Feb. 16, 2018

Governor’s rural economic development initiative moves forward

During his State of the State Address last month, Gov. Scott Walker proposed the creation of a new Rural Economic Development Fund that would provide $1 billion over the next 20 years for programs to advance economic growth in rural communities in Wisconsin. Earlier this week, legislation (AB 912/SB 769) to establish the Fund was approved unanimously by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. Click here to read WEDA’s written testimony on the bill.

The bill would provide WEDC with the authority to expend $50 million a year for twenty years to promote economic development in rural counties with a population density of less than 155 people per square mile. Under the proposal, 56 of the state’s 72 counties would qualify.

WEDA was supportive of the initial version of the legislation, but also strongly supported an amendment passed by the Finance Committee to provide funding directly to county and regional economic development organizations. The amendment, which is now attached to the bill, would:

  • Require WEDC to use $5 million in one-time funding to create a revolving loan fund grant program for rural county and regional EDOs. Eligible EDOs would receive $250,000 to establish or expand a revolving loan fund that promotes economic development and entrepreneurial start-ups . Grants of more than $250,000 could be awarded to a consortium of rural county EDOs.
  • Require WEDC to award one-time grants of $50,000 to rural county and regional EDOs for program operations and marketing.

The full Assembly will consider the bill next Tuesday, Feb. 20.

If you have any questions on the bill, please contact the WEDA office at weda@weda.org.

Wetland regulatory reform bill approved by state Assembly

Last night, as part of a marathon floor session, the Assembly passed wetland regulatory reform legislation (AB 547/SB 600) on a mostly party-line vote. However, before passing the bill, lawmakers amended the legislation, which made significant changes to the original proposal.

The initial version of the bill eliminated DNR permitting requirements for artificial wetlands and isolated, non-federal wetlands. It also exempted artificial wetlands from mitigation requirements. The comprehensive amendment to the legislation, which the bill’s author called a reasonable compromise that would still meet his goal of streamlining the wetland permitting process for some developers, would do the following:

State Permitting Exemptions:

  • Exempts from state permitting requirements any discharge into a non-federal wetland in an urban area if the discharge: 1.) Does not impact more than one acre of wetland per parcel; and 2.) Does not impact a rare, high-quality wetland. An urban area is defined an incorporated area, an area within one-half mile of an incorporated area, or an area that is served by a sewerage system.
  • Exempts from state permitting requirements any discharge into a non-federal wetland that occurs outside an urban area if the discharge: 1.) Does not impact more than three acres of wetland per parcel; 2.) Does not impact a rare, high-quality wetland; and 3.) The project is for an agricultural purpose.
  • Exempts artificial wetlands from the state permitting process.

Mitigation Requirements:

  • For projects in an urban area that are exempt from state permitting requirements, mitigation is NOT required unless more than 10,000 square feet of wetland is impacted.
  • For projects outside an urban area that are exempt from state permitting requirements, mitigation is NOT required unless more than 1.5 acres of wetland is impacted.
  • Mitigation in NOT required for artificial wetlands.


  • DNR wetland identifications and confirmations for non-federal wetlands remain in effect for 15 years. Under current law, they expire after 5 years.
  • Local governments are prohibited from enacting an ordinance that would affect the wetland permitting exemptions and mitigation requirements created by the bill.

The Senate is expected to take up and pass the legislation as amended next week. The bill will then be sent to Gov. Walker for his signature.

WEDA’s talent attraction bill receives public hearing

Last week, the Assembly Workforce Development Committee held a public hearing on Assembly Bill 888, the talent attraction proposal WEDA has been working on for the past several months. The bill would help address Wisconsin’s workforce shortage crisis by offering financial incentives to encourage young professionals to live and work in Wisconsin after they graduate from college.

The hearing went extremely well, and while legislators asked numerous questions and held a robust discussion on the bill, they were generally supportive of the concept. Please click here to read WEDA’s written testimony on AB 888. WEDA would like to give a special thank you to the following members who took time out of their busy schedules to testify in favor of the bill at the hearing: Kristin Fish (Redevelopment Resources), Julie Gabelmann (Economic Development Washington County); and James Otterstein (Rock County Development Alliance). They did a fantastic job!

