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Tourism spending increased last year in Chippewa County, statewide

Local tourism spending saw an increase in 2018 that local tourism officials are attributing to increased marketing of the area to visitors from near and far.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s numbers, last year travelers to Chippewa County spent $99.6 million, an increase of 1.34% over 2017 visitor spending.

On the whole, tourism’s impact on the state’s economy reached $21.6 billion in 2018, and tourism supported over 199,000 jobs and visitor trips topped 112 million visits last year as well.

The findings are a part of a study conducted by Tourism Economics highlighting the continued growth across the state’s tourism industry.

The Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce said in its announcement of the numbers that the continued robust marketing and promotional campaigns played a large part pulling more people to the area, and being present in digital, print, web, social media and radio marketing continues to reach the potential travelers.

Jackie Boos, tourism director at the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, called the visitor spending in Chippewa County “extraordinary” and said they think people are realizing the strength of what the area has to offer as far as recreation.

“It seems all the pieces are moving in the right direction,” Boos said.

She also noted that they are concentrating not only on visitors from further away, but also on communities in the area who may not know all of what is in their own backyards.

“We need to continue to tell our story ... so people can get a sense of what Chippewa Falls, Lake Hallie and Chippewa County are,” Boos said.

According to the Department of Tourism, the revenue generated by visitors also helps keep taxes lower.

They said that statewide, traveler spending generated $1.5 billion in state and local revenue and $1.2 billion in federal taxes, and visitors generated $1.6 billion in state and local revenue and $1.2 billion in federal taxes, saving Wisconsin taxpayers $680 per household.

Last year, tourism achieved a Return on Investment of 7 to 1, $7 in tax revenue per $1 promotional spend.

Tourism Secretary-designee Sara Meaney said in the press release that the state’s tourism continues to see steady economic growth thanks to people working in the industry.

“We also see tremendous growth opportunities that will help us tell the story of Wisconsin and attract new travelers to explore some of our most unique offerings,” Meaney said.

Wisconsin Republicans vote to kill Medicaid expansion

MADISON — Wisconsin Republicans voted Thursday to scrap expanding Medicaid, legalizing medical marijuana, raising the minimum wage and a host of other priorities of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers as they begin dismantling his two-year budget plan.

Evers and Democrats remain defiant, saying the public is on their side in support of expanding Medicaid. They ran on their promise to expand the health program for the poor and believe their victories in 2018 were due in large part to that position. Polls also show broad public support.

“Medicaid is being removed in this first motion because you’re losing,” said Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke. “This is a popular item supported by the people of the state of Wisconsin and every single day it’s getting more popular.”

But Republicans who control the Legislature aren’t bending from their long-held opposition, which they believe is popular with their base of supporters, even as some GOP lawmakers have publicly talked about trying to find a compromise. State Rep. John Nygren, the Republican co-chair of the budget committee, said Thursday that he wouldn’t compromise on taking something less than full expansion, rejecting that as “Medicaid light.”

Democratic members of the committee said they were open to reaching a deal, but Republicans were not offering any alternatives.

“No is not a compromise,” Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach said. “No is not a place to start. No is irresponsible, reckless. It’s hard to negotiate with someone who just says ‘No.’”

In response to Democratic criticism that rejecting expansion hurt poor people, Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany said: “I do not have a moral problem.”

“We have been responsible to the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin and we have done the right thing,” he said.

The GOP-controlled budget committee voted along party lines to kill Medicaid expansion and a host of Evers’ other priorities with one of its first votes Thursday. In the coming weeks, the Joint Finance Committee will be voting to reshape the $83 billion Evers budget into something Republicans can vote for later this summer.

Evers has vowed to “fight like hell” to save Medicaid expansion. He’s released data showing how each of the state’s 72 counties would benefit from accepting $324 million in federal money for expansion, which would leverage $1.6 billion in more spending on health care across the state. Of that, $836 million comes at no cost to the state.

That includes increasing reimbursement rates for doctors and other health care providers, raising county aid for crisis mental health and substance abuse services, and spending more on women’s health care initiatives, dental health care and fighting lead poisoning.

