Capitol Buzz
November 11, 2020
Legislative Leaders Selected for 2021-2022 Session

Last week, Senate Republicans met and selected Senator Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) as Majority Leader for the upcoming session, replacing newly-elected Congressman Scott Fitzgerald. One of the first actions the new Majority Leader took this week was to appoint Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) as co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, replacing Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

The Senate Republicans also selected the following officers last week:

  • Senate President – Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield)
  • Senate President Pro Tempore – Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Pt.)
  • Senate Assistant Majority Leader – Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac)
  • Caucus Chair – Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine)

The Assembly Republican Caucus voted to retain Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) as Speaker. This is Rep. Vos's fifth term in that role. He is the longest serving Speaker in Wisconsin history.

Most other major leadership positions in the Assembly remain the same. Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) will stay on as Assembly Majority Leader and Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) will continue to serve as speaker pro tempore. Rep. Kevin Peterson (R-Waupaca) was selected assistant majority leader.

The Assembly Democrats voted to retain Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) as minority leader. Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) will again serve as assistant minority leader. Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) was re-elected to serve as caucus chair.

The Senate Democrats chose as their leaders:

  • Senate Minority Leader - Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Mason)
  • Assistant Minority Leader -- Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville)
  • Caucus Chair -- Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire)
Voters Approve Seven Municipal Levy Limit Referendums

Last week, twelve levy limit referendums were conducted by ten cities and villages. Of the 12 municipal referendums, 5 failed and 7 passed.

The Village of Arena submitted 3 levy limit questions to the voters. One sought an increase for full time EMT staff. The purpose of the second referendum was for street maintenance and capital equipment. The third was for employee wage and benefit increases. All three failed.

The Village of Pulaski sought a 27% levy increase for the purpose of hiring a village administrator, making infrastructure improvements, and various park improvements. The referendum failed.

City of Racine voters rejected a 6.5% levy increase to help pay health insurance costs for retired city employees.
Turning to communities that passed levy limit referendums, City of Elkhorn voters approved a 28% increase in the levy for enhanced EMS services. City of Beaver Dam voters approved a 4.3% levy increase ($487,000 ongoing) to hire 6 new fire department personnel.

City of Delafield voters approved a 4% increase in the levy ($257,000 ongoing) to maintain existing service levels for police, fire, EMS, public works, and administrative services.

Village of Maple Bluff voters passed a 34% levy increase to accomplish the following: reinstatement of one police officer and one fire officer, adding one police officer, establishing competitive wage rates for administration, fire and public works personnel, recuperating loss of transportation aid and adequately funding health, education and retirement liabilities.

Finally, the villages of Darien, Sharon, and Walworth passed levy increases necessary to help fund the establishment and maintenance of a third party contract for providing full-time paramedic level EMS services for all of the participating jurisdictions.
Levy Limit Exception for Unreimbursed COVID Expenditures

Staff for the Wisconsin Counties Association kindly shared with us a memo that they sent to their membership last week highlighting a levy limit exception that applies to unreimbursed expenses associated with declared emergencies. Relevant parts of the WCA memo are pasted below.

The levy limit statute (Wis. Stat. sec. 66.0602) provides certain exceptions for categories of expenses that are not subject to the levy limit calculation.
Section 66.0602(3)(e)8. contains an exception that, until now, has not been frequently utilized. This exception provides that the levy limit does not apply to:

The amount that a political subdivision levies in that year to pay the unreimbursed expenses related to an emergency declared under s. 323.10, including any amounts levied in that year to replenish cash reserves that were used to pay any unreimbursed expenses related to that emergency. A levy under this subdivision that relates to a particular emergency initially shall be imposed in the year in which the emergency is declared or in the following year.

Based upon this language, the levy limit exception applies to (1) unreimbursed expenses, (2) related to an emergency declared under s. 323.10, (3) in the year in which the emergency is declared or the following year.

1. Unreimbursed Expenses. The COVID-19 pandemic has created
significant unanticipated expenses for local governments. Many of you have submitted claims for reimbursement under the Routes to Recovery Grant program, which is funded through the CARES Act. Nonetheless, there may be expenses that your local government has incurred that will either (1) not be reimbursed through Routes to Recovery; or (2) be deemed ineligible for funding under Routes to Recovery. The levy limit exception in sec. 66.0602(3)(e)8. is not related to the Routes to Recovery program. In other words, your municipality is eligible to claim an exception to the statutory levy limit for expenses attributable to the declared emergency without regard to the municipality's eligibility for
reimbursement under Routes to Recovery.

2. Declared Emergency. We have operated under a state of emergency
declared under Wis. Stat. sec. 323.10 (declaration by Governor) in the
following time periods in 2020:
  • March 12 to May 11
  • July 30 to present (set to expire November 21)

3. Timing of Levy Limit Exception. The declared state(s) of emergency occurred in 2020. According to the statute, any expenses incurred this year are eligible for the levy limit exception in setting the levy for 2021 or for 2022. The Department of Revenue (DOR) has not had an opportunity to interpret and apply the levy limit exception found in Wis. Stat. sec. 66.0602(3)(e)8. Based upon WCA's discussions with DOR, the exception has, until now, been used in natural disaster situations involving FEMA funding. Nonetheless, the statute is not limited in its scope or application to natural disaster or FEMA-qualifying events.

Read the full Wisconsin Counties Association memo here.
Ehlers' Video Provides Guidance on Completing DOR's Levy Limit Worksheet

Staff at Ehlers recently released a levy limit worksheet tutorial video for Wisconsin local governments. The video provides step-by-step instructions for completing this year's levy limit worksheet. It also provides important information about recent legislative changes for 2021 and offers strategies that may provide financial advantages for your community.