Guest Column from Rep. Jim Steineke - Wisconsin’s Challenges and Strengths

The next legislative session will be here in just a few weeks. As you might expect, there is a lot going on so we can hit the ground running once new members are inaugurated. Returning and incoming Assembly members are getting assigned committees, setting up offices, and finalizing legislative agendas. It’s also a time to establish our goals and identify the challenges going into the New Year.

The goal for the 2014-2015 session is to keep Wisconsin a state where both young and old want to live, work and retire. We want our students to find good-paying jobs after they graduate, our kids to have the best schools possible; our seniors to stay here and retire; and our businesses to expand and new businesses to come. In order to achieve this goal, we need to identify the biggest challenges that we’ll face – a tax burden that is still too high, the skills gap, a transportation budget in need of repair, and changing demographics.

Wisconsin remains in the top ten highest-taxed states. Even though we passed over $2 billion in tax cuts last session, we have a long ways to go in order to make our state more taxpayer friendly. Assembly Republicans know that when you let people keep more of their hard-earned money, they will invest it right back into the economy. You can rest assured that we will continue to look for ways to hold the line on taxes.

Another big challenge we are facing is the skills gap. We need workers who are prepared and equipped for the jobs that are available. Employers have jobs they need filled but can’t find qualified workers, especially in the highly-skilled manufacturing and technological industries. Last session, we passed several laws to incentivize employers to train their workers, which is a good step in the right direction; but we still have a lot of work to do. In an increasingly global economy, we are competing not only with other states but other countries. We need a skilled workforce that meets the demands of a changing economy so Wisconsin can become a premier destination for new businesses.

A vibrant economy requires a strong transportation infrastructure. Highways, roads, and bridges are essential to everyday life. Unfortunately, poor decisions from the past have left us with a significant shortfall in our transportation budget. Since 2003, $1.3 billion has been taken from the fund and used for unrelated expenses. In ten years, there will be a $6 billion shortfall in the transportation budget unless action is taken. Wisconsin’s transportation budget must be kept solvent. Assembly Republicans are ready to act in a common-sense way that solves the problem long-term without burdening future generations.

In the coming years, one of Wisconsin’s biggest challenges will be an aging population. The number of working-age adults is decreasing even though our population is growing. Our senior population is expected to double in the near future. We lose 10 to 14 thousand new graduates every year to other states. When we lose people in the workforce, there is less economic activity, and this has a big impact on government finance. It’s essential that we actively replace outgoing workers with new workers who will contribute to the economy.

This also means that we need to have the necessary infrastructure and quality of life in place to attract and retain workers.

As we identify our state’s biggest challenges, we also need to focus on our strengths. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remains below the national level. November’s year-over-year private sector job creation is 51,000. It’s the best year-over-year since 1999 and the best month since 1990. Ninety-six percent of Wisconsin job creators believe our state is headed in the right direction. Moody's Investors Service recently increased Wisconsin's bond rating from stable to positive. Wisconsin outranks all other Midwest states when it comes to projected economic growth. Our rainy day fund is fully funded along with our pension system. We have an excellent public school system, a strong infrastructure that we’re working to maintain, and a world-renown workforce.

The question going forward is how do we build off our strengths while working to solve our challenges? I’m confident and optimistic that our great state will come together and find solutions to keep Wisconsin moving towards greater prosperity for all!