The pending legislation would help strengthen Wisconsin’s workforce by targeting an educated, work-ready population often overlooked: Out-of-state students that attend Wisconsin’s public colleges and universities. Each year, over 3,000 non-resident students graduate from UW System intuitions. Unfortunately, over 90% of them leave Wisconsin within two years after graduation. The legislation would help reverse this trend by offering out-of-state graduates the opportunity to earn “in-state tuition” by remaining in Wisconsin for two years after graduation to live, work, and pay taxes.

Under the bill, eligible individuals would be reimbursed, over five years, 50% of the difference between in-state tuition and what they were charged for non-resident tuition. If they leave the state or stop working, they would lose eligibility and any future benefits. The bill provides a bold, forward-thinking public policy that begins to address Wisconsin’s talent gaps and workforce shortage.

Since the bill was introduced late in the legislative session, it does face a steep uphill battle in passing before the Legislature adjourns for the year (likely sometime next month). However, WEDA will continue to advocate for the legislation and work with legislators both in the short and long-term on talent attraction and retention policies.

Dark stores legislation losing momentum in Legislature

One of WEDA’s top legislative priorities in 2018 appears to be on “life support” in the Legislature. The Dark Store bill (AB 386/SB 292) that would close the dark store property tax loophole in Wisconsin is unlikely to receive a floor vote in the Senate or Assembly before the end of the legislative session.

Under the dark store theory, retail chains argue their stores should be valued as if they were empty or “dark,” rather than a thriving, active business. This selective application of the property assessment methodology benefits one property taxpayer over another, shifting a larger tax burden to homeowners and local businesses. Regular use of the dark store loophole will also jeopardize the financial health of TIF districts across the state.

The pending legislation would close the dark store loophole by requiring assessors to consider certain factors when comparing properties to determine the value of a property for tax purposes. More specifically, the legislation provides that a property is not comparable to the property being assessed if the property is vacant or “dark” or if restrictions have been placed on the highest and best use of the property.

Although a key Senate Committee unanimously approved the bill, Legislative leaders have recently said the bill would not pass this session.

Historic tax credit restoration bill primed for legislative approval

Legislation (AB 793/SB 668) to restore the state’s historic tax credit (HTC) as a powerful redevelopment tool is moving through the legislative process. The Joint Finance Committee recently approved the bill, which will be considered by the full Assembly on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

The bill will “fix” the governor’s partial budget veto last fall that limited HTC awards $500,000 per project. The veto significantly diminished this program’s economic impact in communities across Wisconsin. The pending legislation would increase the per project HTC cap to $3.5 million, reestablishing the program as an important redevelopment tool and a key driver of economic activity in Wisconsin.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the Senate.

Bill to eliminate State Trust Fund Loan program faces uphill battle

A bill being considered by the Legislature to eliminate the State Trust Fund Loan (STFL) program administered by the Board of Commissioners of Public Land is unlikely to pass in the current legislative session.

State Trust Fund loans provide financing for public purpose projects, including economic development and local infrastructure projects. Elimination of the STFL program would take away one of the few financing tools available to communities across Wisconsin. STFL loans, which play a major role in economic development projects, are a tremendous option for local governments, as they can be executed more quickly and at a lower cost than other financing options.

The bill (AB 857 / SB 713), which is strongly opposed by WEDA, received a public hearing in the Senate, but appears to be stalled in the Assembly.

THINK-MAKE-HAPPEN funding bill to receive vote in Assembly

Legislation that would provide $6.8 million for WEDC’s Think-Make-Happen marketing platform – designed to retain top talent and encourage young professionals to move to Wisconsin – will be considered by the full Assembly next week.

The bill (AB 811/SB 679), which is supported by WEDA, would provide the funding necessary to build off the current Think-Make-Happen platform, expanding its reach and focusing on key populations that are more likely to relocate to Wisconsin, including millennials from neighboring states, Wisconsin alumni, and veterans separating from the military.

The legislation would also require greater collaboration and resource sharing among state agencies, which should result in a more consistent and effective message that is needed to help
attract skilled employees to Wisconsin.

The bill is expected to pass the Assembly before it’s sent to the Senate for further consideration later this month or in early March.