Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader Telegram. November 14, 2022.

Editorial: Grants provide small businesses an opportunity

Starting a new business is hard. The past few years haven’t made things any easier. The combination of the disruptions of the pandemic and this year’s skyrocketing inflation have made this one of the toughest times in memory to try setting up shop.

Some people have tried it, though, and for those who are still around there is help. If you’ve opened a business since the beginning of 2021, it’s worth checking out the state’s bounce-back grants.

Formally called the Wisconsin Tomorrow Main Street Bounceback Grants, the program is aimed at one-time assistance for physical stores. Up to $10,000 is available for those who opened a new location or expanded into existing spaces of 400 square feet or more.

Funding for Barron, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Polk and St. Croix counties is from the federal government but being distributed by the state through the West Central Regional Planning Commission.

There’s considerable flexibility in the funds’ use, according to the commission, which says they “can be used to pay leases or mortgages, operational expenses and other business costs related to the newly opened location as of January 1, 2021.” And the funding is open to both for-profit and non-profit operations.

National and regional chains aren’t eligible unless they’re independently owned and operated as a franchise. Neither are home-based businesses unless they set up a storefront elsewhere.

The grants can provide $10,000. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s well worth investigating if you think your business qualifies.

While it’s tempting to think programs like these won’t do much for the state compared to the mega-grants given to large businesses, we’re not sure that’s accurate at all. Small businesses often run on tight margins. An extra $10,000 could easily be the difference between making ends meet and closing up shop. And there are a lot more small businesses than most people realize.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy keeps tabs on states’ small business climates. The 2021 small business profile, which defines a small business as having fewer than 500 employees, showed 461,525 small businesses in Wisconsin. That accounts for 99.4% of all Wisconsin businesses.

Yes, you read that right. Large-scale companies in Wisconsin account for only 0.6% of the state’s businesses. Believe it or not, that’s actually a higher percentage than at the national level, where they add up to just 0.1%.

Professional, scientific and technical services make up the biggest portion of the state’s small businesses, with construction not far behind. Retail covers more than 50,000 businesses, too.

Granted, the vast majority of small businesses don’t exist beyond the time their founders remain with the companies. But during that time they make a very significant contribution to both our state and our nation. Small businesses drive local economies to a greater degree than many imagine, and certainly provide much of the texture and feel of any community. You’ll hear us harp on this again when Black Friday approaches, followed by Small Business Saturday.

Even if those smaller operations never become a massive employer, they create opportunity and you never know which one will eventually emerge as something much bigger, or kick off a chain reaction. Apple computers, famously, began in a garage. Jamf, founded just 20 years ago, spun off of the idea of helping businesses excel with Macs in the workplace. It’s trading at around $23 on Nasdaq.

It takes a special kind of person to launch a business while knowing the risks. The gains in new businesses for the state are small, often fewer than 1,000 per year. It would be a mistake to assume that all of the closures are failed businesses rather than retirements or sales to other companies, but a fair number are. There’s nothing guaranteed. And, still, people take that leap of faith.

So we hope local small businesses will take the time to at least see if they’re eligible for the bounce-back grants. And, if you are, we hope your business receives one. Having a vibrant small business community is important in the Chippewa Valley, and we want to see that continue.

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Kenosha News. November 13, 2022.

Editorial: Give us a break on energy price increases

Nobody likes flip-floppers.

That goes doubly so – and we do mean doubly – when a business is dipping into your wallet, especially during these times when inflation is already putting a heavy burden on homeowners, renters and small businesses.

That is where We Energies has gone with its proposal to boost electric rates across half of the state next year.

In its initial rate increase request We Energies was asking the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to boost residential electric rates by about $6 a month next year – an increase, but certainly a bearable one.

But in its latest filing this month, the utility, which serves about 1.1 million customers in the state, is now asking for more than double that – a boost of $14.61 a month that would jack up the electric costs for a typical Wisconsin residential customer by $175 a year. (It’s also asking for an increase in natural gas costs ranging up to $8 a month, even as home heating costs are expected to rise $20 to $30 a month this winter.)

On the other end of the electricity consuming spectrum – large industrial customers – We Energies initially proposed a 14% increase in their electric bills. But in this month’s revised request, the utility dropped that proposed increase for big businesses to 6.4%.

Now that’s a flip-flop of epic proportions.

We Energies spokesman Brendan Conway said the proposed allocation of how much each customer class pays is consistent with previous PSC decisions. In its filing, the company called the initial proposal for residential rates was “artificially low”, according to Milwaukee news reports. Rising costs and worsening economic conditions required it to change its proposed rates, the company said.

Say what? Is We Energies arguing that the effects of inflation are somehow falling harder on big businesses and industrial customers while skipping past homeowners, renters and small businesses? We’d like to see that data on that. Our monthly bills say otherwise.

Small wonder then that the utility’s revised rate request has drawn the ire of State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, who denounced it last week. “With consumers already facing inflationary prices on food, gas and other necessities, it’s a shame We Energies is seeking to raise residential rates even more, forcing families to stretch every dollar even further. The company has been bringing in ever-increasing profits, so it’s just not necessary to put the squeeze on Wisconsin families like this at this time.”

We agree with Sen. Wirch. We hope the state Public Service Commission gets to the bottom of this flip-flop on customer class increases and provides some relief to residential and small business customers when it takes up the case in December.

