On February 11, 2015, Assembly Democrats unveiled their Economic Opportunity Agenda for the 2015-16 legislative session. These "15 Bills for 2015" are designed to restore economic opportunity for Wisconsin families and workers by helping create good-paying jobs, connecting workers with available jobs, increasing wages and rebuilding Wisconsin's middle class.
Below are the descriptions of the bills included in this package.
Entrepreneurial Assistance Grant Program
Noting that research, initiative, and human resources are essential to creating a new small business and our colleges and universities are rich with bright, young individuals who are looking forward to real world experience, this bill creates grants through WEDC that would go to businesses that have been recently founded for the purpose of facilitating paid internships for business and business-related students. It also provides grants directly to a college or university that is providing and guiding groups of interns working with three or more companies for the cost of the professor overseeing the work of the interns, guiding research, and developing any necessary assistance to successfully implement the program.
Create a Nanotechnology Hub
The “Wisconsin Idea” comes from our history of fostering the technological breakthroughs pioneered at our universities and making the best scientific information available to our citizens. Nanotechnology, covering diverse scientific fields like molecular biology, organic chemistry, semiconductor physics, and computer chip microfabrication, is an example of the type of cutting edge scientific research currently being explored. This proposal creates a Nanotechology Hub at the UW-Extension to further exploration in this field and promote the development of nanotechnology businesses in our state. It can provide information and resources to guide the commercialization of the state’s best research. It also creates a Nanotechnology Council to set policies and priorities for the nanotechnology hub and to develop plans for the hub to sustain its own funding.
Rural Broadband Expansion
Provides greater access to grants for public schools, technical schools and libraries to get them expanded access to broadband internet in underserved areas to ensure they can compete in a 21st Century global economy.
Increase the minimum wage to $10.10
To lift hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin workers out of poverty, this proposal raises Wisconsin’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour in three increments, and indexes the minimum wage to inflation. It is estimated that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour will benefit more than 600,000 Wisconsin workers.
Refundable Angel and Early Stage Seed Investment Credits
Makes investing in high-tech start-ups and entrepreneurs from Wisconsin appealing to investors across the nation and around the world by offering a tax refund to investors. It makes both the angel and early stage seed investment tax credits refundable if the amount of credit owed to the investor exceeds their Wisconsin tax liability. (The proposal was also included as SSAB 15/SSSB 15 on Gov. Walker’s Fall 2011 Call for Special Session, but Republicans in the Assembly and Senate refused to act on the bill.)
Index the Homestead Tax Credit
The Homestead Credit is a property tax and renter's refund that benefits low income families and the elderly on fixed incomes. This proposal restores indexing of this program to ensure the credit keeps up with inflation.
Made in America
The Made in America Act requires state and local units of government to give preference to U.S.-made products when purchasing materials. It builds on Wisconsin Democrats’ earlier effort, the American Jobs Act, which prohibits the state from spending tax dollars on services overseas. It’s also a response to the disturbing new trend of states purchasing prefabricated bridges and building materials from China.
Fund Farm-to-School Grants
The state’s farm-to-school program connects schools with locally grown foods, provides nutrition and agricultural education, and improves the incomes of farmers. However, the Republicans cut funding to this in the 2013-15 budget. This proposal restores full funding to this program.
Restore the Earned Income Tax Credit
Economists on both side of the aisle agree that the Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the most effective ways to boost the income of working citizens. This proposal restores the cut made to the program by Republicans, and extends the Earned Income Tax Credit to individuals.
Create a Clean Energy Jobs Task Force
Opportunities around clean and renewable energy present some of the greatest possibilities for long-term job creation in our state. There are numerous areas where new science and technology are developing and our state could be positioned to take advantage and be a leader. This proposal will create a legislative task force to partner with stakeholders including the utilities, scientific experts, innovative businesses, building trades representatives, and local communities to take testimony to better understand how our state can control energy costs and grow Wisconsin jobs, while being better stewards of our environment.
Workforce Growth 2.0
Creates a competitive grant training program based on the needs of Wisconsin businesses aimed at closing the skills gap facing our state. The proposal also provides for a dual enrollment pilot program between K-12 schools and technical colleges and creates an innovation grant program for faculty, staff, and students to apply for grants for commercialization activities for technical college-developed products and processes. Finally, the bill creates Veteran Success Grants to reach out to veterans, assist them in exploring career options, and provide veterans training for employment or higher education.
Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer Matching Grants Program
To build on the successful federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, this proposal would create a competitive state matching program for Wisconsin small businesses awarded federal SBIR or STTR grants through the Small Business Administration.
To ensure we are relying on our local businesses, this proposal requires the state to attempt to purchase at least 20% of materials and contractual services from Wisconsin-based businesses. The bill also sets a goal that at least 20% of products and services purchased by local governments be from Wisconsin-based businesses, as well as a goal that local governments not purchase less from state-based businesses than the prior year.
Small Business Tax Credit Now
Helps small businesses take advantage of existing tax credits for business investments by offering them up front as a grant. This bill will make state tax credits work for small businesses. (The proposal was also included as SSAB 16/SSSB 16 in Gov. Walker’s Fall 2011 Call for Special Session, but Republicans in the Assembly and Senate refused to act on the bill.)
Wisconsin Food First Bill
The University of Wisconsin System purchases millions of dollars’ worth of food each year for their facilities around the state, including campus dormitories, student unions, and sports facilities. This proposal modifies the UW System’s purchasing process to allow for extra consideration to be given to locally produced food, rather than the lowest bidder.