TUE AM News: Construction groups voice support for proposals to combat payroll fraud; Exclusions from China tariffs extended for some COVID-related products

— Construction association groups are voicing their support for task force recommendations aimed at combating worker misclassification and payroll fraud.

Wisconsin is losing $200 million in tax revenue annually due to payroll fraud, according to a study on worker misclassification released in early 2020. The state lost $91.2 million in personal income taxes, $56 million in unemployment insurance taxes, $51.2 million in business taxes, and $2.6 million in benefits paid to uninsured workers.

Gov. Tony Evers’ Department of Workforce Development is working to implement recommendations to combat the multi-million dollar losses.

The recommendations could be incorporated into the new budget or introduced as standalone legislation, said Construction Business Group Executive Director Robb Kahl. He told WisBusiness.com he hopes Evers includes the solutions in the budget. 

Kahl has been the executive director at CBG for over a decade. He’s been in and around construction and public infrastructure for most of his career in politics, including his two terms in the state Assembly and as mayor of Monona. 

Kahl described misclassification as a “scheme” to cut corners. Wage fraud and worker misclassification occur when employees are independent contractors so the employer can avoid paying taxes and fees, such as social security, Medicaid, workers compensation and unemployment. The state also loses personal income tax. It gives the employer about a 30 percent advantage over businesses following the rules.

Read the full story at WisBusiness.com: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/construction-groups-support-proposals-to-combat-worker-misclassification/ 

— The U.S. Trade Representative is extending certain COVID-19-related product exclusions from the China Section 301 additional tariffs. 

Importers were expected to pay more duties to start 2021 as many Section 301 product exclusions expired before the new year. Section 301 is one of the ways the U.S. enforces its rights under trade agreements and addresses unfair foreign barriers to its exports.

The USTR notice states that in light of the rising spread and ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19, it has determined that maintaining or re-imposing additional duties on certain products subject to the action is no longer appropriate and that the application of additional duties to these products could impact U.S. preparedness to address COVID-19. 

The notice includes four new provisional tariffs covering 99 products. The extensions are in effect through March 31. 

See the notice: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/301Investigations/COVID_Extensions_December_2020.pdf 

— Nine harbor maintenance and improvement projects in Wisconsin will receive more than $6 million in state grants to boost statewide economic development. 

The improvements are meant to promote waterborne freight, harbor infrastructure and passenger cruise facilities. 

“Wisconsin is fortunate to have a robust system of ports and harbors with our Great Lakes and the Mississippi River that border our state,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “We are committed to investing in strengthening our shipbuilding industry to support one of the most efficient transportation resources for our farmers and manufacturers, bolster economic development, and support good, family-supporting jobs.”

Those interested in the next round of Harbor Assistance Project grants should note that the deadline for the next cycle is Aug. 1.

See more information about Wisconsin’s Harbor Assistance program and review past grant awards here: http://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/doing-bus/local-gov/astnce-pgms/aid/harbor.aspx

— Evers also announced that Brown County will receive $500,000 from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. 

The grant will assist in purchasing the former WPS Pulliam Plant property as part of the effort to relocate coal piles away from downtown and expand the economic activity of the Port of Green Bay.

“Acquiring this property and addressing the remaining coal piles has long been an obstacle for folks in Brown County,” the guv said. “Relocating the coal piles not only promotes new opportunities for the area to bolster economic activity, but will also improve the quality of life for many.” 

The WEDC Idle Sites Redevelopment Program grant is to redevelop sites that have been idle, abandoned, or underutilized and redevelopment results in the potential to elevate local economies. 

The money will partially fund the purchase of the 40-acre parcel at the mouth of the Fox River. The property is considered key to efforts by the county and the city of Green Bay to redevelop not only the port, turning the Pulliam Plant site into a port-related industrial property, but portions of downtown Green Bay.

“Over a decade ago, the city, county, and UW-Green Bay partnered to identify strategic objectives to advance the Port of Green Bay not only for our area, but the economy of northeastern Wisconsin,” Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach said. “The Pulliam site is critical for that long-term strategy to come to fruition.”

The port is a designated Foreign Trade Zone and this strategy includes expanding the port activities which will result in increased economic activity and jobs in Green Bay and the northeast region, according to the guv’s release. The former WPS Pulliam Power Plant property was decommissioned in 2016 after years of retiring operational units.

— Assembly Republicans and Dems have released their own COVID-19 bills as Gov. Tony Evers pressed lawmakers to quickly pass the legislation he sent them last month to deal with the pandemic.

