JFC Approves GOP Tax Package

By John Forester | February 18, 2020

From WisPolitics.com …

The Joint Finance Committee voted along party lines to sign off on a $392.4 million package that would cut income taxes, provide local governments more state aid to cover an expanded property tax break for businesses and pay down debt.

Republicans yesterday hailed the proposal to use a projected surplus as a win for lower- and middle-class earners with the bulk of the cut going to an income tax reduction. Joint Finance Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, slammed Dems for preferring a proposal from Gov. Tony Evers he said would’ve provided tax relief that skewed more toward the wealthy.

“The contrast here is pretty clear,” Nygren said.

But Dems accused their GOP colleagues of favoring corporations over education for rejecting Evers’ $251.9 million plan for the surplus. He wanted to put $130 million into school aids, which would result in a corresponding reduction in the property taxes that districts can collect in the 2020-21 school year. The rest of the package included provisions such as investing more money into mental health services and aid for small, rural school districts.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, noted GOP lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have previously voiced support for restoring the state’s commitment to fund two-thirds of education. Evers’ proposal would’ve restored the commitment. She said Republicans have often fallen short of that mark, adding the state didn’t have the money.

“You made a promise to our kids,” Taylor said. “You didn’t do it, and you’re not going to do it … when you have another chance. And you can no longer use the excuse that we don’t have the money.”

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau currently projects the state will have a surplus of $451.9 million by mid-2021, largely due to a boost in corporate tax collections. The state also could have more money in its main checking account, because Foxconn is expected to fall short of qualifying for the $212 million in tax credits budgeted for in the current biennium. LFB instead projects the manufacturer to qualify for $50 million to $75 million in credits.

The biggest component of the GOP package is a $247.7 million reduction in income taxes achieved by increasing the maximum deduction.

The maximum deduction for married joint filers is $20,470 for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $23,000. It then drops on a sliding scale as income rises until it zeroes out for those reporting more than $126,499.

Under the bill, that deduction would increase to $23,170 for those with an adjusted gross income of $25,610. It would then zero out for those reporting more than $144,669.

The proposal would result in an average tax cut of $106 for tax year 2020, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The next largest piece is taking $100 million of the projected surplus to pay down state debt.

The package also would send $44.7 million to local governments to offset lost property tax collections for the expanded break for businesses. Current law exempts manufacturing machinery and computers from the property tax assessed by local governments. The bill would add to the exempt list machinery, tools and pattern used by manufacturers. The additional state aid would go to replace the lost revenue.

The bill also would change future deposits into the rainy day fund. Now, half of any surplus in tax collections is deposited into the account at the end of a fiscal year. Under the bill, excess tax revenues would instead be used to pay down debt if the balance in the account amounted to 5 percent of the estimated expenses during a fiscal year.

The change wouldn’t impact the expected transfers to the rainy day fund during this biennium. The fund is currently expected to grow to $845 million at the end of 2019-20, about 4.4 percent of budgeted expenses for 2020-21.

See Wisconsin State Journal Coverage here.

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Executive Action by Assembly State Affairs

By John Forester | February 13, 2020

The Assembly Committee on State Affairs recommended passage on the following education-related bills this morning:

AB-670 Increasing Retirement Age (Felzkowski, Mary) Increasing the minimum retirement age under the Wisconsin Retirement System; decreasing the minimum break in service for annuitants in the Wisconsin Retirement System who are rehired by a participating employer, and allowing rehired annuitants to elect to not participate in the Wisconsin Retirement System. Am. 1 adopted, 8-5.   Passage as amended recommended, 8-6. (The SAA is opposed to this bill). 

AB-816 Holocaust Education (Plumer, Jon) Incorporating the Holocaust and other genocides into the state model social studies standards and requiring instruction on the Holocaust and other genocides. Passage recommended, 14-0.  (The SAA is opposed to this bill as it creates a new instructional mandate).

Stay tuned.  We will keep the membership informed of any developments on these bills. 

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Executive Action by Assembly Education

By John Forester | February 13, 2020

The Assembly Committee on Education recommended passage of the following three bills yesterday.

AB-810 School Accounting (Felzkowski, Mary) Creating a computerized uniform school budget and accounting system. Sub.1 adopted, 10-4.   Passage as amended recommended, 10-4. (SAA is neutral on the bill.  We raised several questions/concerns at the public hearing that were largely addressed in the substitute amendment adopted by the committee). 

AB-849 Open Enrollment (Thiesfeldt, Jeremy) Expanding the part-time open enrollment program. Passage recommended, 9-5.  (SAA is opposed to this bill). 

AB-779 Athletic Participation (Allen, Scott) Participation in interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities. Passage recommended, 9-6. (SAA is opposed to this bill).

Stay tuned.  We will keep the SAA membership informed of any developments on these bills.

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Senate Committee Approves WRS Retirement Age Bill; Assembly Committee Will Vote Tomorrow

By John Forester | February 12, 2020

Senate Bill 612, which would increase the WRS minimum retirement age and allow annuitants to temporarily return to public work without suspending their pensions, cleared the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection on a party line, 3-2 vote.  As you know, the SAA opposes this bill.  Detail of the committee action appears below.

SB-612 Increasing Retirement Age (Stroebel, Duey) Increasing the minimum retirement age under the Wisconsin Retirement System; decreasing the minimum break in service for annuitants in the Wisconsin Retirement System who are rehired by a participating employer, and allowing rehired annuitants to elect to not participate in the Wisconsin Retirement System. Am.1 adopted, 3-2.   Passage as amended recommended, 3-2.

