Tag Archives: taxes

Cities struggle as big box retailers fight to minimize tax assessments

Some big-box retailers in Wisconsin have successfully challenged their tax assessments by claiming they should pay the same rate as a store that’s closed and remains vacant.

Critics say that “dark store” legal loophole could cause municipalities to raise residential taxes to make up the difference.

The legal tactic is relatively new and has some cities struggling to keep up, according to Rocco Vita, chairman of the Wisconsin Association of Assessing Officers’ Legislative Committee.

“The stores have this very polished and professional legal team that peddles a product — property tax mitigation strategies,” Vita said. “All of a sudden, this strategy is gaining power in the Midwest. It has taken people by surprise.”

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue requires property tax assessors to account for the fair market value of a property. That includes both the value of the building and its location.

Retailers have successfully argued in court that there should be no tax difference between their thriving businesses and the vacant retailers down the block, Vita said.

In one case, Menards argued in a lawsuit filed in July that the value of its store in Fond du Lac assessed by the city at $9.2 million should be no more than $5.2 million. A similar lawsuit from Target argues that Fond du Lac should reduce its taxes on the retailer by about a third, according to USA Today Network-Wisconsin.

In another case, Oshkosh was ordered to pay Walgreens nearly $306,000 in overcharged taxes, plus court fees and interest. Last summer, two similar lawsuits surfaced from Menards and Lowe’s.

Oshkosh City Attorney Lynn Lorenson said municipalities are worried that as retailers win these lawsuits, more stores will follow. The limits of the loophole are unclear, she said.

“If one type of business or one type of property gets more favorable treatment, then everybody is going to be looking at that,” Lorenson said. “They’ll say, ‘If Walgreens had success, maybe we can use a similar argument.””

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities has helped draft legislation to plug the loophole, according to Curt Witynski, the league’s assistant director. The league hopes lawmakers will introduce in January.

If Republicans repeal health law, how will they pay for replacement?

Leading Republicans have vowed that even if they repeal most of the Affordable Care Act early in 2017, a replacement will not hurt those currently receiving benefits.

Republicans will seek to ensure that “no one is worse off,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an interview with a Wisconsin newspaper earlier this month. “The purpose here is to bring relief to people who are suffering from Obamacare so that they can get something better.”

But that may be difficult for one big reason — Republicans have also pledged to repeal the taxes that Democrats used to pay for their health law. Without that funding, Republicans will have far less money to spend on whatever they opt for as a replacement.

“It will be hard to have comparable coverage if they start with less money,” Gail Wilensky, a health economist who ran the Medicare and Medicaid programs under President George H.W. Bush, said in an interview.

“Repealing all the ACA’s taxes as part of repeal and delay only makes a true replacement harder,” wrote Loren Adler and Paul Ginsburg of the Brookings Institution in a white paper out this week. It “would make it much more difficult to achieve a sustainable replacement plan that provides meaningful coverage without increasing deficits.”

The health law’s subsidies to individuals buying insurance and the Medicaid expansion are funded by two big pots of money.

The first is a series of taxes, including levies on individuals with incomes greater than $200,000, health insurers, makers of medical devices, brand-name drugmakers, people who use tanning salons, and employer plans that are so generous they trigger the much-maligned “Cadillac Tax.” Some of those measures have not yet taken effect.

However, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in early 2016 that repealing those provisions would reduce taxes by an estimated $1 trillion over the decade from 2016-2025.

The other big pot of money that funds the benefits in the health law comes from reductions in federal spending for Medicare (and to a lesser extent, Medicaid). Those include trims in the scheduled payments to hospitals, insurance companies and other health care providers, as well as increased premiums for higher-income Medicare beneficiaries.

CBO estimated in 2015 that cancelling the cuts would boost federal spending by $879 billion from 2016 to 2025.

The GOP, in the partial repeal bill that passed in January and was vetoed by President Barack Obama, proposed to cancel the tax increases in the health law, as well as the health premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion. But it would have kept the Medicare and Medicaid payment reductions. Because the benefits that would be repealed cost more than the revenue being lost through the repeal of the taxes, the result would have been net savings to the federal government — to the tune of about $317.5 billion over 10 years, said CBO.

