Historic Legislative Session
With the current legislative session coming to a close, I wanted to reflect on an extraordinary time for Wisconsin. This legislative session was historic due to the significant challenges our state faced: an inherited $3.6 billion budget deficit, poor business climate due to years of tax increases and ballooning government, and a sluggish national economy due to a lack of leadership in our nation’s capitol.
While those in Washington voted to raise the debt ceiling and spend money we do not have on “Stimulus” programs, Wisconsin took a very different path. Rather than kicking the can down the road, we chose to break the status quo with bold reforms.
The legislative session started with a bang, when the Legislature stood with Governor Walker to change the way business was done in Madison. By implementing the common-sense budget reforms in Act 10, we gave state and local government the tools needed to balance and control their budgets, which prevented the mass layoffs seen in Illinois and California.
We passed a state budget that closed the deficit gap and balanced the budget without any accounting gimmicks, segregated fund raids, or tax increases. In fact, the budget resulted in a tax cut of $24 million, including the first permanent property tax freeze. In the end, our budget still invested over 44% of our total expenditures into education.
In addition to honest budgeting, our main focus was on improving the economy in Wisconsin. We recognized jobs are created by businesses in the private sector, not the government. The legislature passed 50 pieces of legislation with the goal of enhancing our job creation climate for businesses by reducing red tape and improving the tax climate. These bills included measures that ranged from torte reform and modernizing the Department of Commerce, to providing incentives to businesses that relocated to Wisconsin from other states and countries. The legislature also passed the first bill I authored, which makes it more difficult to raise taxes.
Overall, our legislative agenda is working. CEO Magazine vaulted Wisconsin up from 41st to 14th best place to do business. Additionally, Wisconsin moved up 17 spots to 24th in a recent survey of the best states to do business in according to Chief Executive Magazine. This was the best improvement by any state in the history of the survey.
On the other hand, Illinois dropped to 48th in the same survey. This is due to the stark difference between our states’ two paths. Illinois chose to increase taxes and spending, and now faces an $8.5 billion deficit. Illinois is now considering closing prisons and social service offices, as well as laying-off public workers and raising taxes on businesses yet again.
Although we were forced to make tough decisions, I believe our state is on a much better path due to our actions in the legislature. Wisconsin is positioned very well to make a strong economic rebound when the nation economy turns around. I look forward to building on the accomplishments we have already made.