TUE AM News: Development leaders in Madison and Milwaukee say business is booming; Tax collections running ahead of expectations

— Downtown development leaders for Madison and Milwaukee say business is booming in the state’s two largest cities as each continues to rebound from the pandemic lull. 

“Now is the time to really say, everyone in the community, let’s bet on downtown Madison, let’s bet on downtown Milwaukee, as a true economic development generator for the entire region, because this is where the action happens,” Downtown Madison President Jason Ilstrup said yesterday during a Wisconsin Policy Forum luncheon event in Milwaukee. “This is where people want to be.” 

Beth Weirick, CEO of Milwaukee Downtown, highlighted “overwhelming confidence” among both employers and real estate developers in the city’s downtown area. She pointed to the area’s relatively low residential vacancy rate as a great asset, as well as a challenge for the city. 

“We have one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, like 2.4 percent, and I guess the median is around 7 or 8 [percent] so it tells us that there’s definitely a market there for more housing,” she said. “Whether it’s commercial investment or residential investment, it’s happening.” 

Ilstrup noted Madison has 4,000 apartment units slated for construction in the downtown area, as well as 600 hotel rooms, with projects from both local developers as well as others from across the country. 

He also said major employers in Dane County that don’t have a presence downtown, such as Epic and Exact Sciences, are “really understanding how important downtowns are” for their own success and recruiting. He said electronic health records company Epic, which has about 12,000 employees, plans to hire about 4,000 more this year. 

“They believe that a quarter of their workforce — so 3,000 people — live in the downtown, so they understand how important the downtown is for recruiting that 22-26 year-old talent,” he said. 

Milwaukee Department of City Development Commissioner Lafayette Crump gave an overview of the city’s evolving downtown plan at yesterday’s event. He noted the previous plan ended in 2010, and most projects identified under that framework have been completed. 

The department is currently taking public comments on the next plan, and has gotten more than 1,500 comments so far from over 800 people hailing from all but one of Milwaukee’s ZIP codes. Crump said the plan will include expanding transportation options including public transit, making the city more walkable and bikeable, and doubling down on environmental, social and economic sustainability. 

“It has to be ideas that can stick around, that are really making an impact for years to come,” he said. 

— Tax collections for the fiscal year that ends this month are running ahead of projections, putting the state in line for another boost to the general fund.

The Department of Revenue last week reported general fund tax collections through the end of May were up 5.2 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau had projected general fund tax collections would drop by 3.2 percent for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

LFB Director Bob Lang noted corporations make their estimated tax payments largely in four months, including June. Through the end of May, the state had collected $2.4 billion in corporate taxes. That matches what LFB projected in January the state would take in for the full 12-month period.

“I think we’ve got a lot of strength (in collections), in corporate in particular,” Lang said.

The state’s largest three general fund taxes are individual income, sales and corporate. Lang said income and sales also look strong.

In January, the LFB upped its projected surplus for the 2021-23 budget to $3.8 billion, nearly $2.9 billion more than what it had expected when the budget was signed last summer.

The Republican co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee urged a cautious approach if collections come in above projections.

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said taxes on businesses and consumers are higher due to inflation. Meanwhile, Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, also stressed that sales tax collections are strong, in part, because prices are higher due to inflation.

He warned there are “lots of clouds on the horizon” with the possibility of an economic slowdown.

“I think we need to be cautious about spending it,” Marklein said. “I think a year from now when we’re wrapping up our budget, I think we’re going to be glad that we’ve got the resources.”

The LFB will issue a summary later this summer on preliminary tax collections for the full fiscal year, which ends June 30. The Evers administration will then do a look at tax collections in November, when it releases a preliminary projection for the 2023-25 biennium. The LFB will do its next look at revenues two months later in January.

Lang noted there’s some uncertainty over the second year of the 2021-23 biennium between inflation, rising interest rates and the possibility of a recession.

See last week’s DOR report:

— Komatsu has opened its new $285 million campus in Milwaukee’s Harbor District, a release from Gov. Tony Evers shows. 

The 58-acre facility includes space for manufacturing and research, offices and a robotics lab, according to the release. The manufacturing operations make components for various mining machinery. 

“With more than 135 years of history in Milwaukee, Komatsu is demonstrating exactly how important it is for global companies to continue to invest in Wisconsin and exactly why they should,” Evers said in the release. 

The project is supported by $1.7 million for local rail and road improvements from the state Department of Transportation, as well as up to $59.5 million in performance-based enterprise zone tax credits authorized by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. The company can earn the tax credits through job creation and retention, capital investment and the use of state-based supply chains. 

According to the release, Komatsu has spent over $600 million with Wisconsin suppliers in the past five years. 

See more on the new facility in the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/gov-evers-company-leaders-celebrate-opening-of-komatsus-new-milwaukee-south-harbor-campus/ 

— State officials have announced Wisconsin’s SeniorCare Program has gotten federal approval to cover certain vaccines members get at pharmacies. 

This includes vaccines against shingles, tetanus, meningitis and Hepatitis A and B, according to a release from the state Department of Health Services. That’s after approval was granted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the release shows. 

DHS says members can use this benefit later this month after receiving notice by mail. 

SeniorCare is a prescription drug assistance program for state residents aged 65 or older, and currently has more than 100,000 seniors enrolled. Gov. Tony Evers announced in 2019 that CMS had approved a 10-year extension for the program, first created in 2002. 

DHS says SeniorCare members with other insurance that covers vaccines, such as Medicare Part D, must first utilize primary coverage and the SeniorCare program then covers any copays or deductibles. And members with Medicare Part B coverage will have to continue to get certain vaccines at the doctor’s office, including those for the flu, pneumonia and COVID-19, per the release. 

DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake says the agency hopes the expanded vaccine coverage under SeniorCare will lead to higher vaccination rates for preventable diseases. 

“Being able to help Wisconsin’s seniors get many of the vaccines they need at their local pharmacies continues the success we’ve had in working with our pharmacy partners to make vaccines more accessible in communities across Wisconsin,” she said in the release. 

See the release: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/news/releases/062722.htm 

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— The latest USDA report shows crop growth for corn, soybeans and oats remains behind the level of growth at this time last year. 

A report from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service shows last week “hot and mostly dry” conditions were ideal for making hay, but “more precipitation would be welcome as soils have become drier.” 

According to the report, the level of corn emerged was 95 percent, which is two weeks behind last year’s rate and three days behind the five-year average. 

The level of soybeans emerged was 93 percent, which is 12 days behind last year but two days ahead of the five-year average. 

And oats emerged reached 93 percent last week, which is over three weeks behind last year and 11 days behind the average. 

Farmers in Wisconsin had six days suitable for field work last week, the most in a week so far this June. That number was 5.5 days for the first week of June, 4.4 days for the second week and 5.2 days for the third week. 

See the full report: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Wisconsin/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/2022/WI-Crop-Progress-06-27-22.pdf 


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