.
Pierce County Herald: St. Croix and Pierce Counties enjoy lower unemployment rates.
Beloit Daily News: Beloit unemployment down slightly
Humana: Adding approximately 130 jobs in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Rapids Tribune: Agriculture industry fights perception problem.
USA Today: U.S. economy is sluggish, but recession worries are fading.
Wisconsin: 2nd Best Job Climate in Upper Midwest
This week, a weekly Chicago business publication unveiled an analysis that shows Wisconsin has the second best business climate of any state in the upper Midwest, taking into account a wide range of factors including taxes, talent pool, transportation and investment availability.
 
Wisconsin ranked second behind Illinois, but ahead of Indiana (3rd), Iowa and Missouri (tied for 4th)
 
Illinois was rated higher than Wisconsin for customers and capital, infrastructure and workforce, due in part to a higher percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the availability of non-stop flights to business destinations.
 
Wisconsin, though, had higher scores for fiscal health and taxes, both of which have a major impact on business.  The effective tax rate, which is the overall tax burden on a company opening a new facility, was lowest in Wisconsin at 4.5% compared with 4.6% for Illinois.
Poll of the Week
  1. A record-low 26% of Americans favor a ban on the possession of handguns – 60%favored such a ban in 1959.
  2. Greater opposition than support to a ban on semiautomatic guns or assault rifles – 53% to 4%.
  3. Generally, Americans agree that the government should enforce existing laws more strictly, and not pass new laws (60% agree)
Concealed Carry to Go Into Effect Tomorrow
On Tuesday November 1, Wisconsin will become the 49th state to allow citizens to legally carry concealed handguns for personal protection.
 
In preparation, the Department of Administration released guidelines for state employees and state facilities on Friday.  In general, most state buildings will be open to legal concealed carry for those with the proper permits, with a few exceptions.
OSER Announces Employee Pay Plan
This week, the Office of State Employment Relations released its recommendations for state employee compensation for 2009-11.  The plan included no automatic pay raises for state employees.
 
The plan maintains base pay, includes no furloughs and prevents the need for layoffs.
 
The plan does provide discretionary merit pay, a change from the current structure.  This provision allows OSER, at the direction of the agency heads, to provide increases or lump-sum payments based on merit, equity or retention. 
 
The new plan also revisits overtime for many employees: changing seniority rules that favor long-term employees and requiring an employee to work 40 hours a week in order to receive overtime: no more calling in sick and working the following day at overtime rates.
 
A La Crosse Tribune editorial on the subject summed up the changes best:
 
State employees have not received a pay increase since 2009 — which mirrors much of the private sector.
 
And now because of the collective bargaining changes that went into effect this year, State employees are paying more for their health insurance and pension costs —  just like the private sector.
 
With Wisconsin’s economy still weak and more deficits looming because of sluggish revenue, it makes absolute sense to be fiscally prudent and freeze wages
La Crosse Tribune Editorial: Without unions, state charts new course
OSER: Memo on compensation package.
DOA: Letter to state employees regarding compensation plan.
DOA: Media Briefing on compensation plan.
OSER: Compensation plan toolkit.
Speaker Fitzgerald
Confusion Abounds on Legislative Districts
On Wednesday, the legislature heard testimony from GAB head Kevin Kennedy and a number of clerks, on the mounting confusion over which districts are used for representation and potential recalls.
 
Kennedy said that holding a recall election on the same date as other elections would create “considerable confusion” for election clerks because they would have to maintain separate voting books.  In that scenario, voters may have to vote at one polling place in one election, then go to a different polling place to vote in the other one. Kennedy said that situation was possible.
 
The committee also heard testimony from county clerks from throughout Wisconsin who expressed a number of concerns with the new laws.  Diane Hermann-Brown, city clerk of Sun Prairie and president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerk Association, said her ideal request for funding for each election in her municipality would be $50,000, and for having four elections with high voting turnout, she would need $200,000. She only received $95,000 and lacks funding to enforce parts of the voter ID bill.
 
One clerk said that the accuracy of the election process is jeopardized because of new constraints on time and money.
 
There will also be problems if the elections are between April and August, Kennedy said. That's because vote results must be maintained for a certain period of time after the April spring and presidential primary election. If those memory devices have to be cleared sooner than planned to accommodate voting in a recall election, it could cost $250 or more per voting machine to transfer the data, Kennedy said.
 
The Government Accountability Board, which is comprised of six retired judges, planned to discuss the boundary line issue at its Nov. 9 meeting.
Wisconsin State Journal: Election chief says recalls will be on the old maps, for now
Forestry Update
Potawatomi honored with urban forestry award
The 2011 Innovations in Urban Forestry Award was presented to the Forest County Potawatomi Community (Potawatomi) by the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council at an October 13th award ceremony in Crandon. The award recognizes outstanding innovations in the development or enhancement of an urban forestry project or program and the Potawatomi were selected because of their pro-active approach to managing the Tribe’s forest land. Their comprehensive approach to forest management included a large-scale forest inventory which identified approximately 1,200 trees that were in need of critical safety pruning or removal. The Tribe also created a new Strategic Forestry Plan to address both developed and non-developed areas on the reservation. By prioritizing the condition of the forest, the Potawatomi have improved both the reservation’s aesthetics and local public safety, while also increasing tree and land value.