The Assembly Committee on State Affairs will vote tomorrow on Assembly Bill 670, the Assembly companion to SB 612.

Stay tuned.  The SAA will keep the membership informed of all developments on this important legislation.

See the SAA testimony opposing AB 670.

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Court Approves of School District Plan to Restrict Parent’s Communications with School District Personnel

By John Forester | February 11, 2020

From the Legal Side…

In its most recent Legal Update, the Strang Patteson Law Firm reports that a school district can lawfully limit parents’ communications with a school district and its personnel according to a recent federal court of appeals decision.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of Strang Patteson.

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Senate Committee to Vote on WRS Retirement Age Bill

By John Forester | February 11, 2020

From WisPolitics.com …

A Senate Committee votes today on a bill that would allow retired state employees to temporarily return to public work without losing their pensions.

But the bill would also raise the state’s minimum retirement age for most public employees from 55 to 59.5.

SB 612 would allow retirees to return to work for up to 36 months while maintaining their pension. The increased retirement age would only affect workers under 40 years old at the time of the bill’s signing.

Current law prohibits retirees from working full-time for a Wisconsin Retirement System occupation while maintaining their pension. They can still work part-time in many circumstances.

AFSCME International Union, Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, WiRSA, Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials, Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, Wisconsin Association of School Personnel Administrators, Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services, Wisconsin Education Association Council and Wisconsin Retired Educators Association are all opposed to the bill.

Washington County and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards are the only two organizations registered in favor.

SAA testimony opposing SB 612.

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Governor Evers: Budget Surplus Plan – Tell Your Story

By John Forester | February 10, 2020

SAA members might recall that at the conclusion of the Joint Finance Committee’s work on K-12 education in the 2019-21 State Budget, we thanked the JFC for providing $500 million in support for Wisconsin school children.  We also pointed out that Wisconsin has a lot of work to do to strengthen the educational opportunities afforded all Wisconsin school children – no matter their zip code or their educational needs.

Governor Evers’ $251 million plan to boost funding for special education and school-based mental health, and provide property tax relief through equalization aid, is a significant step forward in this regard.  As you know, Governor Evers has called on the Legislature to take up his proposal in special session tomorrow, February 11th (see SAA 02/06/20 blog post).

Evers’ call comes as GOP legislative leaders are leaning toward cutting taxes with the $452 million in anticipated budget surplus.  They have made it clear that legislative Republicans are not interested in supporting the Governor’s plan.

We believe it is important for legislators to understand the impact the Governor’s proposal would have on the school districts they represent.  Please use the talking points below and your own experiences in sharing your district’s story with your legislators.  For your convenience in contacting your own legislators, I have provided links to the Senate Directory, the Assembly Directory and Who Are My Legislators.

Special Education

See the estimated district by district breakdown of the proposed additional $79.1 million in special education funding here.  Explain your district’s general fund transfer to pay for special education and how you would use the additional funding in your district.

School – Based Mental Health

The Governor’s plan provides $19 million in additional categorical aid services and expands eligibility under the program to include school counselors, psychologists, or nurses.  It also includes an additional $3.75 million in community collaboration grants.  Again, explain the need you have in your district to support students with mental health challenges.

Sparsity Aid

The Governor’s plan would add $10.1 million in sparsity aid payments, including establishing a second tier of sparsity aid.  Share with your legislators how this will impact your districts.  See the estimated district by district breakdown of this proposal here.

General Aid Increase

The Governor’s plan provides $130 million in property tax relief through equalization aid.  The Governor has emphasized, “We can invest in our kids and reduce property taxes.”

Stay tuned as the battle over use of the anticipated budget surplus plays out.

Thanks for listening and, as always, thanks for everything you do on behalf of the kids you serve.

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More Wisconsin Students Taking, Outperforming National Average on AP Exams

By John Forester | February 6, 2020

A report released by The College Board showed that Wisconsin’s 2019 public school graduates performed above the national average on Advanced Placement exams while in high school, with a record number of them taking the college-level tests.

See the news release here.

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Evers Calls Special Session on Education Funding, Property Tax Relief

By John Forester | February 6, 2020

Governor Tony Evers this morning called on the Legislature to meet in special session and act on LRB-5625, legislation that would use $250 million dollars of Wisconsin’s anticipated budget surplus to recommit Wisconsin to two-thirds state funding for K-12 education, boost funding for special education and school-based mental health, and provide $130 million in property tax relief through equalization aid.

Evers call comes as GOP legislative leaders are leaning toward cutting taxes with the $452 million in anticipated budget surplus.  When asked about the Evers education package earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) indicated he didn’t believe legislative Republicans were interested in going in that direction.

The Governor’s package includes the following:

An estimated district by district breakdown of the additional $79.1 million for special education funding can be found here.

An estimated district by district breakdown of the 83 eligible districts for the Tier Two of Sparsity Aid can be found here.

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CPI For Bargaining Agreement

By John Forester | January 30, 2020

From the Legal Side:

In it’s most recent Quick Update, the BoardmanClark Law Firm reports that the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) has advised the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) that the CPI increase applicable to one-year collective bargaining agreements with a term beginning on July 1, 2020 is 1.81%.  This Quick Update also features discussion of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Cadillac Tax.

The SAA regularly receives these updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of BoardmanClark.

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