Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Joint Finance comes back, with littler stuff first

After a long absence, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will be back in action on Wednesday to go over several bills. Most of these are minor in scale and almost none of them deal with Governor Walker’s pre-election posturing on issues like health care, Foxconn-style giveaways to Kimberly-Clark, or child tax credits.

A key bill that JFC will take up tomorrow is the one K-12 education proposal that has been bandied about in recent months. It would add $6.45 million to sparsity aid, and raise the low-revenue ceiling for certain school districts. Both initiatives are intended to allow more funding to flow to some districts and mostly will help smaller rural schools and some mid-size districts in the state (you can click on the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s summary to see if this affects your local school).

The sparsity aid plan was removed from the state budget by the GOP Legislature last year, and Walker vetoed the increases in the low-revenue limits in September. But now that these districts continue to suffer and GOPs see electoral losses coming, they have reversed themselves and are backing these school aid measures (UNINTIMIDATED!). Given that the $6.45 million is miniscule compared to the cost of other Walker pre-election poses, I would think this goes through with little difficulty tomorrow.

Another of the items on the docket deals with Walker’s plan to “attract bodies” to the state by giving the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) money to set up a marketing campaign. The LFB describes how that money would be spent.
WEDC has developed a tentative budget and timeline for expenditure of the $6.8 million in funding provided under the bill. WEDC indicates that $300,000 would be spent in 2017-18 on marketing strategy development (campaign planning and measurement; market, audience, and media research; and audience response and perception tracking) and $1 million ($500,000 in 2017-18 and 2018-19) would be spent on various marketing production activities (such as development of ads, video, social media content, and experiential marketing and events). Paid media expenditures are estimated at $1 million in 2017-18 and $2 million in 2018-19, and $300,000 in 2017-18 would be used to create a mobile, on-site recruitment station in conjunction with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). Finally, $2.2 million ($500,000 in 2017-18 and $1.7 million in 2018-19) would be used for trade shows and other events targeted to military veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce. These activities would be conducted in conjunction with DWD and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Some of this funding may have merit (the marketing to veterans looks intriguing), but a lot of the rest seems like boodle to give business to some connected contractor.

Seriously, how are ads and social media going to convince milllenials and other talented individuals that they should come to Wisconsin when they see a state run by crooked Gov Dropout who defunds public schools and has no problem with wrecking the state’s previously-excellent environment? Getting rid of that cancer and the associated regressive GOP policies that have made this state lag the nation in job growth would go a lot further in getting people to come here than some WEDC marketing program. And it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime!

This will not bring the young 'uns to Wisconsin.

Speaking of helping veterans, it also looks like there’s another bill in the JFC session which would extend the life of a program that targets vets when it comes to certain services.
The veterans outreach and recovery program (VORP) was a program, administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), to help veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and who have a mental health or substance abuse disorder, to receive housing and treatment services. VORP provided some mental health or substance abuse treatment services to program participants directly, but also helped veterans access other social service programs or service providers. DVA developed the program in 2015 in cooperation with the Department of Health Services using two one-time federal grants (one a three-year grant and one a two-year enhancement grant) totaling $2.4 million. The federal grants have expired, resulting in the termination of the program at the end of 2017.

From its inception, VORP case workers made contacts with over 800 persons and, of those, enrolled 330 veterans in the program to receive direct services. Persons who were contacted, but not enrolled, could be referred to services through other existing programs. The program provided services to veterans in 49 counties in northern and central Wisconsin….

AB 732 would provide $538,521 GPR in 2017-18 and $719,779 GPR in 2018-19 in a new biennial appropriation in DVA for the veterans outreach and recovery program. The bill would also authorize 8.0 project positions. Under the program, which the bill designates as a "pilot" program, DVA would provide outreach, treatment, and support to individuals who have a mental health condition and who: (a) served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces, forces incorporated as part of the U.S. armed forces, a reserve component of the U.S. armed forces, or the national guard of any state and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable; or (b) are serving in the National Guard of any state or a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The bill would specify that the current law eligibility criteria that typically apply to veterans benefit programs (such as a requirement that the veteran entered military service from Wisconsin) do not apply to the pilot program. Unlike the existing program, participants would not need to be homeless to receive services. The Department would be permitted to provide payments to facilitate services under the program.
Seems like a small price to pay to help those who served this country, but you gotta wonder why $1.26 million wasn’t set aside in the budget in the first place, so there wouldn’t be a threat of these services being cut off.

One last provision I want to go into relates to a bipartisan bill that would increase what people could write off for the state’s supplement to the Historical Rehabilitation Credit. Governor Walker vetoed a provision that would allow individuals to get up to $5 million in credits from WEDC over the course of a historic building’s rehabilitation, and instead set the limit at a smaller $500,000, citing the high cost of usage of the Historic Rehab Credit.

More money for things like this?

For this proposed increase to $3.5 million per parcel, the LFB says the extra write-off will hit more in future years than in this budget.
According to the Department of Revenue, it is estimated that SB 668/AB 793 would reduce state income and franchise tax revenues, as compared to current law, by an additional $3.5 million in 2018-19, $8.3 million in 2019-20, $10.6 million in 2020-21, $14.2 million in 2021-22, $19.0 million in 2022-23, and $29.4 million in 2023-24 and annually thereafter. The estimate is based on an analysis of rehabilitation projects contracted and/or certified by WEDC, as well as the expected project completion timelines for rehabilitation projects in planning and construction phases.
Also noteworthy is that changes in the federal rehab laws with the recent tax bill also affected Wisconsin’s current Historic Rehab Credit, meaning that $72.4 million in additional state writeoffs are estimated for next year regardless of whether this bill passes. This added tax cut was already accounted for in the LFB’s revenue estimates from last month, but it also will reduce revenues in future budgets, which makes it likely to increase our already-sizable structural deficit.

Based on those revenue projections, we certainly are able to pay for all of these provisions if we want, as well as other smaller-cost bills that are slated to come up tomorrow. Those bills include provisions to pay for college for foster children and support foster parents, and money for drug-trafficking courts and treatment for youth in need of mental health and/or substance abuse services, and they seem a lot more useful to stabilizing at-risk individuals and lowering poverty than making poor people piss in a cup.

But it’s worth remembering that any cost that comes from those bills takes away from the already-insufficient amount that we have for the bigger-ticket pre-election gimmicks that have been proposed for the last 2 months of this session. So let’s see if that plays into the decision-making process during tomorrow’s JFC meeting, and see if any of those gimmicks are indicated to be going down in flames.

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