Northern Wisconsin Comes to Madison

Lucky. That’s what I told one of my colleagues earlier this year when he asked me how I felt about making the long trip back and forth to Madison almost every week. I said I felt lucky to represent such great people from such a great part of the state.  At the time, I was pretty sure he thought I was pulling his leg. 

I was sitting with him this week and he offered an apology of sorts. He told me that I was indeed lucky.  What changed his mind?  You, the people of Northern Wisconsin.  In the last couple of weeks, a number of groups from Northern Wisconsin have taken the time to come down to Madison to meet with legislators and testify on bills.  And they did a great job.

Students from Prairie Farm High School participated in a Student Service and Professional Organizations Day at the Capitol. Realtors from across Northwestern Wisconsin were in the Capitol to meet with legislators.  Community leaders from the Heart of The North were here to advocate on issues important to Barron, Rusk, Sawyer, and Washburn counties.  And a dedicated and tenacious group from Superior came down to testify on behalf of the Better City Superior Initiative.

Each and every one of them should be proud. We might not see the results of their efforts immediately, but they are moving the needle forward.

Of course, the people and businesses of northern Wisconsin are no strangers to overachievement. Since Gov. Walker and Republicans created the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in 2011 Northwest Wisconsin has received less than 5% of the award dollars WEDC has distributed.  But our businesses stepped up and created over 10% of the new private jobs.

73% of WEDC’s awards have gone to Southern Wisconsin, including 43% to Southeast Wisconsin alone.   Southeast Wisconsin created just 36% of the new private sector jobs in Wisconsin since the first GOP budget.

I wish my Republican colleagues let us keep more of our resources here in the North, because we clearly know what to do with them. This week I voted in favor of a bill that hopefully is a baby step towards that goal.  Under Senate Bill 769, fifty or so “rural” counties will be able to compete for part of a $50 million dollar economic development fund.

It’s a start, but it pales in comparison to what is being handed out to southeast Wisconsin and Foxconn. WEDC, the agency Gov. Walker has put in charge of the FoxConn plan, predicted it might impact 21 counties in Southern Wisconsin. There are 72 counties in our state. Taxpayers in each and every one – including the 51 where WEDC estimated no FoxConn benefit – will be forced to send Billions to one single Chinese company.

This week we found out that FoxConn will cost taxpayers 8 times more per job than previous WEDC awards. Unfortunately, that doesn’t even tell the whole story.  That number is based on the rosiest possible scenario.  Based on the number of jobs FoxConn has actually pledged, the GOP would force Wisconsin taxpayers to send FoxConn 21 times more than other WEDC awards.  We’ve already learned that a plan that was supposed to cost $3 Billion will cost at least $4.5 Billion -- how much higher will this go?

This legislative session began with real optimism that rural communities and businesses would finally be a priority. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.  But I’m not giving up.  We’ve shown that the people of Northern Wisconsin can do more with less.  We’ll keep fighting to keep more of our resources at home instead of sending them overseas.