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WI: Week in Review – Fiscal cliffs, mining, jail and lawmakers get back to lawmaking

By   /   November 30, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead  |  Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Everything has a cost, be it Thanksgiving dinner or a “fiscal cliff.”

The Nov. 6 election defined which players would be participating in the game called politics over the coming years.

Buoyed by their larger state Senate majority, Republicans aim to pass mining legislation this upcoming session — but Democrats continue to object to the bill that died last March. Hundreds of northern Wisconsin residents, shown above, packed a hearing on the issue held last winter in Hurley, near where Gogebic Taconite wanted to build a mine.

Now, those players are sizing each other up and starting to play.

No matter what they decide, there’ll be a price to pay – and doubtless it’ll be taxpayers footing the bill.

Here’s a look at some of what the state and country’s “fearless leaders” are beginning to pursue.

A new take on criminal justice?

A big change in how the state deals with low-risk, non-violent criminal offenders could make Wisconsin’s communities safer and save taxpayers millions.

Human Impact Partners, a California-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, collaborated with Milwaukee-based faith group WISDOM on a yearlong study looking at the effect of expanding the Treatments, Alternatives and Diversion, or TAD, program in Wisconsin.

The groups found that a $75 million investment into alternative-to-incarceration programs would save taxpayers $150 million in incarceration costs.

The criminal justice community may be coming on board.

“It’s the just thing to do. It’s the correct thing to do. And it’s also the most cost-effective,” said Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholmon a conference call Tuesday discussing the report.

An upside to falling off a cliff’?

Wisconsin taxpayers may be hurting big time if federal lawmakers plunge the economy off the fiscal cliff.

But the state’s coffers could be in line for a shot of increased tax revenue — at least in the short term — and at least one economic expert says heading over the “cliff” may not be so bad for a debt-ridden nation with leaders unwilling to make tough decisions.

The real concern, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance research director Dale Knapp said, is Congress delaying the real problems of rising federal deficits and a $16 trillion debt.

The upside of Congress doing nothing is something finally starts happening in debt control – automatically, Knapp said.

Still, said state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, the incoming co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, “As it sits right now, if they (Congress) do not act, taxes are going to go up for everybody, which puts fewer dollars in consumers’ hands, which will affect not only the national economy but the state economy.”

WI Homeland Security funding dropping again

Gov. Scott Walker presented the 2012 annual report on Wisconsin Homeland Security on Monday, highlighting the continued trend of decreased federal funding for catastrophic incidents in Wisconsin.

The Badger State received $2.8 million from the Homeland Security Grant Program, funded by Federal Emergency Management Agency, in fiscal year 2012, which ended Sept. 30 on the federal calendar. That’s down 52 percent from fiscal year 2011.

According to the report, the decrease in funding is due in part to a change in the federal funding formula, which gives grants based on risk assessment and not “effectiveness of the investments.” In other words, terrorists aren’t as interested in Wisconsin as other places.

State can’t capitalize on ‘Cyber Monday’ taxes

Monday — Cyber Monday for commercial holiday purists — was projected to book $1.5 billion in online sales, a record in the relatively short but storied history of cyber sales.

But Wisconsin and its fellow states will miss out on a cut of some of those proceeds, thanks to what tax collectors and a lot of businesses see as an unfair sales tax playing field and the failure of some consumers to report and pay their online sales taxes.

Two U.S. Supreme Court cases effectively argue and maintain that states cannot require out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes unless they have a physical presence, or nexus, within the state. Doing so would impede interstate commerce, and the complex web of disparate taxing codes would make tax collection an undue burden on retailers.

So, online and mail-order businesses that do not have a physical presence in states in which they do business are not compelled to collect sales taxes on out-of-state purchases.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue estimates some $64 million in online sales — or use — taxes goes uncollected each year. All told, the agency misses out on about $150 million in sales tax from out-of-state retailers, including Internet, mail-order and phone sales.

The mining debate is back

A little more than a month away from ceding legislative control to Republicans, Senate Democrats continued to steer the discussion of mining reform away from Assembly Bill 426, the mining bill that passed the Assembly on party lines last session only to fail in Senate.

State Sen. Tim Cullen, D–Janesville, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Mining, held another informational hearing Thursday, this time focused on how tax revenue should be generated from mining operations and the regulatory climate of mining in other states versus Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he would like a bill on his desk soon after the Legislature begins next session in January.

“If we could pass this early in 2013, if the process could begin early in 2013, they’d start coming in and making their investment and taking the initial steps to move forward with a mine which would put people to work right off the bat,” Walker told an audience Thursday at a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce business conference at Monona Terrace in Madison.

Contact Adshead at [email protected]


Kirsten formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.