March 9, 2018

Legislature approves wetland regulatory reform bill

Legislation to streamline the regulation of state wetlands recently won approval from the Legislature and was sent to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. The bill (AB 547) would reform the state wetland permitting process and exempt man-made wetlands from mitigation requirements.

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukana) to help modernize the current regulatory process that has proved to be a costly obstacle to development and business expansion.

The version of the bill lawmakers ultimately passed was not as wide-ranging as the original proposal, which would have eliminated the permitting process for all isolated, non-federal wetlands. The bill was amended after a compromise was reached with conservation and outdoor sporting organizations. The bill as amended and approved by the Legislature will do the following:

  • Artificial Wetlands
    • Exempts all man-made, artificial wetlands from the state permitting process.
    • Specifies that mitigation is not required for filling artificial wetlands.
  • State Permitting Exemption:
    • Exempts from state permitting any discharge into an urban, non-federal wetland, defined as a wetland located in or within a half-mile of a municipality, 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.
    • Exempts from state permitting 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.
  • Mitigation Exemption:
    • For projects in an urban area that are exempt from state permitting, 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, mitigation is NOT required unless more than 1.5 acres of wetland is impacted.
  • Other:
    • Specifies DNR wetland identifications and confirmations for non-federal wetlands remain effective for 15 years.
    • Prohibits local governments from enacting an ordinance that would create stricter wetland regulations than those created by the bill.

For more detailed information of the wetland regulatory reform bill, please review the WI Legislative Council memo on the amended version of the bill approved by lawmakers.

Lawmakers pass historic tax credit restoration bill

The Legislature also recently passed another critically important bill for economic development in Wisconsin – the historic tax credit restoration bill (SB 668). The legislation restores the state’s HTC program as a powerful redevelopment tool used in communities large and small across Wisconsin.

The bill, which increases the per project cap on HTC awards from $500,000 to $3.5 million, effectively “fixes” the governor’s partial budget veto that set the HTC per project cap at $500,000 beginning in July 2018. The governor is expected to sign the legislation raising the cap.

WEDA also actively engaged in advocacy efforts to preserve the federal HTC program, which was in jeopardy of being eliminated as part of the federal 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Fortunately, the federal HTC was saved, but Congress made the following changes to the program in the tax reform bill:

  • Eliminated the credit for qualified rehabilitated buildings constructed prior to 1936.
  • Requires the federal HTC credit for certified historic buildings to be paid out over five years, rather than in one lump sum when the project is placed in service.

The changes to the federal HTC also impacted Wisconsin’s program. Since Wisconsin’s HTC program acts as a supplement to the federal historic tax credits, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act modifications also apply to Wisconsin’s credits. As a result, the state credit for pre-1936 buildings is effectively eliminated and state credits for certified historic buildings must now be claimed over a five-year period.

Senate to determine fate of rural economic development initiative

In his February State of the State Address, Gov. Scott Walker proposed the creation of the Rural Economic Development Fund to boost the state’s investment in rural Wisconsin and provide new economic development opportunities for rural communities.

The governor realizes Wisconsin must take a new approach to rural economic development. While more populated areas of the state are thriving, the economic performance of rural Wisconsin is lagging. Lawmakers also understand the importance of boosting the rural economy.

Last month, the Assembly unanimously passed legislation (AB 912) to establish the fund. The bill would invest $1 billion over the next twenty years in programs administered by WEDC to promote business growth, attract private investment, and strengthen the rural workforce. It would also provide funding directly to local economic develop organizations for the following purposes:

  • $250,000 in one-time funding for eligible county and regional economic development organizations in rural areas to create or expand a revolving loan fund that promotes economic development and entrepreneurial start-ups.
  • $50,000 in one-time funding for county and regional in EDOs that serve a rural area for program operations and marketing.

However, the Senate has yet to consider the legislation. They are is scheduled to meet once more this year (March 20), but there is no guarantee they will take-up and pass the bill. The significant cost of the program — $50 million a year for twenty years – has been an issue of concern for some senators and could ultimately derail passage of the bill.

WEDA has been extremely busy in the State Capitol advocating for the bill, and we have asked WEDA members to contact their senators to encourage them to support the legislation. We have also been working with other key stakeholders, including NAIOP-Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Paper Council, to help advance the bill through the legislative process. Click here to read WEDA’s coalition memo to the Senate on AB 912.

If you haven’t already, please call or-e-mail your senator and urge him or her to support the Rural Economic Development Fund bill. If you need assistance engaging your senator, please contact the WEDA office at

Latest Marquette Law School poll shows public divided on Foxconn

According to the latest Marquette University Law School poll, Wisconsin voters are skeptical of the state’s investment to bring Foxconn to Wisconsin. The survey of 800 registered voters conducted in late February found 49 percent of voters do not think the Foxconn plant will be worth the investment by taxpayers, while 38 percent think the investment will pay off.
Also, while 57 percent of those surveyed think the Foxconn project will substantially improve the economy of the greater Milwaukee area, only 25 percent of voters believe the plant will benefit businesses where they live.

In addition to Foxconn, the Marquette poll surveyed voters on several hot-button issues, including guns, education, and immigration. The poll also asked voters what they thought of the job performance of President Trump and Gov. Walker, as well as their opinion on candidates for statewide office in the 2018 election races. Please find below some of the key results:

  • President Trump:
    • 43 percent of respondents approved of the President’s job performance, while 50 percent disapproved. In June 2017, the Marquette poll had his approval rating at 41 percent.
  • Direction of the State:
    • 53 percent of voters surveyed said Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, while 44 percent say it is going in the wrong direction. Last June, the numbers were similar, with 53 percent saying right direction and 42 percent saying wrong direction.
  • Gov. Walker:
    • Voters are evenly split on the Governor – 47 percent approve of his job performance while 47 percent disapprove. In the June 2017 Marquette poll, the Governor had a 48-48 split.
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin:
    • 37 percent of registered voters have a favorable impression of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, while 39 percent do not. Last June, her approval rating stood at 38 percent for and 38 percent against.

Click here to read the full poll results.

WEDA Bill Tracker: Stay informed on the latest legislative activity

The current legislative session is coming to a close and the flurry of legislative activity under the Capitol dome is beginning to wane. However, staying up-to-date on the latest legislative development remains a challenge, as nearly1,900 bills have been introduced over the past 14 months. Fortunately, WEDA members don’t need to weed though the stacks of bills to identify those that will impact economic development in Wisconsin.

Instead, you can simply visit the WEDA Bill Tracker to find information on and the status of economic development legislation that has been passed or is still being considered by the Legislature.

You can also view WEDA’s priority legislation grid for a quick update on the issues and bills that will have the biggest impact on WEDA members and economic development in Wisconsin.