As the legislative session is winding down in Washington, D.C., I thought it would be appropriate to offer an update on what we are working on, and the successes we have had on your behalf, and also to recognize someone who has proven to be a consistent advocate of causes that benefit Wisconsin electric cooperatives and all members. Congressman Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin) has supported the issues that matter to us, early and often, and we consider him a valued partner for his ability to help get things done in the nation’s capital.
Congressman Kind successfully advocated for the RURAL Act, the SECURE Act, and the repeal of the Cadillac Tax. Going forward, he has already thrown his support behind the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, and the Keeping Critical Connections Act, which if passed will have significant benefits for electric cooperative members, and rural Wisconsin.
I’d like to tell you a little more about what these actions mean for you. Back In 2017, when Congress reformed the Internal Revenue Code, a provision applied federal taxation to grants given to for-profit companies seeking to attract economic expansion, but as written, it included the unintended consequence of jeopardizing not-for-profit status of U.S. electric cooperatives. This congressional action, if not fixed, would have had a clear, negative financial impact on electric cooperatives when they need help the most, as those seeking assistance for things like storm damage recovery would have been at risk of losing tax-exempt status. It would also have been difficult to accept grants for broadband expansion.
All Wisconsin members of Congress in the House and Senate signed on to support legislation to fix it, but Congressman Kind was the first. What became known as the RURAL Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, just before Christmas. This is the first time in our memory that all members of Congress from Wisconsin worked together and co-sponsored a fix. I call it a “once in a blue moon” scenario.
The SECURE Act adjusts the premiums that electric cooperatives pay for the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation to more accurately apply to the low-risk pension plans we offer our employees. Fortunately, our work with Congress paid off, and they fixed this as well. Congressman Kind was again the early supporter, signing on as a co-sponsor the day legislation was introduced.
Recruiting people to work in our specialized fields at rural electric cooperatives can be challenging, so we have to offer competitive benefit packages that include health plans. The 40 percent “Cadillac Tax” could have put the plans we offer our employees at risk, but with the help of Congressman Kind, this law was repealed.
Going forward, Congressman Kind was again one of the first to sign on to support the proposed Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which would save millions for cooperatives with certain federal loans, by allowing them to refinance at current lower rates, without penalty. He is also supporting the Keeping Critical Connections Act, which would reimburse small-business broadband providers, including co-ops, for voluntarily providing free or discounted services to students learning from home. The measure would also include funds for low-income households that cannot afford broadband payments.
We recently recognized Congressman Kind, who represents the third congressional district, for his strong support of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives. He stepped up and took the lead to help us pass each of the legislative initiatives I just outlined. His leadership helped get the legislation across the finish line and made all the difference in them becoming law. In September, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association presented him the award “Champion of Electric Cooperatives.” WECA presents this award to legislators on either side of the aisle who demonstrate extraordinary service to Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives.
Please join me in thanking Congressman Kind for all he has done on behalf of the industry, which supports the mission so that electric cooperatives can continue to supply members with safe, reliable, and affordable electricity.