Finance Committee Votes on Controversial Issues

As the finance committee wades deeper into the budget mire, the issues become more complex and controversial. On Tuesday, JFC voted, mostly on party lines, on proposals related to public employee benefits, environmental fees, and food share.

Double Dipping

JFC voted to slightly change the governor’s proposal to limit the ability of retired public employees to be rehired at part time and collect a salary and retirement benefits, popularly known as double-dipping.

Under the committee’s 12-4 party-line vote, public employees would have to wait 75 days before they could be rehired, up from the current 30 days. The proposal would also prohibit future retirees who are re-hired from collecting their retirement benefits as well as their paycheck, if they are working at least two-thirds time, which is defined as 1,392 hours per year.

Smoking Fee

A proposal that would require state workers and retirees to pay an additional $50 per month for their health insurance passed on a 13-3 vote with Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) voting with the Republicans.

High Capacity Wells

A motion offered by Rep. Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade) that would limit challenges to high-capacity well permits passed JFC 12-4 on a party-line vote.

The proposal would prohibit permit challenges based on the DNR’s decision not to consider the cumulative environmental impacts of a high-capacity well (able to pump over 100,000 gallons of water each day) on other wells and water sources.

This has been a contentious issue in Wisconsin since the 2011 Supreme Court ruling in Lake Beulah Management Dist. et al. v. DNR et al., where the Court ruled the DNR must sometimes consider cumulative impacts when reviewing a permit for such a well.

State Air Fees

Rep. LeMahieu also authored a significant motion on state air fees that passed on a party-line vote.

Under current law, true minor sources (sources that are not capable of emitting air pollutants above threshold limits established by U.S. EPA) and synthetic minors (sources that could theoretically emit above federal thresholds but who agree to permit limitations to emit below federal levels) pay annual permit fees to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as state regulated sources. State regulated sources also include a category referred to as SM80’s or synthetic minor sources who agree to permit limits that allow them to emit between 80% and 100% of the federal source thresholds. The state permit program covers a total of 1,850 sources, comprised of 902 synthetic minors, 798 natural or true minor sources, and 142 SM80’s. Also under current law, synthetic minors and true minors pay an annual permit fee of $300 (1,708 of 1,850 total sources) and SM80’s pay $4,100 per year.

Under the Governor’s budget bill (AB 40), the annual fee for state regulated sources was proposed to increase from $300 to $725. Neither the original bill nor the JFC motion proposed to change the current $4,100 fee for SM80 sources.

The motion ultimately adopted by JFC made the following changes:

  • Deleted the original proposed fee increase (from $300 to $725 per year) and instead adopted a $100 increase (from $300 to $400). The JFC increase is estimated to generate $170,800 per year in new fee revenue compared to $725,900 under the original bill.
  • Deleted 8 full time positions in the state air permit program. (Under current law the department is authorized 20 positions but only has fee revenue to fill 9 of those 20). The motion trues up revenues and positions and cuts 8 vacant positions leaving the department with authority to fill a total of 12 positions).

In addition, the JFC motion included a number of provisions supported by industry that directed the DNR to pursue efficiencies in the state air permit program and reduce the regulatory burden on Wisconsin businesses. Those streamlining provisions included:

  • Expanding the ability to obtain a registration operation permit for sources that agree to limit emissions below 50% of the federal source limits. Currently, registration operation permits are only available for sources that agree to limits below 25% of the federal source limits.
  • Requiring DNR to exempt true minor sources from operation permits and requiring DNR to pursue any necessary state implementation plan (SIP) amendments to get true minors out of the state/federal plan.
  • Requiring DNR to contact state regulated sources and provide information on the benefits of registration permits and potential for exemptions.
  • Requiring DNR to evaluate and develop rules to streamline current reporting, recordkeeping and monitoring requirements.

Federal Air Fees

Under the federal Clean Air Act (CAA), states are required to assess emissions fees on a tonnage basis from federally-regulated sources at a level that is adequate to cover the state’s costs associated with reducing emissions at the facilities being assessed the fee. Originally, the fees in Wisconsin were adjusted yearly according to changes in the consumer price index. However, 1999 Act 9 removed the CPI adjustment and instead set the rate at $35.71 per ton

According to LFB paper #475, “In 2011-12, DNR assessed almost $6.4 million on over 178,000 tons of pollutants emitted by approximately 370 federally-regulated sources, and collected $6,568,000. (The amount collected was slightly larger than the amount assessed because it includes some fees assessed in the prior year and collected in 2011-12.) DNR estimates it will assess approximately $6.2 million in 2012-13.”

The amount of revenue generated by the Title V air permit fees are estimated to reduce overtime due to declining emissions, so the governor proposed increasing fees to continue to cover current program costs.

Gov. Walker’s original budget proposed to raise the federal operation permit from $35.71 per ton of certain pollutants to $46.71 per ton in 2014 and $59.81 per ton in 2015. The original proposal also sought to reinstate an annual increase of 4 percent after 2015

The governor later amended the proposal to retain the current emission fee of $35.71 per ton because the original proposed fee amounts were calculated from outdated emission data. In addition to retaining the current $35.71 per ton, the governor’s amended proposal added the following fees paid by an owner or operator of a stationary source that requires a Title V operation permit under the federal Clean Air Act:

  • An annual base fee of $3,000.
  • If one or more Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards apply to the source, an annual fee of $960.
  • If one or more New Source Performance Standards apply to the source, an annual fee of $960.
  • If federal Prevention of Significant Deterioration permitting applies to the source, an annual fee of $1,500.
  • If the source is electric generating source that included a coal-fired generating unit and the source is not publicly owned, an annual fee of $46,980.

The Joint Finance Committee adopted the Governor’s amended proposal and tacked on these additional fees beginning in 2014 based on the previous year’s emissions:

  • $900 if the source emitted 10 tons of billable emissions.
  • $1,300 if the source emitted between 10 tons and 25 tons.
  • $1,600 if the source emitted between 25 tons and 50 tons.
  • $2,300 if the source emitted between 50 tons and 80 tons.
  • $3,000 if the source emitted more than 80 tons.

Based on the revisions adopted by the JFC, the estimated revenue from the federal air permit fees is less than the governor’s revised request, but generates more than the current law. Again, the new fees are to ensure that the state is generating adequate revenues to comply with the federal law.

LFB estimates the state will generate $7,674,700 from the federal air permit fees adopted by the JFC. Had the current law remained in effect, the state would have generated $5,817,100 in 2013-14.


The committee voted 12-4 to require able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) to be employed at least 20 hours per week, participate in a work-training program at least 20 hours per week, or a combination of the two, in order to receive FoodShare benefits.

The federal program include a work requirement, but Wisconsin, like most other states, had received a waiver. If this proposal becomes law, Wisconsin would be only the sixth state actually enforcing a statewide work requirement.

Selling State Property

A provision adopted by JFC would allow the Department of Administration and the Building Commission to sell or lease state-owned properties if it is in the best interest of the state.

All properties would be required to be assessed by DOA and at least one privately owned assessor, and any sale would need approval from the state Building Commission (which consists of the governor, three state senators, three state representatives and a citizen member) and the JFC.

JFC also added a provision barring sale of properties if half or more of their cost was funded with gifts or federal money.

Frac Sand

JFC left in place Gov. Walker’s proposal to give DNR two additional positions to regulate the industrial sand mining industry.