TUE AM News: GOP lawmakers touting bill to cover transportation costs for blind workers; DOT raises estimate for highway project costs

— GOP lawmakers are touting a bill that would provide a transportation tax credit for blind employees as a way to boost Wisconsin’s workforce. 

Rep. Dave Steffen, R-Green Bay, and Sen. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, are currently circulating the bill for cosponsorship. In a memo sent to all state lawmakers, they note that about 70 percent of blind state residents are unemployed, referencing data from the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

They argue that access to affordable and reliable transportation is “often the greatest barrier to employment” for blind people. 

“While folks who are legally blind possess the motivation, education and talents to professionally contribute to the workforce, they remain almost entirely untapped, often due to transportation barriers,” they wrote in the memo. “This bill works to remove this obstacle to employment for people who are legally blind and will reduce our statewide workforce shortage by empowering this often ignored population.” 

The legislation would create a nonrefundable income tax credit to cover the cost of certain transportation services between the blind recipient’s residence and workplace, according to an analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau. That can include mass transit, taxicabs or a transportation network company, as well as “paratransit” options offering non-fixed-route services, otherwise known as community transport. 

The credit would equal 50 percent of the cost of those services for a taxable year, capped at $1,500 for that period. 

LRB notes claimants would not be able to claim a credit for amounts paid from an ABLE account if that person claimed a state individual income tax subtraction for funds deposited into that account. ABLE accounts are tax-exempt savings accounts that can pay for certain expenses for those with disabilities, the memo shows. 

The cosponsorship deadline for the bill is 5 p.m. Friday. 

More than 100,000 people in Wisconsin report being blind or having “severe difficulty” seeing even with glasses, according to a CDC report. It also shows people with severe visual impairment are more likely to have other challenges such as arthritis and mobility issues. 

See the memo: https://www.wisconsinlobbyists.com/resources/Co-Sponsorship%20Memos/8.4.2023/LRB-2105%20Transportation%20Tax%20Credit%20for%20Workers%20who%20are%20Legally%20Blind%20Memo.pdf 

See the CDC report here: https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/pdf/state-profile/wisconsin-508.pdf 

— The current estimated costs for nine major highway projects in Wisconsin is now more than $3.7 billion — $101.9 million more than when the last projection was done in February, according to the Department of Transportation.

The agency chalked up the increase of 2.8 percent to higher costs for the expansion of I-41 in Brown County.

The additional $73 million for that project — an increase of 6.6 percent — is due to a combination of additional real estate needs, improvements to an alternate route and general design refinements, according to a letter DOT Secretary Craig Thompson sent to the Transportation Projects Commission last week.

DOT updates the TPC twice a year on the status of projects.

The increase in cost for the nine major highway projects includes work such as the expansion of state Highway 50 in Kenosha County and work on I-41 in the Milwaukee area.

There were no cost increases for the highways that fall under the southeast megaprojects category. That includes I-94 north-south and the Zoo Interchange, which are largely complete.

Read the letter: https://wisconsindot.gov/Documents/projects/6yr-hwy-impr/maj-hwy/status.pdf

— UW-Stout has finished installing a new solar project at the campus’ Jarvis Hall Technology Wing. 

The university yesterday announced the completion of its largest solar project to date, which is part of an ongoing energy efficiency effort. Eagle Point Solar of Dubuque, Iowa recently installed 560 solar panels on the building’s roof. 

According to the release, the overall energy efficiency project will reduce annual electric energy purchases by 9 percent and natural gas use by 2 percent, saving the university about $172,000 per year. Other elements include more efficient lighting and other changes to lower energy consumption. 

UW-Stout Sustainability Manager Kadi Wright says the university is “committed to neutralizing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and this project is a step in that direction.” 

See the release: https://www.uwstout.edu/about-us/news-center/uw-stouts-largest-solar-panel-array-date-installed-boosting-campus-sustainability 

— Organizers for the Wisconsin Innovation Awards have announced the 25 finalists for this year’s program. 

These startups, established companies and other organizations were selected by a panel of 19 judges out of more than 300 nominees, according to yesterday’s announcement. Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in Madison on Oct. 10. 

The finalists hail from communities across Wisconsin, including Madison, Wauwatosa, Menasha, Eau Claire and elsewhere. 

The Wisconsin Innovation Awards were created by entrepreneur Matt Younkle and Joseph Boucher, a founding shareholder of the Madison law firm Neider & Boucher, according to the program’s website. 

See the full list of finalists here: https://www.wisbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/WIA-2023-Finalists_FINAL.pdf 

See more: https://www.wisconsininnovationawards.com/ 

— Northwestern Mutual will provide $2.5 million in grants and scholarships for Milwaukee-area students over the next five years. 

The financial services business yesterday announced the pledge, which aims to support 136 students. It includes $500,000 for the HBCU Connection Scholarship, which helps students pursuing education at historically black colleges and universities. 

Meanwhile, the company is also providing $2 million to All-In Milwaukee, a college completion program that offers financial aid, advising and other support to “high-potential, limited-income, diverse” students in the area. 

See more details in the release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/northwestern-mutuals-2-5-million-investment-in-higher-education-will-support-136-diverse-students-over-the-next-five-years-301894035.html 

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— Researchers in Madison have created a cancer diagnosis method that relies on machine learning technology. 

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