The main Democratic contender for Wisconsin governor on Tuesday laid out her plans to improve the state economy.
Mary Burke spoke in Milwaukee at an event the Press Club and Rotary Club organized. She hopes to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the November election.
First, she would have to win an August Democratic primary against Assemblyman Brett Hulsey, Hari Trivedi and Marcia Mercedes Perkins.
At the Milwaukee event, Burke said you simply have to look at the numbers to know how Wisconsin has fared under Gov. Walker.
She says the state ranks 35th in job creation, despite Walker’s promise to create 250,000 new jobs to help the state climb out of the recession.
"In terms of job growth here in the Milwaukee metropolitan area, if we just continue the job growth that we have had in the last three years under Gov. Walker, it would take us five more years to get to our pre-recession job numbers," she says.
Burke says by contrast, Minneapolis-St. Paul has already recovered all the jobs it lost during the recession, and has added thousands more. So what would Burke do as governor? The Democratic candidate says she would start by aligning industries.
"We have strong industry clusters here in Wisconsin, whether it’s advanced manufacturing, agriculture or tourism. But we also have emerging clusters that we have to make sure grow, and that means you are not helping just specific companies, but the whole industry," she says.
Burke says companies that group together can better identify red tape that hampers growth and predict future workforce needs.
"I think back to the days when I was at the Department of Commerce and I heard at that point, we don’t have enough welders in Wisconsin," Burke says. "Well, it’s frustrating in Wisconsin to see that seven years later, I hear the same things. We have to get on top of these issues. We have to get ahead of them."
Burke says Wisconsin must also provide more support for entrepreneurs because data shows that new businesses create up to 70 percent of jobs. She also wants to ramp up state exports and address communities hurting in terms of unemployment. Burke says she would assemble task forces to find solutions for areas with jobless rates higher than 25 percent.
After detailing her plans, the moderator asked Burke why she believes voters should fire Gov. Walker.
She says, just look at his failed promise to create jobs.
"I have seen 8th grade term papers with more thought put into it. We deserve leadership that actually puts together a plan," Burke says. "I don’t know of any CEO who would be facing the type of challenges that our state has and when they went to their board with the plan that they were going to use on how to turn that situation around, that they would present something like this. I think they would be fired."
A Look Back
The discussion moved on to Act 10, the law Gov. Walker pushed through effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers. Burke says the way Walker handled the issue divided the state.
"I would have negotiated the changes that needed to be made. I think it’s only reasonable to ask for contributions to pension and to health care, and I would have made sure I went through the state budget line item by line item and identified where we could get those savings in order to balance the budget," Burke says.
She also touched on education, saying she opposes the move by Republicans to expand the school voucher program to the entire state. Burke says in Milwaukee, where school choice has been around for 20 years, student achievement has not improved.
"What I want to see is initiatives and programs that are actually based on research and success that’s going to improve education, instead of saying that our answer is just to roll out a voucher program that actually has no research that shows that it’s going to improve student learning. I’m all for choice, but I want choices that parents and kids have to be good choices," Burke says.
Audience members asked Burke how she would have handled a few key decisions over the past few years. The candidate said she would have accepted federal funds to extend high-speed rail to Madison. Gov. Walker rejected the money. He also turned away federal funds to expand Medicaid. Burke disagreed with that decision.
On a more current topic, she says she is open to public financing for a new sports arena in Milwaukee, but only as a last resort.