The competing efforts came as lawmakers took their oaths of office for the 2021-22 session with some lawmakers participating in person, some virtually and some skipping the festivities altogether amid ongoing concerns about safety protocols in the building.

Assembly Republicans were poised to move quickly on their bill with a committee hearing and exec planned for today and a floor vote scheduled for Thursday.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Republicans in both chambers have already agreed to its language and called on lawmakers to pass it by the end of the week.

Senate Republicans plan to caucus today, and Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, didn’t immediately offer any public comment on the bill.

“This bill includes many items from our bipartisan discussions,” Vos said. “However, our Constitution can never be placed on hold, even during times of a public health emergency. We can’t allow an unelected bureaucrat to rule over our communities like a dictator, picking and choosing what businesses should fail or forcing schools to be virtual.”

Vos blamed “government reactions” to the virus for many Wisconsinites’ loss of livelihoods, arguing the pandemic showed most people do not support heavy government intervention.

During the session Vos also praised frontline workers for going to their jobs, and he held a moment of silence on the Assembly floor for those who died during the pandemic.

Vos was listed as the only author of the bill, which will receive a public hearing and a vote by the Health Committee tomorrow.

Vos last month also released a COVID-19 bill, and the new version includes some of the same provisions. Among them: giving the Joint Finance Committee the power to transfer $100 million from other appropriations to deal with COVID-19 costs; and a ban on the Department of Health Services and local health officers from closing or forbidding gatherings in places of worship in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also includes a provision that would bar employers from requiring workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of their employment. Another would prohibit DHS and local health officials from requiring individuals to receive the vaccine.

According to the bill, current law allows DHS to order someone to get a vaccination during a state of emergency declared by the guv except for certain medical exemptions or religious reasons. It also would allow dentists to administer the vaccine.

The previous Assembly GOP bill sought to require school districts that move to virtual instruction to reimburse parents. The new legislation drops that provision. Still, it would require districts to get a two-thirds vote of their school boards to move to virtual instruction. School boards would have to reauthorize the move every 14 days.

Districts that go virtual also would have to report to the Department of Public Instruction how the move impacted their expenses. Reports would be required after each semester in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.

The COVID-19 bill approved in April suspended the one-week waiting period between when someone claims unemployment and begins receiving checks. The suspension is currently expected to end Feb. 7. The bill would extend that to March 14.

See the bill:


See Evers’ release pressing lawmakers to take up his compromise bill: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/gov-evers-calls-on-legislature-to-pass-covid-compromise-as-first-act-in-new-legislative-session/

See the Assembly Dem bill that includes a couple of additions to what Evers wants, including expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/210104Bill.pdf 

— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce President Kurt Bauer said businesses have mixed feelings about the economy heading into the new year.

The leader of the state’s largest business lobbying group told viewers this week on “UpFront” that there remains “a lot of unknowns” as to how an economic recovery will play out in 2021.

“It’s not terribly pessimistic but it’s not terribly optimistic either,” he said. “Obviously we’re not as bad as we were six months ago when we were really in the grip of COVID-19.”

Besides the pandemic, Bauer added there’s still plenty of uncertainty as to what exactly the incoming Biden administration will work on with taxes, the energy sector and regulations.

He said the state is already getting close to full employment again with unemployment levels sitting around 5 percent. WMC members actually have had trouble finding enough workers to keep up, according to Bauer.

“The fortunes of the economy and of jobs and of thousands of businesses depends on that vaccine,” he said. “I can’t overstate the importance. If we can get that thing administered, distributed, we can really begin to recover the economy and get people back to work.”

Bauer also said he’d love to see any new federal stimulus packages include liability protections for businesses and schools from “frivolous lawsuits” over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Town of Vermont, on the show last week pushed back against passing such protections, claiming certain businesses have been negligent towards the safety of employees from the virus.

But Bauer this week said he fundamentally disagrees with Pocan’s assessment. He said the business community has “stepped up in a very admirable way” and deserves recognition for its efforts.

— Also on the program, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale said working people have been the ones who “bore the brunt” of the pandemic.

The union federation leader praised frontline workers and workers of color who couldn’t do their job virtually for helping the economy “power through” the last year.

“If workers aren’t safe, really our society is not safe,” she said. “While it was the frontline workers who powered us through this pandemic, workers also suffered disproportionately in terms of financially and also the numbers who were sick and died.”

Bloomingdale called the ongoing vaccine rollout “the light really at the end of the tunnel” and urged distributors to work quickly in immunizing the population, especially among health care professionals and frontline workers.

