My vision for Wisconsin in 2016

Column by Rep. Katrina Shankland, published in the Stevens Point Journal

As we enter the new year, I’d like to reflect on the past year and present a vision for what 2016 should look like in our great state.
The legislature began 2015 with a debate on the state budget. With Governor Walker running for president at the time, it quickly became clear that the budget was more of an ideological document than a fiscal one. Republican legislators voted to cut the University of Wisconsin System by $250 million, drastically change our state’s reputable long-term care system and put our roads on the state credit card, all to help the governor with his presidential ambitions.
In 2016, the legislature should work together to invest in higher education and make it easier for everyone to go to college, strengthen our long-term care system by empowering consumers and continuing IRIS and pass a sustainable, forward-thinking funding solution so our roads and bridges are safe and well-maintained.
We also debated “right to work” in 2015, which could erode wages in Wisconsin. Instead of driving down wages, the legislature should take action in 2016 to support working families and raise household incomes. Workers deserve paid family leave and earned sick days so they aren’t forced to choose between their jobs and caring for their loved ones. We can make child care more affordable by providing tax relief for families with child care costs. The legislature should also pass legislation to allow people to refinance their student loans the way they can a car loan or mortgage and make retirement security a reality for everyone.
Wisconsin saw many layoff notices in 2015, from Oscar Mayer to Eaton Corporation. In 2016, the legislature should invest in high-growth job sectors that will create family-supporting jobs and make stronger commitments to our public schools, technical colleges and universities to maintain a well-trained workforce. We should also expand apprenticeships and job opportunities for young people. My Assembly Democratic colleagues and I introduced 15 jobs bills in 2015 to advance high-demand, fast-growing fields like nanotechnology and clean energy, and Republicans should join us in advancing these issues in the coming year.
Let’s not throw any more of our tax dollars out the window by giving unsecured loans to corporate executives that they fail to pay back or use to pay for their Maserati. In the new year, the legislature should resolve to be good stewards of taxpayer money and reform the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation so that it’s accountable and transparent. We should also make sure that our tax dollars aren’t used to help politicians run for office — like the governor using state security for his presidential run. Democrats have introduced legislation to protect taxpayers and prevent future misuse of public money, and we should pass these bills in 2016.
The legislature closed out 2015 by holding a special session to pass two Republican bills that dismantled our nonpartisan government watchdog agency and opened the floodgates to massive dark money in elections. This won’t help anyone get ahead except for politicians. The people of Wisconsin deserve legislators who will protect their access to clean and open government, and we should work to strengthen our open meetings and open records laws in 2016.
The Wisconsin State Legislature should work together in the new year to create an economy that works for everyone and a government that represents everyone. This is my vision for 2016, and you can count on me to continue fighting for our shared values every day.
State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, is Assistant Assembly Democratic Leader.