MON AM News: Wisconsin Arts Board head calls for greater state support; Marklein objects to Evers’ gas tax holiday suggestion

— The head of the Wisconsin Arts Board is calling for greater state support for the arts and cultural sector, saying “it’s going to be a tough time ahead.” 

“It’s going to take extreme creativity,” Executive Director George Tzougrous said Friday in a Wisconsin Policy Forum webinar. “But most importantly, it’s going to mean all of us in the arts, again thanking people for the resources we’ve received, but understanding going forward there’s going to need to be a greater investment.” 

Joe Peterangelo, a senior researcher for WPF, said Wisconsin dedicated about 14 cents per capita to arts and culture in budget year 2022. That places the state at 49th out of 50 states for arts funding. By comparison, the national median is about seven times as much, he noted.

Friday’s discussion centered on the path ahead for the arts in Wisconsin, which took a major hit early in the pandemic and have yet to fully recover. Tzougrous noted many workers in the sector have left to seek other employment, and volunteerism is lagging as well. Both of those groups “have not come bouncing back as we had hoped,” he explained. 

“Some have taken their skills — carpenters, electricians and others — to other industries where they can monetize them some more,” he said.  

A WPF report from April found employment across a number of arts and cultural industries — such as performing arts, spectator sports, sound recording and others — remained well below 2019 levels late last year. 

While speakers noted the employment picture for 2022 is less clear so far, Tzougrous said participation and attendance at ticketed events around the state still appear sluggish compared to pre-pandemic. 

He explained masking and vaccination requirements at venues may be “making people hesitant,” also pointing to the impact of inflation on both consumers and arts organizations. 

“Buying materials, supply chain issues that have driven costs up … and for the person who’s purchasing the ticket, they’re making decisions for their family, what they’re going to spend their money on,” he said. “Those are a couple things that are, in fact, keeping audiences depressed, shall we say, as far as the numbers are concerned.” 

See the April report here: 

— Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein told he objects to using the state’s $5.4 billion surplus on a “gimmick” in response to Gov. Tony Evers’ suggestion the money go towards funding a temporary gas tax holiday.

The Spring Green Republican said he thinks holding onto the money will pay off eventually, especially considering rising inflation.

“I am glad that we are in a very positive financial position and that we have a strong surplus right now because I know that we are going to need that surplus to manage our finances in the future,” Marklein said. “I believe that we will be thankful for our conservative approach when we are managing our state budget next spring and are facing tremendous inflationary increases.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told last week he would be open to a temporary suspension of the gas tax if other state resources are used for road projects. He said he wouldn’t “want to delay any projects for transportation because we are already behind a lot of the jobs that we need to get done.” 

JFC Co-chair Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the proposal.

— Trade groups, meanwhile, point to other factors driving high gas prices, including trends in the global crude oil market and economic and regulatory policies at the federal level.

Matthew Hauser, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, says temporarily suspending the state’s gas tax “may provide some relief at the pump.” But he said many external factors — such as the price of crude oil — can’t be controlled by retailers or state governments.

“A gas tax holiday will raise expectations among consumers that prices will fall significantly at the pump, which simply may not be the case given the volatile global market,” he said in a statement.

And Steve Baas, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, argues gas tax holidays have been shown to be “largely more sound bite than solution” when it comes to lowering prices for consumers.

“We do appreciate the governor’s commitment to ensuring the Transportation Fund is kept whole as he considers his options, but we hope that in the end he will work with the administration and Congress in Washington to address the economic and regulatory policies that are actually driving high fuel costs rather than scapegoating the gas tax,” Baas said.

See more at 

— The state Department of Justice has announced Wisconsin will likely see some of a $2.37 billion proposed settlement with former opioid maker Allergan.

Allergan previously made generic opioids before those products acquired by Teva Pharmaceuticals in 2016. The news came days after AG Josh Kaul last week announced Wisconsin will see some money from a settlement with Teva requiring the company to pay $4.25 billion nationwide. 

DOJ spokeswoman Gillian Drummond told the settlement will not have to be approved by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee because the agreement will be made out of court.

Drummond added so far Wisconsin is going to see between $434 million and $440 million from opioid settlements with Johnson & Johnson, McKinsey and Mallinckrodt. That does not include money from a pending settlement with Purdue Pharma. The Purdue settlement is ongoing and details on Wisconsin’s payout have not yet been finalized.

Those numbers don’t include settlements announced last week because the final details on the distribution of the money have also not yet been finalized.

See the release: 

— The state’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases has risen to 1,785 cases per day with more than two-dozen Wisconsin counties seeing high levels of virus activity. 

While the seven-day average has largely been slowly increasing for most of July, that number remains well below the last major peak in January. 

Meanwhile, 26 counties are now in the highest category for coronavirus activity under a CDC rating that incorporates new cases, hospital admissions and bed occupancy by patients with COVID-19. 

The Department of Health Services site shows the trajectory of COVID-19 patient hospitalizations was growing by between 12 percent and 40 percent in the north central, western and southeast regions of the state over the latter half of July. At the same time, hospitalizations in northeastern Wisconsin were falling by 15 percent. 

The Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows 497 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 78 intensive care patients. Both numbers have seen a slight increase over the past week or so. 

The percent positivity rate for tests has also been inching upward, exceeding 15 percent last week for the first time since early February. 

And the state’s seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths remains low at three deaths per day. DHS reports a total of 13,222 confirmed deaths in the state. 

See more data from DHS here: 

See the WHA dashboard: 

— SHINE Technologies has submitted a filing with federal officials for a cancer pharmaceutical as the company prepares to scale its operations. 

The drug master file, or DMF, for non-carrier-added lutetium-177 chloride has been submitted to the FDA, according to a release. This pharmaceutical product is used in a targeted therapy that “directly targets and attacks cancer cells,” the company says. 

Greg Piefer, founder and CEO of SHINE Technologies, says the submission “represents the next step in getting our product into regular commercial use.” It outlines the Janesville company’s facilities, procedures and other details related to manufacturing, processing and storage of drugs. 

“We’ve been producing lutetium-177 that meets or exceeds customer specifications for some time now,” Piefer said in the release. “We’re looking forward to growing our vertically-integrated and sustainable process to ensure the world has scalable access to these game-changing, cancer-destroying products as new therapies are approved.”

See a recent story on the company: 

See the release: 

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