WED AM News: Bill would expand tax exclusion for investors in opportunity zones; Dem lawmakers introduce bill to support farmers

— A bipartisan group of lawmakers is circulating legislation for co-sponsorship to expand a tax exclusion for investors in “opportunity zones” throughout the state. 

The bill would double the tax exclusion for those who invest in qualified opportunity zones, which draw investment to low-income rural and urban areas. 

Investors in funds for these areas get incentives including tax deferral on invested capital gains, and tax-free growth on investment earnings in the related opportunity fund. The investors receive a 10 percent reduction in the original gains tax if the investment is held for at least five years, and a 15 percent reduction after seven years. If the bill were made law, those reductions would be doubled, according to the co-sponsorship memo. 

The bill’s authors say the change would encourage Wisconsin investors to keep their money in the state, bringing more private capital to “economically challenged areas of the state and accelerating economic growth and job creation across the board.” 

The bill’s sponsors include Reps. Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, and Jill Billings, D-La Crosse; as well as Sens. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, and Janice Ringhand, D-Evansville. 

The memo shows the opportunity zones community development program was established by national legislators in 2017, aimed at boosting long-term investments in low-income areas. Eligibility for these zones is based on community census tracts, funneling investment in the country’s “most economically challenged communities.” 

Lawmakers in the state incorporated the federal opportunity zone tax provisions into state law last session, applying the tax benefits to state income taxes. These zones are designated by the U.S. Treasury secretary and input from state governors. Wisconsin currently has 120 designated opportunity zones. 

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— Dem lawmakers have introduced a package of measures aimed at providing financial stability to farmers in the state facing “an agricultural crisis.” 

Reps. Dave Considine of Baraboo, Mark Spreitzer of Beloit, Don Vruwink of Milton and Sen. Janis Ringhand of Evansville were joined yesterday by local farmers in a Capitol news conference to unveil three bipartisan pieces of legislation that would alleviate financial pressures on new farmers and improve farm succession planning. 

The first proposal would create a grant program that would provide grants of up to $50,000 to diversify small-scale farming operations, while a second measure would create a student loan assistance program for newly graduated farmers. The program would reimburse higher education debt up to $30,000 with the provision that the recipient commits to farming in Wisconsin for at least five years. 

“This bill will truly help Wisconsin lead the way in supporting our next generation of farmers,” Spreitzer said. 

The last proposal would create two positions within the UW-Madison Division of the Extension program that would educate and assist farmers in planning for transitioning ownership. The measure would allocate $224,000 annually to help facilitate financial proceedings and help farmers plan for the transition process earlier in their careers. 

“The succession planning process for farmers is extremely important. It’s an absolute necessity for the continuance of the traditional Wisconsin multigenerational family farm,” local farmer Gene Larsen said. 

All three proposals boast bipartisan backing, and Considine said he and his colleagues are hopeful Republican leadership will bring the bills to a vote. 

“I wouldn’t say that we have any assurances, but I’m optimistic,” Considine said. 

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the Speaker’s office is reviewing the package while Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, was not immediately available for comment. 

See the release:

— WEC Energy Group plans to acquire an 80 percent stake in the Thunderhead Wind Energy Center in Nebraska. 

The project is being developed by a Chicago-based company called Invenergy, with commercial operation expected by year-end 2020. According to a release, it will include 108 GE wind turbines with a combined capacity of 300 megawatts. 

WEC Energy Group’s 80 percent ownership will cost the company $338 million. The release shows the wind farm has a “long-term offtake agreement” with an unnamed Fortune 100 company for all the energy it will produce. 

“This investment fits exceptionally well with our strategy of deploying capital in renewable energy assets that will serve strong, vibrant companies for years to come,” said Gale Klappa, executive chairman of WEC Energy Group. 

WEC Energy Group is based in Milwaukee, and has about 4.5 million customers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. The company’s principal utilities in Wisconsin are We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service. 

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— The Department of Natural Resources is implementing mandatory deer carcass testing in six townships spread across three northwestern counties as the agency attempts to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease. 

Tami Ryan, the acting director of the DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management, told reporters at a DNR CWD briefing in Madison yesterday that a citizen advisory panel recommended the agency require testing of deer carcasses in the areas around Rock Creek, Brunswick, Washington, Albany, Drammen and Pleasant Valley in Dunn, Pepin and Eau Claire counties. 

“Those recommendations have been accepted and we will be moving forward with that this year,” Ryan said. 

The mandatory testing order, issued last week, comes in response to three CWD-stricken deer identified in Eau Claire County and will apply to the gun deer season that is set to start on Nov. 23. 

It’s one of a number of steps DNR officials are taking to address CWD with deer season rapidly approaching. Larry Bonde, chair of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, also unveiled a series of recommendations developed by a committee of sportsmen and DNR officials tasked with reviewing DNR’s current CWD plan. 

Bonde says the panel identified three main issues with DNR’s current practices: education, carcass disposal and expanded testing. 

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— U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says $5.2 million in new federal funding to fight opioid overdoses is going to the state Department of Health Services. 

The funds come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Overdose to Action initiative, which is focused on prevention efforts for opioids and data collection. 

The OD2A effort is a three-year cooperative agreement that takes a public health approach to improve the ongoing epidemic. Funds from the program will support new ways to collect information on overdose deaths and usage, shaping responses at the local level. 

“Washington needs to do more to address the opioid epidemic and a strong partnership with state and local officials is essential to an effective response,” Baldwin said in a release. “I’m confident that Governor Evers will act immediately to put these federal investments to work in Wisconsin to support our continued fight against this deadly crisis.”

See the release: 

— The Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute has named two university directors: Edward Blumenthal of Marquette University and Purush Papatla of UW-Milwaukee. 

These directors set research priorities for the institute and guide the direction of data science programs at the two universities. 

Blumenthal is currently the associate dean for research and graduate affairs in Marquette’s Klingler College of Arts and Sciences and will be Marquette’s interim director for the 2019-2020 academic year. 

And Papatla has been named UWM’s director and a Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute Professor of Marketing, after serving as interim director for the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute. 

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# Company plans to build facility, bring 250 jobs to Century City in Milwaukee

# Bill limiting PFAS use goes before Assembly committee

# Utility heads say zero-carbon electricity possible before 2050, but questions remain

# Timber!: Milwaukee’s Ascent project leading way for wood construction in Midwest



– Proposals designed to help struggling Wisconsin farmers


– Haunted houses, scary movies planned for ‘Fear District’ this Halloween


– DNR, conservation group push public education of chronic wasting disease


– Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin gives $2.1 million for UWM Klotsche Center expansion


– Updated: Wisconsin company to bring hundreds of jobs to Milwaukee’s Century City


– Generac will introduce intelligent solar battery system at September trade show


– Brooke Talbot replaces Amy Lovell as REDgen executive director


– Legislative committee to meet on lawsuits


– Alpine Valley Music Theatre sold for $7.5 million

– Alpine Valley sold to Florida real estate investor


– Conservation Congress asks DNR for wasting disease changes


– Kmart store in Caledonia to close in December

– Kmart closing three more Wisconsin stores


– Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute names directors from Marquette, UWM

– Fiserv Inc. moves into building access technology with palm-scanning devices


– WEC Energy Group spending $338 million on Nebraska wind farm


– Analiese Eicher: Teachers are in short supply as children head back to school


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