But those savings — even if Republicans could find a way to apply them to a new bill — would not be enough to fund the broad expansion of coverage offered under the ACA.

If Republicans follow that playbook again, their plans for replacement could be hampered because they will still lose access to tax revenues. That means they cannot fund equivalent benefits unless they find some other source of revenue.

Some analysts fear those dollars may come from still more cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

“Medicare and Medicaid face fundamental threats, perhaps the most since they were established in the 1960s,” said Edwin Park of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a webinar last week.

Republicans in the House, however, have identified one other potential source of funding. “Our plan caps the open-ended tax break on employer-based premiums,” said their proposal, called “A Better Way.”

House Republicans say that would be preferable to the Cadillac Tax in the ACA, which is scheduled to go into effect in 2020 and taxes only the most generous plans.

But health policy analysts say ending the employer tax break could be even more controversial.

Capping the amount of health benefits that workers can accept tax-free “would reduce incentives for employers to continue to offer coverage,” said Georgetown University’s Sabrina Corlette.

James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, which represents large employers, said they would look on such a proposal as potentially more damaging to the future of employer-provided insurance than the Cadillac Tax, which his group has lobbied hard against.

“This is not a time one wants to disrupt the employer marketplace,” said Klein in an interview. “It seems perplexing to think that if the ACA is going to be repealed, either in large part or altogether, it would be succeeded by a proposal imposing a tax on people who get health coverage from their employer.”

Wilensky said that as an economist, getting rid of the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance would put her “and all the other economists in seventh heaven.” Economists have argued for years that having the tax code favor benefits over cash wages encourages overly generous insurance and overuse of health services.

But at the same time, she added, “I am painfully aware of how unpopular my most favored change would be.”

Republicans will have one other option if and when they try to replace the ACA’s benefits — not paying for them at all, thus adding to the federal deficit.

While that sounds unlikely for a party dedicated to fiscal responsibility, it wouldn’t be unprecedented. In 2003 the huge Medicare prescription drug law was passed by a Republican Congress — with no specified funding to pay for the benefits.

Republished under a creative commons license via Kaiser Health News.

Wisconsin faces nearly $700 million budget hole

Gov. Scott Walker says the state is on track to face a nearly $700 million budget shortfall by mid-2019.

The estimate from the state Department of Administration is the first to take into account spending requests made by state agencies for the next two years.

The $693 million gap is about 2 percent of what state agencies requested in funding and is far from the $2.2 billion gap that existed at this same point two years ago.

State law requires a balanced budget.

What comes next is the every-two-year push and pull between what state agencies say they need, what the governor proposed they get and what the Legislature ultimately passes.

The drama plays out in stages.

Walker will likely submit his budget, with scaled back funding from what agencies asked for, in February.

The Legislature, where the Republicans will have their largest majorities in decades, will then spend months rewriting the spending plan before passing it likely in June.

Walker can then move things back closer to what he wanted through his powerful veto authority.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald declined to weigh in on the report’s findings. His spokeswoman, Myranda Tanck, said Fitzgerald would withhold comment until after he could review Walker’s budget proposal in a couple months.

Other legislative leaders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state budget affects nearly every person’s life in the state, including how much gas costs, when hunting season begins and ends, eligibility for state-funded health insurance through Medicaid, and how much income, sales and property should be taxed.

Writing the budget could also be affected by changes coming out of Washington, with Republicans in full control of Congress working with Donald Trump as president.

Their promises to either repeal or replace large portions of the federal health care law and move toward different ways of sending money to the states for such things as Medicaid and highways could alter Wisconsin’s budget picture.

Walker and Republicans both in the state and nationally, have talked about moving toward block grant funding for the states that would give policy makers more flexibility but that Democrats and opponents fear could lead to less money going toward programs like Medicaid that help the poor and disadvantaged.

The state budget estimate for the next two years will be further refined in January when the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau releases likely figures for state tax revenue in the next two years.

The next state budget will run from July 1 through June 30, 2019.

