WED AM News: WMC, Restaurant Association charge Evers with putting businesses at risk with new order; State sees 20 percent jump in corporate tax collections

— Business groups are charging the governor with putting businesses at risk with the order limiting indoor capacity to 25 percent.

The order, issued yesterday by DHS Secretary Andrea Palm, places new restrictions on bars, restaurants and other private businesses beginning 8 a.m. Thursday and will remain effect through Nov. 6.

It applies to any gathering at locations open to the public, including ticketed events. But that doesn’t impact schools, office spaces, factories and other workplaces that are only accessible by employees or authorized personnel.

Gov. Tony Evers said the order was part of an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and help hospitals that are now overwhelmed with cases.

“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” he said.

The Medical Society of Wisconsin supports the order limiting indoor public gatherings. The society’s Board of Directors Chair Dr. Jerry Halverson said the state must halt its current COVID-19 case trajectory.

“Recent reports show that many of these COVID-19 cases are being traced back to larger gatherings, like weddings and sports-watching parties,” Halverson said. “We want to continue being the state leading the country in high-quality health care, not having one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country.”

But Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce President and CEO Kurt Bauer argued that medical professionals have said the recent spikes are due to individuals not following the same strict safety guidelines that businesses have implemented. 

“Unfortunately, Gov. Evers’ order will cause even more harm to already-suffering businesses while failing to actually slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” he said. “Our state’s employers have been true leaders when it comes to health and safety, and this order will just serve to economically punish them when they can least afford it.”

Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, had a similar sentiment. 

“Restaurants have been heavily investing in sanitation procedures and staff education to ensure that dining at restaurants is safe, whether it’s inside, outside, curbside, carryout or drive through,” she said. “At 25% capacity, most restaurants will be faced with possibly closing their indoor dining since 25% capacity will not allow them to pay their bills.”

The Restaurant Association has 7,000 member locations, of which most will be faced with the decision to close doors permanently after facing the pandemic for the past seven months, Hillmer said. She said closures and layoffs are going to be “unavoidable” with the new order.

Meanwhile, the association is encouraging the governor to reconsider the statewide approach. 

“Limits on capacity or enforcement are best done at the local level where they know what is happening in their own community,” Hillmer said. 

Read more on the order at 

— The Wisconsin Policy Forum says the state’s 20 percent increase in corporate tax collections are not just due to five years of enhanced auditing.

According to the forum’s report, Wisconsin’s corporate tax revenues totaled $1.61 billion in the 2019-20 fiscal year, an increase of $269.8 million from the previous year. This is coming off of a record 50 percent increase in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Jason Stein, research director at the Wisconsin Policy Forum, cited the overall strength of the economy and the effect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by President Trump and Congress three years ago that included a decrease in federal corporate taxes.

In response to the federal legislation, former Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers changed state law in December 2018 to allow certain business entities to pay income taxes at the corporate level rather than pass their profits on to shareholders for them to pay individual income taxes. 

While it could help businesses gain more federal tax deduction, it also means businesses would be taxed at the state corporate rate of 7.9 percent — the highest rate in Wisconsin’s individual income tax brackets.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum doesn’t advocate for or against higher levels of auditing. However, it noted in its report that the future is likely to bring more discussion of adding or maintaining auditors at the state and federal levels.

The audit initiative was questioned by conservatives and business groups during the Walker administration. Last year, GOP lawmakers rejected a budget proposal by Gov. Tony Evers to add more audit and collection positions at the Department of Revenue.

“Whatever the rule happens to be, you typically want rules enforced evenly between different actors,” Stein said. “One reason obviously is, if certain people are not paying taxes or certain entities are not paying taxes that they owe under the law, then other people might have to pay more.”

Businesses will often have concerns about the costs of complying with audits and any resulting additional taxes deemed unfair, according to the forum. Though the additional audits focus on out-of-state firms, it could still have effects on Wisconsin residents, such as an impact to the business climate or an increased sales from out-of-state companies.

On the other hand, if the taxes owed by some businesses go unpaid, then other businesses and state residents must either pay more or receive fewer public services.

“Policy makers I think would be trying to find what they thought was the right combination of enforcing the rules such that if there’s a law in the books, it’s enforced and people are following it versus having so much enforcement that it might raise the cost of doing business or hurt the business climate,” Stein said.

