This week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos appointed eight Republican representatives, including me, to the newly-created Speaker's Task Force on Foster Care. This bipartisan commission will have Republican and Democrat co-chairs and will travel around the state this summer and fall to collect input from local experts and take a first-hand look at community programs already underway to learn about what works and what doesn't. I'm honored to serve; foster care is an issue that touches my family intimately. If you click on the picture above, you can watch the video of the entire press conference.
As of December 2015, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families reported that 7,168 children in our state were in out-of-home care, which was an increase over the previous year. Unfortunately, studies suggest that only half of them are likely to be employed by the time they reach age 24; few will graduate from college or even high school; about 60 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls will be incarcerated during their lifetimes; and about 1 in 5 will become homeless. These children are vulnerable through no fault of their own, and I think we can do a better job of making sure they don't fall through the cracks. I want every one of these kids to succeed, and I look forward to being able to propose some legislative fixes to the system later this year.
As always, I encourage you to follow my updates on social media or contact my office directly with your questions. Best wishes on your weekend -- and Happy Independence Day!
Shedding Light on Dark Stores
The Assembly Ways and Means Committee, on which I serve as vice-chair, held an all-day-long public hearing yesterday on Assembly Bill (AB) 386 and AB 387, which are aimed at improving fairness in the tax system. More than 100 people from across the state, including many local governments' elected leaders (such as Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen!), sacrificed a long day to participate in the conversation.
In a nutshell, some retail stores have figured out a legal way to artificially reduce property tax assessments on their retail properties. Stores that can afford to sue local governments have learned that, because of a legal loophole, they can win court decisions that significantly decrease the "official" tax value of their brick-and-mortar locations. Across Wisconsin, instances are popping up where retail stores are being constructed at a cost of many millions of dollars; in many cases, the stores are actually sold to new owners for many millions of dollars; but, after long and expensive legal battles, local governments find out that they can't use those facts. Governments can only collect property tax on a fraction of those properties' full value.
I don't blame the retail stores. If I owned a bunch of multi-million-dollar retail stores, I too would probably hire attorneys to help me figure out how I could legally pay as little tax as possible. And I generally support policies that encourage businesses to come to Wisconsin and grow and flourish here. But the fact is that somebody ends up funding local governments (and the schools and roads that they govern). If big businesses, which aren't usually owned by somebody local, can avoid paying what is reasonably their share of property taxes, those budget holes end up being filled by everybody else's (increased) property taxes.
AB 386 and AB 387 do not create new taxes. These bills do not increase the overall amount of tax revenue being collected, either; every local government already has strict limits on how much tax it is allowed to collect. But these bills stop a growing trend that could shift more and more of communities' tax burdens from big retailers down to small businesses and homeowners.
A particularly nasty e-mail scam is going around right now. My staff and I have seen this one come to our personal inboxes; maybe you have, too.
The e-mails purport to come from Amazon.com and claim to be "confirmations" that you have successfully canceled a recent order. DO NOT click on any links contained in these e-mails! If you do, you may expose your device to malicious software, or you may be directed to a fake website that appears legitimate but is aimed at stealing your Amazon account password.
The Wisconsin Department of Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) says that your safest course of action is to delete these e-mails. Use only Amazon.com to log into and check on your Amazon.com account. Beware of any e-mails that encourage you to open an attached file or click a link (i.e., "view your account" or "unsubscribe here").
Finally: have you heard about the AmazonSmile program? Amazon.com will automatically donate a percentage of the value of your eligible purchases to your favorite charity. It takes just a few clicks to set up the first time, and after that, your shopping experience on Amazon.com will look essentially the same as before, but you'll be donating to your favorite cause automatically whenever you shop. Click here for all the details. (I realize that I just advised you to watch out for e-mails that encourage you to click on things... but I assure you that this one is legitimate!)