Pop or fizzle: Are soda taxes gaining steam?

A sip of soda will become more expensive next year in Philadelphia, which recently became the second city in the United States to pass a tax on sugary beverages — after Berkeley voters passed one in 2014.

The Philadelphia measure, approved by the City Council in June, could lend momentum to efforts by public health advocates to get similar taxes enacted elsewhere around the nation.

Voters in three Northern California cities — San Francisco, Oakland and Albany — will decide in November whether to approve such taxes. A soda tax initiative in San Francisco in 2014 failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to pass.

Several states also have tried and failed to pass soda taxes. In California, a bill to do so died this spring.

Outside of the United States, Mexico, England and France also tax sugar-laden beverages.

Advocates of taxing these drinks say that they contribute to high rates of obesity and diabetes, and that putting a bigger price tag on them can reduce consumption and improve people’s health. Critics argue the taxes are unpopular and that it is discriminatory to single out one item in the grocery cart.

The American Beverage Association, one of the staunchest opponents of soda taxes, has funded successful opposition campaigns throughout the United States, including in California.

The association has spent $64.6 million since 2009 fighting such initiatives — including more than $9 million just to defeat the proposed San Francisco tax in 2014, according to a report last year by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have also been big contributors to the opposition.

Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the beverage trade group, said there is no evidence that soda taxes make anyone healthier. “Obesity has been rising … while soft drink consumption has been declining,” she said. “It would defy logic to say that soft drink consumption is driving obesity.”

Overall, soda sales dropped 1.2 percent in 2015, according to Beverage Digest, which tracks the industry, continuing a downward trend.

Kane added that taxing any grocery item is a “slippery slope” that makes other groceries vulnerable to taxation.

To hear more about the campaigns for soda taxes, we spoke with Harold Goldstein, executive director of California-based Public Health Advocates, who has played an active role in some of these efforts. A transcript of the conversation below has been edited for clarity and space.

Q: What are the health and medical effects of drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages?

It is now proven that sugary beverages are a leading contributor to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. When we consume liquid sugar, the body converts much of that sugar to fat in the liver, causing fatty liver disease. We now have an epidemic in this country of fatty liver disease.

There are studies showing, for example, if you drink two sodas a day for just two weeks, that your unhealthy cholesterol, your LDL cholesterol, will go up 20 percent and that your triglycerides will go up 20 percent. If you drink that amount for six months, the amount of fat in your liver will go up 150 percent. This is a dramatic impact in a short period of time because our bodies are not designed to consume liquid sugar.

Q: How big is the problem of obesity and diabetes in the U.S.?

The obesity and diabetes epidemics are among the most fundamental public health problems facing our country today. They impact every demographic group. At the same time, they are a particular problem in low-income communities and communities of color, in large part because it’s in those communities where there is the least access to healthy food and the least access to opportunities to be physically active.

We know that diabetes rates are going to increase by 80 percent in the next five years, costing the state $15 billion more in direct health care costs. With that kind of money on the table … it is imperative that we invest in diabetes prevention. Whether it is through a soda tax, through the state legislature or state general funds, it is time to establish a major statewide diabetes prevention campaign in California.

Q: A recent report by your organization and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that more than half of Californians have either diabetes or prediabetes. Aside from sugar-sweetened beverages, what else is causing this?

We have created a world that is designed for diabetes. We have fast food outlets on every corner. We have staggering portion sizes of sugary beverages and restaurant meals and everything from bagels to burgers. We have gotten rid of [physical education] in schools. We allow unregulated advertising of unhealthy products to children.

Q: Why target sugary beverages and not other junk food?

A: If you eat a candy bar, it takes hours to digest it. The liquid sugar is just floating sugar molecules and we absorb that sugar in as little as 30 minutes. The research is continuing to show that sugar itself is a particular problem, and perhaps the biggest problem. We know that the body turns sugar into fat. [Soda] is the right place to start. It represents half of the sugar in the food supply, it is the largest source of sugar and our body treats it differently.

Q: In Philadelphia, the mayor argued for the new tax based on the revenue it would bring in, rather than the health risks of soda. Do you think that helped get it approved?

