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Weld joins council president race

Eau Claire City Councilman Terry Weld will run for the council presidency in April’s election, creating a contested race with fellow Councilman Andrew Werthmann.

Weld, who has served as an at-large representative on the council for nearly two years, stated he would lead the council with compassion, integrity, inclusiveness, common sense and without a personal agenda.

“I believe that it is possible to improve the lives of everyone with the right kind of policies and actions,” he said in his campaign announcement. “The residents of Eau Claire are asking for a leader who can accomplish this by bringing together all people, neighborhoods, businesses and government.”

Weld was appointed in April 2017 to a council seat after Eric Larsen’s resignation. Weld then had to run for election earlier this year for that seat against challenger Zachary Meives, winning with 78 percent of the vote.

He served six years — three years as chairman — on the city’s Plan Commission. Weld also cited his experience on other local government boards, business groups and as a downtown businessman.

Before becoming a real estate agent in 2001, Weld made a name for himself as a restaurateur by owning and operating Houligan’s on South Barstow Street from 1988 to 2000. Weld had also owned Bleachers sports bar and the 410 Club cigar bar, both of which have since been replaced by other downtown businesses.

Werthmann, the longest-serving current council member with almost 10 years of experience, has been leading the council for about six months.

After council President Kerry Kincaid resigned in June, the council opted not to appoint a successor. That resulted in Werthmann, who is both a district representative and council vice president, serving as acting president until April’s election.

Werthmann announced in mid-October that he’d seek the council presidency in April, running on a platform topped with tackling poverty and inequality, strengthening neighborhoods and community involvement, and investing in a sustainable future.

Weld’s campaign is just beginning, but he said one of the things he’d encourage is greater neighborhood involvement in city politics. He said he sees the council president as “a neutral role — a guide and leader.”

The president presides over meetings, is integral to setting the council’s agenda and often serves as a spokesman for the city.

Eau Claire voters will decide April 2 who will serve the final year left in Kincaid’s unexpired term. The council president will then be up for election in April 2020 for a full three-year term.

Also on spring’s ballot will be the council’s five at-large seats, which are currently held by Weld, Michael Xiong, David Strobel, Catherine Emmanuelle and Kate Beaton. Weld’s run for president means he can’t also run for his current seat. Both Strobel and Xiong do not plan to seek re-election. Eau Claire real estate agent John Lor has announced he plans to run for one of those seats.

Emmanuelle announced Saturday she plans to seek re-election. She was appointed to the council in 2012 and won re-election bids in 2013 and 2016.

Eau Claire residents interested in running for council have until 5 p.m. Jan. 2 to submit nomination papers into the city clerk’s office at the temporary City Hall, 2020 Prairie Lane.

Candidates running for president must have between 200 and 400 signatures from city residents and at-large seats need 100 to 200.

The City Council consists of a president and 10 other members. The president and five of the council members are elected by the entire city. The five other council seats each represent a fifth of the city’s population and are elected by voters living in those districts.

Werthmann represents the city’s District 5, which includes downtown, the East Side Hill, North Side Hill, North Riverfronts and Randall Park neighborhoods. Because that position won’t be up for election until 2020, he can run for council president in spring without risking his district seat.

City Council positions are considered part-time jobs. Regular members get a $3,000 salary, while the president earns $3,600.

Nonprofits fret about potential lag in donations after tax code changes

It may be the holiday giving season, but Chippewa Valley charities remain worried about the volume of donations they will receive before the end of the year.

The main source of concern among nonprofit organizations is the impact of sweeping changes to the federal tax code approved by Congress last year.

The GOP tax overhaul, officially known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, doubled the standard deduction that taxpayers can take — raising it to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly — and thus reduced the financial incentive for many people to make charitable deductions.

That change likely will shrink the number of households claiming an itemized deduction for their charitable gifts from about 37 million to about 16 million, or by 57 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Charities fear that could lead to a decrease in the number and size of donations to nonprofits.

“I am worried about it,” said Sara Antonson, CEO the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Chippewa Valley. “This is the first time in my 12 years here that it looks like we will be severely underfunded.”

