Politics & Government
1:00 am
Mon January 13, 2014

Last Chance For Wisconsin Legislature to Boost Job Numbers Before Election

The state legislature is heading into the final weeks of the two-year session.
The state legislature is heading into the final weeks of the two-year session.
Credit alumroot

The Legislature has only a few more weeks to help Gov. Scott Walker meet his campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs.

The final floor periods of the two-year session begin Tuesday.

Republican state Rep. Dale Kooyenga was a freshman when the GOP swept into office in January of 2011. He says the start was hectic, as Gov. Walker called a special session on jobs.

Kooyenga says the first round of bills focused on tort reform – altering the civil justice system to ease up on business. The changes made it harder for people to sue companies for negligence.

“It really is difficult for business owners to move forward with plans to make concrete decisions because they’re scared of lawsuits. They should be focused on their business,” Kooyenga says.

Kooyenga says the Legislature also passed a huge income tax credit for manufacturers and tax incentives in order to lure businesses to Wisconsin. Another new lawmaker in 2011 was Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany. He says the state had to create better conditions for employers.

"Government does not create jobs. Businesses create jobs and by having our fiscal house in order and having regulatory reform here in Wisconsin, we’re sending a clear message that you can come to Wisconsin and do business without having too many encumbrances,” Tiffany says.

Tiffany authored the mining bill - the centerpiece of GOP efforts to jump-start the state’s economy. The law streamlines mining regulations in order to accommodate the company, Gogebic Taconite. It wants to create a huge iron ore operation, south of Lake Superior. The plan remains divisive, because of environmental concerns.

While Republicans insist the changes they’ve made have removed obstacles to economic development, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca is critical of the GOP’s job creation strategies.

He says Democrats introduced several bills that did not go anywhere, including money for the state’s technical colleges to make up for the funding Gov. Walker cut in his first budget. Barca says Democrats will continue pushing for more money for job training in coming weeks.

“We have so little time left and so much to do in the area of workforce development, which clearly is the most significant area where we can make gains, based on what we hear from business owners across the state as well as from workers who desperately want to be re-trained,” Barca says.

Barca says he’s pleased both parties agreed on a venture capital bill, to help fund startup companies. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson says if there had been more bipartisan efforts, Gov. Walker would be closer to his jobs goal.

“As a result, Wisconsin has dropped to 37th in the nation in private sector job growth and fallen behind our Midwest neighbors and fallen way behind where we were just four years ago,” Larson says.

The latest state and federal figures show that Wisconsin has gained more than 104,000 private sector jobs since Gov. Walker took office, three years ago; well short of his goal. Before he became governor, the state had lost 141,000 jobs, during the Great Recession.