I think different communities are going to support soda taxes for different reasons, in large part based on what the funds are going to be used for. In Berkeley, the revenues go into the general fund. City council members wanted that money to be dedicated to obesity and diabetes prevention efforts, as they have done. That was something clearly important to voters in Berkeley. In Philadelphia, the funds are dedicated to a variety of things, especially pre-K [education] in low-income communities and parks and rec programs. It is important that through this democratic process, residents get to decide how they want to use the revenues raised by such a tax.

Q: The effort to pass a soda tax in California died in committee this spring. Can you explain what the bill would have done and what happened to it?

The bill would have established a 2 penny-per-ounce fee on sugary beverages. As a fee, it would have required that all the revenues raised be dedicated to mitigating harm caused by those products. As has happened now five times in the state legislature, the beverage industry put their corporate might behind their lobbying efforts and successfully killed the bill.

Q: How difficult is it to overcome opposition by the soda industry?

What we are learning is that it’s far easier to enact soda taxes at the local level than at the state level in California. The beverage industry has enormous power in the state Legislature. And getting it passed in California requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature, which is a big hurdle. Other states don’t have that hurdle. There are a number of states that are currently working on it in one way or another.

Q: Critics say that soda taxes won’t reduce obesity rates and give government too much control over consumer choice. What do you think about the argument that this might not be the best way to address diabetes and obesity?

Soda taxes are one way to address the diabetes and obesity epidemic. What has been shown in Berkeley and Mexico, where the tax has now been in effect for quite some time, is that those taxes reduce consumption of sugary beverages, which we know are a leading contributor to the epidemic.

At the same time, those taxes provide funds to pay for much needed programs in communities. Soda taxes aren’t the end-all and be-all of obesity and diabetes prevention. There is a lot more that can and needs to be done to address the epidemic.

Q: As public health advocates like yourself work to reduce access to these beverages, what sort of alternatives are you promoting?

The biggest solution is to encourage and support people to drink water instead of sugar. It is the simplest, easiest change that any of us can make to reduce our chance of getting diabetes. Sixteen teaspoons of sugar in every 20-ounce beverage is way more than our body can handle and still be healthy.

Q: Will there be another try to get a statewide tax in California?

I am sure there will be, with Philadelphia passing theirs. One or more of the soda taxes in the Bay Area are likely to pass. I think that in the coming years, states around the country will also establish soda taxes.

Published from Kaiser Health News under a creative commons license. KHN is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Offshore accounts hide wealth, avoid taxes

Privacy has a price. For the super-wealthy, it can also have a big payoff. The use of offshore accounts and favorable laws in certain countries can allow rich individuals and families to keep their money hidden from the eyes of tax authorities, regulators and others in their home country.

Here’s a look at how offshore accounts are used, both legally and illegally, in the wake of an investigation by an international coalition of media outlets that shows how the rich and powerful use banks, law firms, trusts and offshore shell companies to hide their assets.

WHAT ARE THESE ACCOUNTS?

They are bank accounts or trusts established in a foreign country that take advantage of local banking and corporate laws to help hide the true identity of the owner of the money or other assets in the accounts.

Often, the person establishes a so-called shell company, which lacks any real operations and exists mainly on paper. In many jurisdictions and some U.S. states, companies can be created without identifying an owner.

The company – with no person linked to it – is listed as the official owner of the trust or account. That allows the wealthy person to control the account indirectly, through the company, and makes it harder for authorities to link the money to the individual.

While shell companies and offshore accounts aren’t illegal by themselves, they can be used to help avoid taxes, facilitate money laundering and conceal corruption.

WHERE ARE OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS HELD?

Those looking to hide assets establish accounts in countries like Panama, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, where the banking laws are designed to vigorously protect account owners’ identities.

In recent years, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service have found millions of dollars in taxable income hidden in secret accounts in the Caribbean.

There also are havens like the Isle of Man off Britain, Macau off China and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. Some European countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg and Monaco have also served as havens for those trying to avoid taxes, though many nations have tightened banking laws to combat tax cheating.