See the report: 

— Today is Energy Efficiency Day in Wisconsin and other states around the U.S. 

In partnership with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers proclaimed the day as Energy Efficiency Day throughout Wisconsin to remember that energy efficiency saves money, cuts pollution and creates jobs.

“Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to drive down utility bills and avoid the costly construction of power plants and transmission lines,” said PSC Chairperson, Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “Wisconsin’s energy efficiency program, Focus on Energy, provides a tremendous value to our state, giving back $5.85 in economic and environmental benefits for every $1.00 invested.”

A recent study found that investments from Focus on Energy in energy efficiency and renewable energy will add $2.2 billion in economic benefits to the Wisconsin economy through 2042.

The report also showed that investments in Focus on Energy from 2015 to 2018 will create almost 21,000 jobs in Wisconsin, with each program year expected to generate 5,250 jobs or more through 2042. However, when compared to neighboring states, Wisconsin has fallen behind in funding for Focus on Energy.

Recently, the PSC asked for an increase in contributions from utilities to Focus on Energy as part of its 2021-2023 biennial state budget request. The program’s most recent potential study concluded that a funding increase will increase the program’s total energy savings by approximately 50 percent.

— Nearly 100,000 votes have been cast so far in the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest put on by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Johnson Financial Group.

The votes have resulted in four finalists in the bracket:

–No. 3 seed Neenah’s Kimberly-Clark’s nano preemie diapers;

–No. 5 seed Stoughton’s C.C. Moo LLC’s adaptive clothing;

–No. 7 seed South Milwaukee’s Caterpillar Global Mining’s electric rope shovel;

–and No. 16 seed Mequon’s MuL Technologies’ mobile autonomous robotic cart. 

The final round of voting will be a popular vote to determine a winner. The winner will be announced at the virtual WMC Foundation Made in Wisconsin Luncheon on Oct. 14. 

To cast a ballot by Oct. 14 at 10 a.m., visit:

— Gov. Tony Evers allocated more than $100 million toward Wisconsin small businesses and economic stabilization.

Evers’ announcement provides further investments in economic stabilization programs to support the lodging and tourism industry, live music and performance venues, cultural non-profits and privately owned movie theaters. 

“Small businesses, including the tourism and lodging industries, are the backbone of our Wisconsin communities. The ongoing pandemic, combined with a lack of action at the federal level, may force many of these businesses to shutter their doors for good,” he said. “That’s why we’re investing another $100 million in businesses and communities across our state. Our communities are in desperate need of additional federal support, but we can’t wait a moment longer to do what we can here in Wisconsin.”  

The money comes from the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund and the investments include:  

*$20 million for the Wisconsin lodging industry; 

*$15 million for live music and performance venues throughout Wisconsin;

*$10 million to support privately owned movie theaters;

*$10 million in additional support for non-profit cultural venues;

*$4 million in additional investments for destination marketing organizations and tourism drivers;

*and $50 million for the “We’re All In Grants,” an economic development grant program launched by Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. this summer. 

More than 26,000 businesses statewide received more than $65 million “We’re All In Grants” administered by the Department of Revenue and WEDC. The new round aims to provide grants of $5,000 each to 10,000 additional Wisconsin small businesses most impacted by the pandemic, including restaurants and taverns, hair and nail salons and barber shops, and other services.

“Wisconsin’s small businesses have demonstrated unbelievable creativity and ingenuity in adapting to the pandemic,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “But what we’re hearing from many of them is that they’re already stretched to the limit and are concerned what the next few months will hold.”

Businesses that received funds under the first round of the grants, as well as the Ethnic Minority Emergency Grant program, are also eligible for the second round of WEDC program. Priority will be given to businesses that have not previously received funds from either of the first two programs and those with ethnically diverse ownership.

To be eligible, an applicant must be a Wisconsin-based, for-profit business; in 2019 have at least 75 percent of company labor costs and 75 percent of assets in Wisconsin; earn more than $0 and less than $1 million in annual revenues; have started operating prior to Jan. 1; and have filed 2019 taxes.

Applications for the grants will open Oct. 19 at 8 a.m. and close Nov. 2 at 11:59 p.m. Learn more about the program and apply here:

— A novel cancer therapy studied and developed at the Medical College of Wisconsin with promising clinical outcomes is leading to a larger phase II trial. 