Meanwhile, Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Department of Workforce Development, told viewers a full economic recovery in the state isn’t expected until around 2023.

But he acknowledged uncertainty means a full recovery may take even longer, as much depends on how quickly vaccines roll out to the general public and the economy begins to churn.

“I think once we get the vaccine in and it’s widely distributed and effective, I think those industries will come back pretty quickly,” Winters said. “Because people will want to get back out and resume what has been their normal life before the COVID.”

See more from the program: https://www.wisn.com/upfront


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# UW campus receives first vaccines, plans to administer 2,000 in two weeks 




– Alice in Dairyland ‘21 finals canceled https://brownfieldagnews.com/news/alice-in-dairyland-21-finals-canceled/ 

– Hansen, Risser leave Wisconsin Legislature https://brownfieldagnews.com/news/hansen-risser-leave-wisconsin-legislature/ 

– Class III Milk Price Announced at $15.72 for December http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-state.php?Id=2&yr=2021 

– November All Milk Price Rose to $22.70 Cwt. http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-state.php?Id=3&yr=2021 

– Most Other Commodity Prices Were Also Higher http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-state.php?Id=4&yr=2021 


– Once a fringe idea, the $15 minimum wage is making big gains https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/04/once-a-fringe-idea-the-15-minimum-wage-gains.html 


– Hung out to dry https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/04/colleges-new-federal-covid-stimulus-budget-crisis.html 


– Wisconsin PFAS Action Plan To Regulate “Forever Chemicals” https://www.wpr.org/wisconsin-pfas-action-plan-regulate-forever-chemicals 


– Employers can require Covid-19 vaccines, but that’s not the best idea, Milwaukee attorneys say https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/04/employers-can-require-vaccines-but-its-not-best.html 


– Gig workers bear the brunt of US labour market slowdown https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/04/gig-workers-bear-the-brunt-of-us-labour-market.html 


– Federal judge rejects lawsuit seeking to overturn Trump loss https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/federal-judge-rejects-lawsuit-seeking-to-overturn-trump-loss/article_3046fba2-ae52-5638-935f-bd29453f6d94.html 

– Pharmacist accused of intentionally destroying vaccine released from jail; charges uncertain https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/crime/2021/01/04/wisconsin-vaccine-destroyed-left-out-aurora-grafton-pharmacist-steven-brandenburg-released-from-jail/4125624001/ 


– West Allis development director John Stibal retires after three decades of transforming community https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/04/west-allis-development-directo-john-stibal-retires.html 


– Wisconsin Republicans look to fast-track COVID relief bill in opening week of session https://madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/wisconsin-republicans-look-to-fast-track-covid-relief-bill-in-opening-week-of-session/article_94e07474-76d7-58d3-933c-3f01dcacd3d1.html 

– Democrats skip state inauguration in clash with GOP over COVID-19 https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2021/01/04/wisconsin-democrats-skip-inauguration-clash-gop-over-covid-19/4128047001/ 


– The Factory on Barclay expands with lease of 3rd Ward events space https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/04/the-factory-on-barclay-expands-with-lease-of-third.html 


– Tony Evers authorizes National Guard to support authorities in Kenosha https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/tony-evers-authorizes-national-guard-to-support-authorities-in-kenosha/article_19403fbb-f8fe-5755-a149-4ec459f47a94.html 


– Wisconsin Demand For Guns, Ammo Hasn’t Subsided Since Start Of COVID-19 Pandemic https://www.wpr.org/wisconsin-demand-guns-ammo-hasnt-subsided-start-covid-19-pandemic 


– Milwaukee Admirals opt out of upcoming season https://biztimes.com/milwaukee-admirals-opt-out-of-upcoming-season/ 


– Skylight Music Theatre postpones all in-person productions for 2020-’21 season https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/04/skylight-music-theatre-postpones-all-in-person-pro.html 


– A monster wind turbine is upending an industry https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/04/a-monster-wind-turbine-is-upending-an-industry.html 

– Report: Rural Areas Of Wisconsin Suffer From Major Gaps In Broadband Access https://www.wpr.org/report-rural-areas-wisconsin-suffer-major-gaps-broadband-access 


– Kenosha News editorial: Retailers seem willing to put up with returns https://www.kenoshanews.com/opinion/editorial/kenosha-news-editorial-retailers-seem-willing-to-put-up-with-returns/article_5f37ef23-8a84-5b37-9801-4d1b97c1d04a.html 


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