ARE THERE LEGITIMATE REASONS FOR THESE ARRANGEMENTS?

It’s possible, but don’t bank on it, says Jimmy Gurule, a former assistant U.S. attorney general and undersecretary for enforcement at the Treasury Department. The likelihood is strong that the entity has “no commercial or legitimate purpose,” said Gurule, who teaches law at Notre Dame. The Caymans, for example, “has a well-deserved reputation for being a money-laundering and tax-evasion haven.”

The country’s banking laws made it more difficult for him and his colleagues in U.S. law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cases, Gurule said.

Still, wealthy people who live in countries with unstable political situations, high levels of corruption, or high levels of criminal activity such as kidnapping or extortion could use offshore accounts and the secrecy they provide for protection, and not necessarily to avoid taxes.

ILLICIT USES OF OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS

The anonymity afforded by shell companies and offshore accounts allows them to be used by terrorists and other international criminals to hide and move money.

They’re an ideal vehicle for people “who want to keep their transactions secret to escape law enforcement or civil liability,” said Jack Blum, a Washington attorney who’s an expert on financial crime and international tax evasion.

Terrorist groups’ use of shadowy financial networks has been scrutinized by law enforcement agencies, and the U.S. government has applied sanctions to a number of groups hoping to cut off their access to the U.S. financial system. Lawmakers say they’ve been hindered, though, by a lack of consistency in policies among the various national and international agencies involved in fighting terrorist financing.

EFFORTS TO CRACK DOWN

Congress passed a law in 2010 called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act to target U.S. taxpayers who may be hiding money in foreign accounts. The leaders of the Group of 20 – representing 80 percent of the global economy – have recently worked to get its members to adopt stricter reporting requirements to prevent secret dealings. Anti-corruption advocates say legal standards have improved, but are not tough enough.

On Monday Angel Gurria, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is working with the G-20 to restrict the use of shell companies, called on Panama to “put its house in order” and implement transparency standards. It was a leak of 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm that specializes in creating shell companies that led to revelations of widespread use of these companies and accounts to avoid taxes.

Open letter to Scott Walker: Look at Minnesota’s success to rebuild Wisconsin’s lagging economy

Dear Governor Walker,

I’ve read that you’re touring the state to hear from constituents as a way to get caught up after spending so much time out of state during your presidential campaign last year, and since I live over 250 miles north of Madison, I thought I’d address you on Blogging Blue rather than expect you to travel all the way up here.

I know that two of your biggest problems since you took office in 2011 seem to be job creation and overall business climate. Wisconsin has kind of been circling the drain on both counts for many years now, but I have some good news for you. Minnesota, right next door, is leading the nation on both counts! Last June CNBC rated Minnesota #1 in the nation for business, and over the weekend a new report shows that the Gopher state is #1 in job creation as well.m

This is great news, because not only is Minnesota very similar to Wisconsin in a number of ways, but Mark Dayton took over as Governor there the same year you did here, and with an even bigger budget deficit than you inherited!. In spite of all that, they’re now leading the nation in a pair of top economic indicators, and have a budget surplus of 2 billion dollars. That’s a lot of scratch, man!

I’m no scholar, and I can’t make an in-depth argument about how all this happened, but I can lay out some general points that I think can help you turn Wisconsin around pronto.

1. The CNBC report cites Minnesota as a ” union friendly ” state, so you might want to consider repealing Act 10 and that god-awful Right to Work bill since neither could, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered union friendly.

2. I know you went out of your way to repeal Wisconsin’s living wage law, but you should restore it immediately. Minnesota raised their minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, which isn’t nearly enough, but it’s better than the meager $7.25 workers are making over here.

3. Governor Dayton campaigned in 2010 on raising taxes on the wealthy, (something that seems to have escaped the attention of Wisconsin Democrats), and that’s just what he did, though none of the scare mongering about how everyone would leave actually came to pass. And Minnesota is #1 in business climate, job creation, AND they have a 2 billion dollar surplus! Woo Hoo!