Leaders of other local nonprofits also expressed anxiety over the potential impact of the tax overhaul, with several saying they are keeping a close eye on their bottom lines as the year-end deadline approaches for charitable contributions that can be itemized on 2018 tax returns.

With just over two weeks to go in the year, it’s still too soon to know how the situation will play out, said Jan Porath, executive director of the United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley. The organization typically receives an influx of gifts at the end of the year, but nobody knows if that will change as a result of the tax law changes.

As of last week, the organization had received pledges totaling $1.17 million toward its annual fundraising goal of $1.75 million.

“We are anxiously awaiting to see if those typical year-end gifts are still coming or if people are not going to be giving because they can’t get the tax deduction and may not need to itemize anymore,” Porath said.

The answer could make a big difference to the 23 nonprofits in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties that have received grant pledges from United Way.

If overall charitable donations drop by about 5 percent, as the Tax Policy Center and other research organizations have projected, that would mean a loss of $87,500 for the local United Way chapter, Porath said.

Need still exists

At Eau Claire-based Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Wisconsin, CEO Wes Escondo said the impact of tax reform is “definitely a concern,” although the organization has been able to offset any potential decline in individual donations by ramping up fundraising efforts targeting businesses.

Escondo said he presumes the standard deduction change will mostly affect lower and middle-income donors, with major donors likely still easily hitting the minimums for itemizing charitable donations. Congress boosted the size of the standard deduction in part to simplify the tax-filing process for middle-class taxpayers.

“Regardless of what the tax laws are, it doesn’t change the very important need that still exists in the community,” Escondo said. “There are a lot of phenomenal, responsible, very well-run nonprofits that really need your help.”

Antonson agreed about the abundance of nonprofits filling important needs in the community, but said the tax overhaul and a degree of donor fatigue have those organizations competing with each other for potentially smaller pools of donors and dollars.

Some donors may not recognize that groups such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, which serves more than 1,200 kids at locations in Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and Black River Falls, rely on donations and grants just to keep the doors open.

While it’s not always popular to donate for operating expenses, the clubs have no revenue-generating fees and thus no base to fall back on, Antonson said, noting that attendance increased by nearly 30 percent when it moved to a new Eau Claire location in 2016.

“We’ve got great space and more kids, but that means we need to be raising more money for our annual budget,” she said.

Instead, Antonson said, the Boys & Girls Clubs are on pace to fall about $200,000 short in their 2018 fundraising. She is hopeful, but not sure, that a $75,000 matching grant recently offered by an anonymous donor will make up most of that deficit.

Service cuts possible

If not, the clubs will have to look at cutting programs, because even the nonprofit must be run like a business, she said.

“I don’t want to have to stop helping our kids. These kids are worth it,” Antonson said. “We’re giving these kids opportunities to change their lives. We can’t let them fall through the cracks.”

She pointed out that almost 60 percent of the children who attend the Boys & Girls Clubs qualify for free and reduced-price meals at their schools, and many of them get a good share of their food beyond the school day at the clubs.

“My message to the community is there are many great organizations to support, and I just ask people to give with their hearts to organizations they are passionate about,” she said.

Kelly Christianson, executive director of Family Promise of the Chippewa Valley, is also watching to see how much the tax law changes might affect the charitable contributions that help its Beacon House shelter in downtown Eau Claire provide temporary housing and services to homeless families.

The nonprofit is in the midst of its year-end fundraising campaign and hasn’t yet calculated how much donations might be lagging the normal pace. In theory, she said, people taking the higher standard deduction will have more money in their pockets that could be earmarked for charitable causes.

“We’ve kind of decided to take a wait-and-see approach, and then this year will probably be a good indicator moving forward,” said Christianson, who characterized her attitude as “concerned but not panicked.”

If donations take a significant hit, Family Promise would have to tap its cash reserves to meet expenses and then likely ramp up fundraising efforts, she said. The impact of a drop in individual contributions could be alleviated somewhat by its diversity of funding sources, including grants from United Way and local, state and federal sources.

Despite the uneasiness permeating the nonprofit world’s holiday season as a result of the tax law changes, leaders of local charities maintained a generally optimistic attitude.