Results of phase I of the first-in-the-world double targeted chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy clinical trial proved safe. And it had promising outcomes for patients with relapsed and refractory B cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas — cancers of the immune system.

While CAR-T cell therapy has been under development since 2012, the Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center treated the first patients using this dual-targeted gene therapy. The new treatment genetically alters a person’s own immune cells to target cancer cells in a unique and personalized fashion, a significant departure from more routine chemotherapy.

A multi-institutional phase II is being developed to determine the true efficacy and understand how the nuances of the treatment process can result in excellent outcomes for a larger subset of patients. For example, researchers plan to further study a trend that a higher dose of the treatment correlates with a prolonged remission.

“This is a giant leap forward in personalized medicine,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, principal investigator of the trial. “Very few cancer centers offer these novel combination of resources and high level of personalized medicine expertise. The encouraging results of this trial pave the way for more effective and efficient treatment options.”

— The seven-day average for daily new cases in Wisconsin dropped for the third day in a row — an early sign of leveling off, according to Medical College of Wisconsin President Dr. John Raymond.

The seven-day average is now at 2,346 from 2,395 after the state recorded 2,020 new COVID-19 cases yesterday.

But daily case trends remain unfavorable, Raymond said in a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce briefing. Wisconsin has reported a daily case count of over 2,000 for 13 days since its first 2,000-plus day on Sept. 17.

He cited Wisconsin’s “dubious distinction” in a recent New York Times article reporting three Wisconsin metro areas in the top five for the greatest number of new cases in the last two weeks per 100,000 population: Oshkosh-Neenah at No. 1, Green Bay at No. 3 and Appleton at No. 4.

Others in the top 20 include Marinette, Manitowoc, Platteville, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac, giving Wisconsin eight of the top 20 hotspots for COVID-19 in the country. 

“And in terms of an unfavorable trajectory, Sheboygan has the second worst in the U.S., Oshkosh-Neenah is No. 4 and Manitowoc and Wausau-Weston also are in the top 20,” Raymond said. “So looking forward over the next two weeks, there might be continuing problems in the Fox Valley, northeastern Wisconsin and north central Wisconsin.” 

Wisconsin is third in the country both for the new number of cases in the past seven days, behind only California and Texas, according to DHS. It also trails only the Dakotas for new cases per 100,000 residents.

Yesterday’s confirmed cases were out of 11,559 people tested. The seven-day average of new confirmed cases per total people tested was at 17 percent as of Monday. In this metric, people are only counted once no matter how many times they’ve been tested.

But in terms of total tests collected — one person can have multiple tests — the positive test percentage was at 9 percent as of Monday. In this metric, people are included each time they are tested. 

DHS has faced some criticism for previously only showing the “by person” data, according to Raymond. The positivity rate is higher for persons rather than tests. 

“Does this really matter? In my opinion, no. I believe this issue is really a tempest in a teapot,” Raymond said. “We need to recognize that public health data have a lot of subtleties and quirks. That’s why we look at a panel of indicators and we focus as much or more on trends as we do on a single indicator at a single point in time.”

Both percentages are trending unfavorably at this time, he added.

The state reports 136,379 cumulative COVID-19 cases with 110,110 of those people recovered. 

“In other words, they no longer have an active COVID-19 infection,” Raymond said. “I want to stress that doesn’t mean fully recuperate or return to pre-COVID-19 infection health status. Many long haulers continue to have multiple symptoms of COVID-19 even months after recovery from the infection.” 

— And Wisconsin reported 18 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the state’s toll to 1,399.

The death rate for Wisconsin residents who have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 is at 1 percent.

Milwaukee County leads the state’s count with 546 reported deaths.

Counties reporting deaths in the double digits include: Racine (98), Waukesha (94), Brown (69), Kenosha (68), Dane (43), Winnebago (37), Walworth (35), Washington (35), Outagamie (33), Rock (33), Marathon (22), Waupaca (22), Ozaukee (20), Dodge (19), Grant (19), Sheboygan (19), Fond du Lac (14) and Portage (10).

Nine counties in Wisconsin haven’t reported any COVID-19 deaths: Chippewa, Crawford, Douglas, Green Lake, Iowa, Lafayette, Menominee, Pepin and Price.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates:  


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– GOP lawmakers stand still as virus rages in Wisconsin

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– Milwaukee Mayor Barrett says Evers’ order likely trims city’s policy to reopen restaurants 


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