FRI AM News: ‘WisBusiness: The Podcast’ features CROWE Director Noah Williams; Dem leaders back local sales tax options, minimum wage hike

— Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy Director Noah Williams expects the state will get back to pre-pandemic unemployment rates by the end of the year.

This is despite an economic slowdown in the fall, when daily COVID-19 cases climbed to record numbers. 

He said in the latest “WisBusiness: The Podcast” episode that Wisconsin is about 70 percent out of the “pandemic hole,” but recovery will depend on COVID-19 vaccinations and a stimulus package. 

Williams, also an economics professor at UW-Madison, said it’s less likely that the food and accommodations industry won’t bounce back as quickly due to new public habits, such as purchasing goods online and eating at home versus dining out. 

Congressional and state Democrats are currently pushing for a $15 minimum wage. That would have a sharp impact on Wisconsin, a state with about 40 percent of its workforce making $15 per hour or less. But the increase in income could have a negative impact by raising costs for employers that may then cut back on employment, hours or benefits. 

Evers’ budget proposes raising the state $7.25 minimum wage in three steps to $10.15 an hour by 2024, and then indexing it for inflation. The budget also calls for the creation of a task force to study raising it to $15 an hour. Williams said the smaller minimum wage hike wouldn’t be as costly for employers, but it wouldn’t benefit as many people. 

“The majority of minimum wage workers aren’t in low-income households, a lot of them are second-earners or young people starting off, so if the goal is to lift people out of poverty, this may not be the best mechanism to do so,” he said. “People proposing the minimum wage increases are certainly well-intended … it may lead to pricing out of the labor market younger, less experienced workers or make it more difficult for them to get a foot in the door and start their careers.”

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— The Legislature’s top Dem leaders in a luncheon voiced support for Evers’ budget proposals to raise the minimum wage and allow for expanded local sales taxes.

Evers’ budget would allow counties to add an additional half-cent sales tax and municipalities of at least 30,000 people to implement a new one. The additional sales tax would have to be approved by voters through a referendum. Republicans have rejected both of those ideas and intend to craft a budget of their own.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason, said Wisconsinites have been asking for an increased minimum wage for several years, adding “we need to do something about the minimum wage period, we need to do it.”

She also said the $10.15 Evers proposed might not be the increase to $15 an hour that some of her Dem colleagues want.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said there needs to be some regional discretion on where and how much to increase the minimum, but that amount needs to be raised to account for inflation.

Hintz added a minimum wage increase could benefit hundreds of thousands of workers, “not just those that are at the minimum wage, but who are near the minimum wage that certainly would benefit from that ripple effect increase.”

— Both leaders also voiced support for Evers’ local sales tax proposal.

Bewley said raising those taxes would give local municipalities a new revenue source during a time when many local governments are hurting for money. 

She added allowing municipalities to raise their local sales tax could be a way for local governments to backfill revenue losses if GOP proposals like eliminating the personal property tax are enacted.

Hintz agreed.

“I think there needs to be a serious discussion of what the consequences are, especially when we don’t allow for local revenue options,” Hintz said. “And people that are promoting the local property tax repeal probably want to get behind some of the governor’s proposals for local option revenues.”

— Hintz also said it’s unlikely an electric car production project pitched by Foxconn will happen considering the reputations of the companies involved.

He said Fisker and Foxconn’s track records of failing to fulfill their business promises make it hard for him to see how either company will fulfill their promises on electric cars.

“It’s hard to take the company seriously at this point,” Hintz said of Foxconn.

Fisker filed for bankruptcy in July 2020.

Watch video of yesterday’s luncheon on the YouTube page:

— For the first time since the summer, four counties now report low COVID-19 case activity, and more Wisconsin counties continue to fall to lower COVID-19 activity thresholds. 

Douglas, Green Lake, Marinette and Taylor counties now fall into the bottom-most tier for disease activity, reporting less than 10 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks.

Ten counties fell below 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks and rank in the “medium” tier for COVID-19 case activity, up from two last week. 

Two counties — southern Green and northern Iron — remain in the “very high” category with a case burden greater than 350 confirmed cases for every 100,000 people. Last week, it was four counties in the “very high” tier. 

The rest of Wisconsin’s 72 counties meet the criteria for a “high” case burden, which is greater than 100 cases per 100,000 residents. It’s the middle tier of disease activity in the state. This is the sixth consecutive week no counties were in the “critically high” tier or above 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents.  

Only Dodge and Marquette counties, both with a “high” case burden, faced a growing trajectory of cases in the last two weeks.

— Wisconsin reports 19 cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, a more infectious, mutated virus from the U.K. 

“Only a small percentage of tests are actually genomically sequenced for these variants. So, there could be far more than 19,” DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk warned. “And the issue with these variants is that they are much more effective at transmitting disease from person to person. Yes, we’re concerned.”

The state reports 7,294 active COVID-19 cases, 565,808 cases since the start of the pandemic and 6,470 total deaths. The seven-day average for daily confirmed cases is 522, and the seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths is 11 deaths per day. 

While trends are looking favorable, Willems Van Dijk said Wisconsin is not quite ready to let go of protective mitigation measures.

“COVID-19 is still very present in Wisconsin,” she said. 