To date, Wisconsin has missed out on $1.1 billion in federal money for Medicaid expansion. It is one of only 13 states that have not accepted Medicaid expansion money and the only one that did a partial expansion without taking the money.

The Republican moves will create a $1.4 billion hole in the budget, roughly the amount Evers proposed spending on K-12 education. Republicans have already said they weren’t on board with spending that much on schools. Republicans will have to come up with other cuts, or tax increases, to make up the difference.

Under the Evers plan, about 82,000 people are expected to become Medicaid-eligible as the income cutoff increases from 100% of poverty to 138%. That would raise eligible annual income from $25,750 for a family of four to $35,535. For a single person, it would increase from $12,490 to $17,236.

Of those 82,000, about half are buying heavily subsidized plans through the marketplace now. Part of the Republican argument against expansion is it doesn’t make sense to put people on Medicaid when they can buy affordable plans through the exchange. Republicans also say the move would disrupt the private insurance market, and that they’re concerned the federal government will decrease its reimbursement to the state, leaving taxpayers to foot a larger bill for more people on Medicaid.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, which supports Medicaid expansion, said removing the plan from the budget now doesn’t mean the fight is over.

“Until the governor signs his budget, it’s not final,” Kraig said. “It’s going to be a long debate and there’s still plenty of time for the public to be heard.”

Pence says US working 'hour by hour' on China trade deal

GLYNDON — Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday the Trump administration is working “literally hour by hour” to reach a trade agreement with China, as the deadline loomed on a U.S. threat to raise tariffs on Chinese imports.

Flanked by farmers and ranchers invited to a northwestern Minnesota farm to talk about the new North American trade agreement, Pence told reporters he was hopeful a deal with China could be reached before 12:01 a.m. Friday. However, he said the U.S. is going to “continue to stand firm” to reset an unbalanced trading relationship.

Should the U.S. follow through and raise tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports from 10 to 25%, Pence said “you can very confident” that the administration is going to “look for ways” to provide additional support to farmers affected by the trade dispute. He was not specific.

Pence changed the subject from China to “the good news,” referring to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. He spent most of his one-on-one time with the friendly audience gathered at R&J Johnson Farms promoting the deal and telling producers that Congress needs to act on it.

Pence called on Minnesota Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, to help persuade Speaker Nancy Pelosi to put the USMCA to a vote. The vice president said it’s sure to pass.

Peterson put out a statement before Pence’s comments stating he is the most senior Democrat who supports USMCA. A spokeswoman for Peterson did not immediately return a phone message seeking reaction on Pence’s plea for assistance.

“Farmers need certainty and getting USMCA done is one part of that,” Peterson said.

Jake Hein, 29, one of the attendees at Thursday’s event, said farming has been in his family for five generations, tracing back to the original farm in Norway. His wife, Christina, 28, is expecting in October and he’s hoping by that time he won’t have to worry about selling crops from his Audubon, Minnesota farm.

“I’m thankful the vice president came here to talk about something that is just extremely important to us in rural Minnesota,” Jake Hein told The Associated Press after talking with Pence. “If we can get the USMCA ratified it would really go a long way toward making our farms profitable again.”

One subject that didn’t come up Thursday was Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, which Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Papp calls a “tax at the border” that is “killing us in agriculture.” Pence was scheduled later Thursday to give a speech to workers at Gerdau Ameristeel, one of the mills that Trump’s tariffs are meant to help.

Robert Kudrle, an international trade specialist at the University of Minnesota, said it’s “tricky business” for Pence to be selling a package that includes a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. The Mexicans and Canadians don’t like it, nor do most Republicans in Congress, Kudrle said.

“The fact that it is still there is something (Pence) can talk to the steelworkers about,” said Kudrle, who added that some of his audiences have no clue about tariffs because they were “kind of a thing of the past until a few years ago.”