4. Minnesota took the federal bucks to expand their Medicaid program, (Minnesota Care), since it was tax money Minnesotans had already sent to Washington DC, and they also created their own state exchange to maximize the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for their residents. I think they probably embraced the wildly experimental notion that a healthier population is happier and, as such, better able to get up and go to work in the morning. I don’t know for sure, I’m just taking a stab in the dark.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to all this than I’ve listed, and I know you have a ton of staff who could dig into it and sort it all out, but I just wanted to fill you in on some of the basics. I know how much you love Wisconsin and all of its people, but I also know what a busy guy you’ve been , what with all that presidential nonsense and the Koch brothers retreats and so forth.

So I just wanted to give you a hand. You’re welcome.

For more Blogging Blue commentary, go to bloggingblue.com

Republicans engage in rowdy debate

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz emerged as the strongest challengers on Oct. 28 to insurgent front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, in a fiery debate that may have marked a new phase in the 2016 race.

With time running short until the first nominating contest in three months, the 10 Republicans in the evening’s main debate were anxious to stand out. They frequently talked over each other and the moderators in a debate laced with personal attacks and clashes over tax policy.

Rubio, the U.S. senator from Florida, swatted away Jeb Bush when the former Florida governor attacked his attendance record in the Senate.

“Just resign and let someone else take the job,” Bush said, in response to a question about an editorial in a Florida newspaper that blasted Rubio for having missed about one-third of his Senate votes this year.

That prompted Rubio to scold Bush for aligning himself with what he characterized as the liberal media. The only reason Bush was making it an issue, Rubio said, was “because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

The exchange came on a night of heated clashes among candidates fighting to catch Carson and Trump, two upstart candidates who have tapped into voters’ frustration with the GOP establishment. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and Trump, a celebrity real estate developer, in a dead heat.

In a sign that the unpredictable Republican race might be entering a new phase, Trump and Carson, while not stumbling, were often eclipsed by Rubio and Cruz during the two-hour debate at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder.

Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to former President George W. Bush, said Rubio won.

Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, scored with his base by turning to a well-worn page in the Republican playbook: Attacking the news media. He ignored a question on the debt limit to criticize the CNBC debate moderators for the questions they had posed to candidates.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” he said. “This is not a cage match. How about talking about the substantive issues?”

The crowd gathered in an arena in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains roared its approval.

Cruz’s response laid bare that a debate that was supposed to be all about the U.S. economy had strayed from the theme repeatedly, so much so that the Republican National Committee took the extraordinary step of criticizing the TV network that broadcast the debate.

“The performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

For his part, Trump reiterated his pledge to be a great negotiator as president, pointing out he had persuaded CNBC to shorten the time of the debate “so we could get the hell out of here.”

The Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for the November 2016 election also clashed over their tax plans, with Carson defending his Bible-inspired proposals and former executive Carly Fiorina vowing to reduce the complicated tax code to three pages.

Carson said his plan, based on religious tithing principles, would get rid of deductions and loopholes and constitute a flat rate of about 15 percent that would be sufficient to fund a sharply reduced government.

“Remember, we have 645 federal agencies and sub-agencies. Anybody who tells me that we need every penny in every one of those is in a fantasy world,” Carson said.

Ohio Governor John Kasich was quick to go on the attack against Trump and Carson, calling their tax plans “a fantasy.” Trump’s plan for cutting taxes on individuals and corporations has been criticized as an implausible budget-buster by analysts.

“We are on the verge of picking, perhaps, someone who cannot do this job,” Kasich said. “You gotta pick somebody who has experience.”

The remark appeared aimed at Trump and Carson. But inexperience has been among the key questions hanging over the candidacy of the 44-year-old Rubio, who had struggled in previous debates to emerge from the shadow of other candidates.

He appeared better prepared on Oct. 28. When questioned about his personal finances, he responded by pointing to his working-class roots as a Cuban-American in Miami, repeatedly using his personal story as a vehicle for connecting with people struggling to make a living.

“I’m not worried about my finances, I’m worried about the finances of everyday Americans,” Rubio said. “That’s what this debate needs to be about.”

In November, the GOP candidates will debate in Milwaukee.