You might want to encourage the commissioners to do that by going to the PSC’s website and filing your own comments on this rate case.

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Wisconsin State Journal. November 13, 2022.

Editorial: Here’s who really won and lost in Wisconsin’s election

You’ve seen the results from last week’s elections: Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul won second terms, while Republicans held the Legislature and eked out a narrow victory for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh.

But what about all the people and priorities that weren’t on the ballot? Who really won and lost beyond the candidates themselves?

Here’s our scorecard:

Winners

Democracy

A relatively smooth election with decent turnout — 57% across the state, 65% in Dane County — led to clear results and gracious concession speeches. Other than a man arrested with a knife at a West Bend polling place, fears of disruptions and intimidation didn’t emerge. It was a nice return to democratic norms following Donald Trump’s endless conspiracy theories, frivolous lawsuits and the Jan. 6 riot denying his 2020 presidential loss.

Wisconsin Elections

Commission

Overseeing Tuesday’s vote was the politically balanced state elections commission that has weathered trumped-up and unfair accusations since Trump failed to concede his loss two years ago. The Republican candidates for governor and attorney general, Tim Michels and Eric Toney, respectively, suggested the commission should be disbanded and possibly charged with crimes. Both Michels and Toney lost. We hope Michels’ plan for single-party control over election administration died with his campaign.

Public education

Gov. Tony Evers’ signature issue has always been public schools. The former state schools superintendent wants to steer $2 billion of the state’s $5 billion surplus to K-12 education in the next two-year state budget. He’ll be able to veto attempts by the Republican-run Legislature to divert public dollars to private and religious schools — something Michels had championed. Sixty-four of 81 school referendums on Tuesday’s ballot passed, according to the state Department of Public Instruction, showing the need for greater state investment in public education.

Abortion rights

With the demise of Roe v. Wade in June, Wisconsin’s 1849 ban on most abortions appears enforceable again. Michels endorsed the archaic and strict law — approved before women could even vote — then tried to moderate his position. The issue undoubtedly encouraged more young people to cast ballot in the midterms, and it seemed to cost Michels votes in Milwaukee’s suburbs. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was already talking about adding exceptions to the law last week. Kaul’s lawsuit also will continue, contending the 1849 ban is unenforceable.

Independence

Wisconsin is still a purple state with a healthy independent streak that favors moderation. Tens of thousands of voters split their ballots Tuesday, rather than supporting the candidates of only one party. For statewide offices, Democrats won three races, while Republicans carried two. Maybe we aren’t as tribal as we thought?

Robin Vos

The longest-serving Assembly speaker won another term, having narrowly dispatched a Trump-endorsed election denier in the GOP primary for his Racine County seat. Trump went after Vos again in the general election with a robocall on behalf of Vos’ Republican opponent, who continued his haphazard bid to unseat Vos with a write-in campaign. Vos didn’t win the Assembly supermajority he yearned for to override the governor’s vetoes. But he remains the top Republican voice for the GOP in Wisconsin. Johnson won a third term in Washington but has far less say over state policy. Showing his confidence after the votes were counted, Vos called on his party to move past Trump. That’s the best idea he’s had in a long time.

Losers

Fair representation

The only reason Vos and his GOP colleagues could even dream of supermajorities was because they had redrawn voting districts in 2021 to their party’s advantage, enhancing previous gerrymandering from a decade ago.

They reshaped legislative districts using sophisticated software and historical voting data, expanding their majorities to nearly two-thirds of the Legislature on Tuesday. That’s an absurd result for a state that was otherwise so evenly split. Fair maps would thin Vos’ numbers. The only way that might happen in the coming years is if a new justice is elected to the state Supreme Court in the spring who views gerrymandering as unconstitutional.

Donald Trump

Many of the former president’s hand-picked, election-denying candidates lost, including in key U.S. Senate races. That means the Democrats could maintain control of the upper house on Capitol Hill. Johnson, a Trump loyalist, won in Wisconsin. But it was only by a single percentage point in a midterm scenario that historically Republicans would have dominated. Democrats held their own despite an unpopular president and stubborn inflation. Now an increasing number of Republicans are blaming Trump for their losses and calling for him to let others run for president in 2024.

Transparency

Much of the messaging this election cycle came from anonymous voices spending tens of millions of dollars on misleading attack ads that turned off most of the public. Transparency laws are needed so the special interests and wealthy individuals who pay for obnoxious ads have to stand by what they say, rather than secretly trying to influence elections without accountability.

Defunding police

The far-left movement to cut resources from law enforcement continues to burden major Democrats who have flirted with the cause in the past. Johnson and his Republican backers hammered his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, for defending calls to defund police in a video that was played over and over again in negative ads. Barnes failed to offer an explanation for the video when given the chance.

The issue undoubtedly cost him votes in his hometown of Milwaukee, where violent crime and reckless driving has surged. He collected 40,000 fewer votes in Milwaukee than U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin — a Democrat from Madison — did there four years ago.

Democratic strategists

The Democratic Party talks a good game about letting people vote and have their say in elections. But just two weeks before their U.S. Senate primary in August, party strategists pressured Barnes’ top challengers to drop out. Presumably, the goal was to save campaign money for the general election. But choosing the nominee for voters — rather than letting voters decide for themselves — didn’t work. Barnes often seemed untested at defending his record and lost a close race against the most vulnerable GOP Senate incumbent in the country.

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