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican whose district includes northeast Minnesota’s Iron Range, said the steel tariffs have stopped countries like China from dumping steel into the market, noting that U.S. shipments went up 5 percent last year while steel imports dropped by 4 million tons. At the same time, he said the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, will allow farmers to export more products to Canada.

“President Trump and his administration is not trying to pit the farmers against the steel workers or the manufacturers against the steel workers at all,” Stauber said. “Our Minnesota farmers not only feed our Minnesotans and this country, they also feed the world and we want to make sure that we give them the opportunity to move their products across this globe in a free and fair way.”

Chippewa Valley legislators endorse bill to eliminate waiver on vaccinations

With 764 reported measles cases in more than 20 states this year, Eau Claire city-county public health director Elizabeth Giese is endorsing proposed legislation that would eliminate the personal conviction waiver from the state’s vaccination requirement.

“I am concerned about measles coming to Wisconsin. It is all around us,” Giese said.

Measles was considered wiped out in the United States in 2000.

“We did not, as public health officials, think we’d see this again,” she said. “It is just such a communicable disease. Our best protection is vaccination, because it works. There is a long history of science showing the safety of it.”

State Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, announced last week he is re-introducing the bill to eliminate the waiver.

“This legislation is about preserving public health in Wisconsin,” Hintz said in a press release announcing the proposed measure. “It is about protecting our children. With outbreaks nationwide and in our neighboring states, it is only a matter of time before our dropping immunization rates result in a measles, or other infectious disease outbreak somewhere in Wisconsin.”

Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, said she supports the proposal. She said people tend to forget how seriously these diseases impacted society decades ago.

“I was so happy to sign on as co-sponsor to this bill,” Emerson said. “There are a significant number of states that don’t have these exemptions. This is something we can do to protect public safety, by closing this loophole. We need to get as many people as immunized as possible.”

State Sen. Jeff Smith, D-town of Brunswick, said the best comparison is to think of someone who would dump harmful chemicals into an aquifer that everyone drinks from, making them sick. He also has signed on to be a co-sponsor.

“This (bill) for me is a no-brainer,” Smith said. “It’s a public health issue; it’s been highlighted in the headlines for awhile.”

State Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, said she loosely supports the idea but wants to read the language of the bill before she would endorse it.

“Vaccinations have proven to save lives and prevent extraordinary illnesses,” Bernier said. “I advocate for immunizations.”

However, Bernier cautioned that the bill should not extend to areas like flu shots, and the bill should make it clear that employers cannot force their employees to get immunized against their will.

Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer, said he has been researching what other states have been doing and examining some of the false statements that are out there, in trying to determine what should be the best policy for Wisconsin.

“This has really popped up in the last two months,” Summerfield said.

There haven’t been any confirmed measles cases in Wisconsin in 2018 or so far this year, Giese said.

Currently, about 90% of children in schools across Eau Claire County are fully vaccinated, Giese said.

“The goal is 95% federally and in Wisconsin, so we have a way to go,” she said. “In all Eau Claire County schools — public and private — there are 885 children who haven’t received all vaccinations.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, 84.7% of children have received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination by age 24 months; that is down from 85.7% in 2017. About 92.5% of all students in the state are vaccinated, and another 4.9% sign waivers for one of three reasons: medical, personal conviction, or religious reasons. Hintz’s bill would still allow for medical and religious reasons for opting out.

“There has to be an actual health reason,” Giese said. “It may be certain allergies, or they may be on chemotherapy.”

Eau Claire County also has 342 students in schools who are considered behind on their vaccinations.

“They aren’t fully vaccinated, but they are working on it,” Giese explained.

The state university system doesn’t require students to be vaccinated to gain entrance into schools. Sandi Scott, UW-Stout dean of students said they “strongly encourage students to be up to date with their immunizations prior to coming to Stout.” Scott said the university’s heath center has access to Wisconsin and Minnesota data bases, so they could confirm if an individual student has received a vaccine, but cannot run a report on all students at Stout.

Giese hadn’t considered making it a requirement to be vaccinated to go to a state college.

“I think full vaccination of our population is a good thing,” she said.