Building a Better Future For Northern Wisconsin

Earlier this week I meet with members of the Northwoods Area Builder's Association.  We talked about how we can work together to preserve and promote safe and affordable housing for the people of northwest Wisconsin.  As builders, they understand that you can’t build a strong building on a weak foundation.   Cutting corners might provide a quick fix, but it hurts everyone in the long run.  The same is true when it comes to preserving and promoting economic opportunities in northwest Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, the Walker Administration is pursuing policies that shortchange taxpayers who work for a living in our part of the state. 


Despite spotty and too often non-existent internet access in Northern Wisconsin, the Administration this week announced plans to phase out telephone access for job seekers applying for unemployment benefits they have earned – soon, the only way to file for unemployment will be online.  Starting in April, job seekers without internet at home will have to travel to someplace with reliable internet access.  The Walker Administration implied the change isn’t a big deal, suggesting claimants visit a “local” library -- which in our area are not served by public transportation, are hard to get to in winter and have limited hours. 


Unemployment is not only vital to the workers who qualify for it, and their families, but can be even more important to employers and to our area’s economy.   Grocers, retailers and suppliers count on these working families year round, not just during the busy tourism and construction season.  Policies that take resources out of our economy may be a short term fix for current state budget woes, but threaten to do long term damage to Northern Wisconsin.  


Just over a year ago, the Administration imposed another change to unemployment for seasonal workers that severely reduced the ability of construction, tourism and other seasonal businesses in our part of the state to keep workers by forcing them to take work in other areas or states that face less harsh winters.


These and other Walker administration policies are not producing results for working families.  Just this month new data showed Wisconsin continues to trail the national economy in private sector job creation.  In fact, five years after the Walker Administration put the scandal-plagued WEDC in charge of job creation, we had our worst second quarter for private sector jobs since the end of the Great Recession.   Wisconsin has trailed the national average for 20 straight quarters -- five full years – that’s every year since the first Walker budget.


At the same time, a handout snuck into the 2011 state budget goes far beyond helping smaller manufacturers who are actually creating jobs and gives big payoffs to special interests that do not create -- or even eliminate – jobs.  Under the Manufacturing tax credit that took effect in 2013, Wisconsinites who work for a living will be forced to pay $209 million next year alone to investors who don’t have to create a single new job in order to qualify for the tax break.  The most recent jobs report shows that Wisconsin lost 2,700 manufacturing jobs.    Taxpayers who work for a living shouldn’t be forced to give a handout to campaign donors who have failed to create manufacturing jobs. 


And taxpayers who work for a living in seasonal occupations certainly shouldn’t be denied access to unemployment benefits.  I have introduced legislation to address the seasonal worker change, a bill to redirect resources to our local roads that are currently squandered on the shameless giveaway and I will work with my colleagues to fight the change eliminating telephone access to unemployment.  The time has come to stop accepting quick fixes and shortcuts.  The people of Northern and rural Wisconsin deserve better.