“We’re lucky we live in a generous community,” Porath said. “I really feel like most of the people in our community who donate do so because they really want to help their friends and neighbors in the community.”

Escondo echoed that sentiment, saying, “I love that about this community. If people can give, they do.”

Staff photo by Dan Reiland//  

Altoona fifth- grader Lily Gagnon recalls the Christmas she spent sick — but also got her dream toy, a Hatchimal.

Obamacare's heart still beating: Ruling to strike down health law puts GOP in quandary

WASHINGTON — A federal judge’s ruling that the Obama health law is unconstitutional has landed like a stink bomb among Republicans, who’ve seen the politics of health care flip as Americans increasingly value the overhaul’s core parts, including protections for pre-existing medical conditions and Medicaid for more low-income people.

While the decision by the Republican-appointed judge in Texas was sweeping, it has little immediate practical impact because the Affordable Care Act remains in place while the legal battle continues, possibly to the Supreme Court. , the government’s site for signing up, was taking applications Saturday, the deadline in most states for enrolling for coverage next year, and those benefits will take effect as scheduled Jan. 1. Medicaid expansion will proceed in Virginia, one of the latest states to accept that option. Employers will still be required to cover the young adult children of workers, and Medicare recipients will still get discounted prescription drugs.

But Republicans, still stinging from their loss of the House in the midterm elections, are facing a fresh political quandary after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said the entire 2010 health law was invalid.

Warnings about the Texas lawsuit were part of the political narrative behind Democrats’ electoral gains. Health care was the top issue for about one-fourth of voters in the November election, ahead of immigration and jobs and the economy, according to VoteCast, a nationwide survey for The Associated Press. Those most concerned with health care supported Democrats overwhelmingly.

In his ruling, O’Connor reasoned that the body of the law could not be surgically separated from its now-meaningless requirement for people to have health insurance.

“On the assumption that the Supreme Court upholds, we will get great, great health care for our people,” President Donald Trump told reporters during a visit Saturday to Arlington National Cemetery. “We’ll have to sit down with the Democrats to do it, but I’m sure they want to do it also.”

Economist Gail Wilensky, who oversaw the Medicare program for President George H.W. Bush, said the state attorneys general from GOP strongholds who filed the lawsuit really weren’t very considerate of their fellow Republicans.

“The fact that they could cause their fellow Republicans harm did not seem to bother them,” said Wilensky, a critic of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

“The people who raised it are a bunch of guys who don’t have serious election issues, mostly from states where saber-rattling against the ACA is fine,” she added. “How many elections do you have to get battered before you find another issue?”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top policy adviser to Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said he was struck by the relative silence from top Republicans after the ruling issued.

A prominent example: “The House was not party to this suit, and we are reviewing the ruling and its impact,” said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Republicans are “going to have to figure out what to do,” Holtz-Eakin said. “If it’s invalidated by the courts, it’s not ... ‘We’re going to do it our way.’ They’re going to have to get together with the Democrats in the House.”

The GOP’s failed effort last year to repeal the law showed there’s no consensus within the party itself.

Trump tweeted Friday night that “Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions.”

“Get it done!” he told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is expected to be House speaker in January. But Trump had no plan of his own to offer in the 2017 “repeal and replace” debate.

Two top House Republicans issued diverging statements.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said “Obamacare is a broken law,” but added, “I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure America’s healthcare system works for all Americans.”

The third-ranking GOP leader, Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, praised the judge’s ruling and made no mention of working with Democrats, whom he accused of “running a fear-mongering campaign” to win control of the House last month.

Democrats were united in condemning the ruling.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said voters will remember. “What will stand is Republican ownership of such a harmful and disastrous lawsuit,” Schumer tweeted.

The next chapter in the legal case could take months to play out.

A coalition of Democratic state officials led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will appeal O’Connor’s decision, most likely to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans.

“The legal merits of the case are frivolous,” said University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley. “The notion that the unconstitutionality of an unenforceable mandate somehow requires toppling the entire ACA is bonkers.” Bagley supports the law generally, but has been critical of how it has been put into effect.


File photo