HealthCare.gov rates to rise in Wisconsin

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department says the cost of its benchmark plan on HealthCare.gov will go up less in Wisconsin than the national average.

Silver plan rates will go up 4.7 percent here, compared with 7.5 percent nationally. 

The rates came out on Oct. 26 on the website established under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Next year’s sign-up session starts Sunday, and potential enrollees are now able to browse plans and prices.

Rates in some states climbed by double digits, but others saw a decline. 

Insurers in many states had underpriced plans and are raising rates because of inflation and higher claims than expected. 

Nationally, about 8 in 10 returning customers will be able to buy a plan for less than $100 a month, after tax credits.

Pot sales generate more tax revenue than alcohol sales in Colorado

For the first time in history, a state has generated more annual revenue from taxes imposed on marijuana than from taxes imposed on alcohol.

The Colorado Department of Revenue says the state collected nearly $70 million in marijuana-specific taxes and just under $42 million in alcohol-specific taxes from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

The news comes as Colorado prepared for a “marijuana tax holiday,” during which the state was suspending marijuana-specific taxes for one day.

“Marijuana taxes have been incredibly productive over the past year, so this tax holiday is a much-deserved day off,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project and a co-director of the campaign in support of the 2012 initiative to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in Colorado.

He added, “This will be the one day out of the year when the state won’t generate significant revenue. Over the other 364 days, it will bring in tens of millions of dollars that will be reinvested in our state.”

Colorado raised nearly $69,898,059 from marijuana-specific taxes in FY 2014-2015, including $43,938,721 from a 10 percent special sales tax on retail marijuana sales to adults and $25,959,338 from a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers of marijuana intended for adult use.

The state raised just under $41,837,647 from alcohol-specific taxes in FY 2014-2015, including $27,309,606 from excise taxes collected on spirited liquors, $8,881,349 from excise taxes on beer, and $5,646,692 from excise taxes collected on vinous liquors. These figures do not include standard state sales taxes or any local taxes.

 “It’s crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market,” Tvert said. “It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it. Tax revenue is just one of many good reasons to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation.”

Judge to sort out $457 million dispute over nuclear plant

The courts may have to resolve a tax dispute over the Kewaunee Power Station, which hasn’t generated a kilowatt of power in two years and is now being dismantled.

To Dominion Resources Inc., its plant is all but worthless. But to Carlton, Wisconsin, the Lake Michigan town where the plant pumped out electricity for four decades, it’s still worth $457 million. Those views put the two sides nearly half a billion dollars apart in valuing the facility for tax purposes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this weekend.

Dominion sued the town last month, seeking a refund of taxes it expects to pay later this year. A victory for the company eventually could lead to higher local property taxes. Absent a settlement, a Kewaunee County circuit judge will have to sort it all out.

Amie Trupke, the town’s lawyer, acknowledged that the property is difficult to value. But she said the town made a valid effort to determine the value of both the land and the structures on it.

“The town did its duty by going out and obtaining an appraisal for the real property and the personal property from experts in the field,” she said, adding that the town has not seen the appraisal commissioned by Dominion that puts the value at zero.

Losing the nuclear plant is already creating challenges for the area, including the loss of hundreds of jobs. And it’s hitting local governments and school districts in another way. While the plant never paid property taxes, it helped fund local governments and schools through a utility fee that was based on how much power it generated. With the shutdown, those fees are being phased out, so local governments want to start collecting property taxes instead.

Town officials have expressed frustration that the site can’t be redeveloped until it changes hands. Dominion has up to 60 years to restore the site under federal nuclear regulations. Adding to the frustration is that the used nuclear fuel that powered the reactor remains on the site in concrete casks. Since there is no national disposal site for spent nuclear fuel, the lakefront property will continue to store the fuel indefinitely.

Similar situations are playing out at shuttered nuclear plants elsewhere. For instance, in Zion, Illinois, property tax payments dropped 55 percent when an Exelon Corp. reactor closed in the late 1990s. Earlier this year, legislation was proposed in Illinois to assess an “impact fee” for communities required to store nuclear waste.