It was a true honor for me to be present last week at the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce's annual Chamber Champions Gala. Hundreds of people were on hand to recognize not only the impressive achievements of local businesses and nonprofit organizations but also the hard work of dedicated citizens. Wisconsin Department of Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett served as master of ceremonies and praised the successes being realized across our region.
Economic growth is happening all across Wisconsin, not just in Sheboygan County. Several other encouraging indicators demonstrate that the Wisconsin's economy is recovering and thriving:
The total number of employed Wisconsinites grew to a new record high in December 2015. Our labor force participation rate increased to 68.0 percent (significantly exceeding the national rate of 62.6 percent). And the preliminary state unemployment rate of 4.3 percent for that month is well below the 5.2 percent rate just one year ago.
Home sales were 10.4 percent higher in January 2016 than one year ago. The median price of a Wisconsin home, $148,700, is also up 10.1 percent from a year ago. Inventory of unsold homes is low: about 36,450 homes are on the market, which is the lowest inventory since at least 2009.
Wisconsin banks outperformed national averages in 2015. Overall lending in the last quarter of 2015 increased by 6.1 percent over the same period in 2014. Commercial lending increased by nearly 4 percent; residential loans increased by 4.5 percent; and, perhaps best of all, noncurrent loans shrank by more than 18 percent, demonstrating that many more Wisconsin consumers are able to repay their loans on time.
Republican pro-growth policies adopted in the legislature over the past several years are clearly working. Not least of these has been our commitment to holding the line on property taxes: as a result, Wisconsin's property tax burden relative to personal income is down to 3.6 percent, the lowest rate since 1946!
As always, I encourage you to follow my updates on social media or contact my office directly with your questions, comments and suggestions. Best wishes on your weekend!
Family Care/IRIS 2.0 Concept Paper Released
My legislative colleagues and I made it a high priority in the 2015-17 state budget to preserve Wisconsin's successful FamilyCare and IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) long-term care programs for disabled adults and frail elders. The legislature also directed the Department of Health Services (DHS) to draft a plan to make these programs available statewide, maintain their high level of user satisfaction, preserve users' option to self-direct their own care, but slow the growth of the programs' cost so that they can be sustained for the long term. DHS released the first draft of the new plan this week and now seeks public input on it.
Click here to learn more about the concept or for instructions on how to deliver your comments to DHS no later than March 7th. Two public hearings on that date (in Madison and Eau Claire) will also be live-streamed via webcast. After public input is received and incorporated, DHS is set to submit the plan to the legislature's Joint Finance Committee by April 1st for review.
Thanks For Your Hard Work!
Governor Scott Walker signed two of my bills into law this week, and I want to offer a HUGE thank you to several Sheboygan County residents who did the real "heavy lifting" (and traveled to Madison on several occasions) to get these changes enacted. Senate Bill (SB) 383, enacted as 2015 Wisconsin Act 238, provides legal immunity against frivolous lawsuits for medical personnel who partner with law enforcement in Wisconsin communities' fight against illegal drugs. And SB 605, enacted as 2015 Wisconsin Act 249, clarifies an obsolete law that had proved confusing for hunters in the field. My deepest thanks go out to Mr. Frank Sterzen, Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco, Sheboygan Police Chief Christopher Domagalski and Sheboygan Police Captain James Veeser for their dedication throughout the legislative process!