See the Wisconsin COVID-19 Timeline: 

— The Biden administration’s stimulus plan includes a 29 percent spending boost in Affordable Care Act subsidies, which could lower Wisconsin’s uninsured rate.

Wisconsin’s uninsured rate has dropped since Obamacare’s enactment from 9.1 percent in 2013 to around 5.8 percent in 2019, according to census data.

The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance said many factors impact the uninsured rate, including employment availability and eligibility requirements for public programs. 

“We do know affordability is a concern for people who don’t qualify for public programs nor get insurance through an employer,” said OCI spokeswoman Sarah Smith. 

Smith cited a 2019 DHS survey that residents living in poor and near-poor households were less likely to have had health insurance for the entire past year than residents living in non-poor households — 86.6 percent and 87.6 percent versus 95.8 percent. 

“So it’s clear that there are Wisconsinites who are not getting covered by existing programs and may not be able to afford premiums on their own,” she said. “Expanded federal subsidies would help connect underserved populations like these with more affordable plans so they can get covered.”

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— Renewable energy development developer and distributor U.S. Gain is partnering with electric vehicle charging leader AMPLY Power to offer charging stations to electric fleets nationwide.

Appleton-based U.S. Gain has built an extensive portfolio within the renewable natural gas industry, which the company argues offers tremendous value to transportation-related emissions. But it’s confident that a multifuel approach will be widely embraced by fleets. 

“We look forward to assisting fleets in their transition to any alternative fuel, and with regard to electric, think we can bring value to solve the infrastructure dilemma faced by so many,” said Jon Summersett, director of product management at U.S. Gain. “Figuring out where and when to charge can be complex and feel overwhelming, but with the combined expertise of AMPLY Power and U.S. Gain, the process will be efficient, affordable and seamless.”

For more developments in green energy, environmental issues and related policy proposals, visit WisBiz Green in the right-hand column at

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— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has filed a brief in the Court of Appeals in its case against the governor over the release of business names who had employees test positive for COVID-19.

The appeals court took up the case following a decision from the Waukesha County Circuit Court to block the release of the information.

WMC filed the lawsuit on Oct. 1 after learning that information on more than 1,000 businesses would be released the following day by the Evers administration if they had at least two employees who tested positive for COVID-19 regardless of where the employees contracted the virus. Additionally, the names of businesses could be released even if they had no employees test positive but had two or more contact tracing investigations.

The information was requested by news media outlets including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an intervenor in the case, through an open records request. The Evers administration has argued the state has a requirement to release the records under law once the requested information is compiled.

The brief is available here:

— Fifty-five entries from 31 communities have advanced to the semi-final round of the 18th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

The contestants were selected from a field of more than 250 qualified first-round entries by an independent panel of almost 80 judges organized through the Wisconsin Technology Council. The 55 plans represent the industry and geographic diversity of Wisconsin. In addition, 18 of 55 entrants are women and 13 represent people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. 

Now, contestants will compete in the second phase of the contest — writing a 1,000-word executive summary. Once judging is complete in early April, the 55 entries may be made available for inspection by accredited investors through the Tech Council Investor Networks, which has about two-dozen angel networks, early-stage funds or corporate strategic partners. About two dozen plans will write a full 15- to 20-page business plan in the third phase.

The top dozen contestants will give live presentations at the annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June. Category winners, as well as the 2021 Grand Prize Winner, will be announced during the June conference.

See the contenders: 


# Evers Administration Puts Forward Plan For COVID-19 Child Care Aid

# Milwaukee business leaders to push for sales tax plan after Assembly Speaker Vos says ‘no chance’

# National Guard testing sites closing next week in Eau Claire County 



– Tapping trees for maple syrup means spring is near 

– Class III Milk Price Announced at $15.75 for February 


– Lawrence University names new president, completes $232 million fundraising campaign 


– Wisconsin launches toll-free hotline to help with COVID-19 vaccine info, appointments

– Essentia Health launches substance use disorder hotline 

– Wisconsin nursing homes see a 97% drop in COVID-19 cases since the first week of vaccinations 


– DWD Begins Paying Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Extension, Says Some Will See Further Delays 


– Milwaukee-area manufacturers not requiring vaccine, but encouraging it 


– Senator Baldwin backs efforts to expand ACA coverage, Navigator programs

– Ron Johnson at the center of the storm: ‘People are out to destroy me’

– Sen. Ron Johnson forces reading of COVID relief bill, delaying debate


– City Of La Crosse Files Lawsuit Calling Out 23 Companies For PFAS Contamination 


– Milwaukee startup Spree developing network for non-fungible token buy-and-trades 


– Milwaukee Brewers: American Family Field to host thousands of fans on Opening Day 

– Milwaukee Bucks’ initiatives take drive for social equity to the national level 


– Milwaukee, Madison drop toward bottom of ranking of best cities for women in tech 


– Marcus Corp. lost $125 million in 2020 

– Milwaukee hotel occupancy hovers around 35% 


– InsideWis: COVID-19 hibernation is coming to an end: Some thoughts on risk management 


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

– Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin: Women in Farming; STEM address misconceptions about Dairy for Working Moms Day

– Research Products Corporation: Mike McGowan steps down as CEO

– AG Kaul, DATCP Secretary-designee Romanski: Warn Wisconsinites of COVID-19 related scams

– Public Health Madison & Dane County: Timetable for vaccinating Dane County educators moved up