Badger Blueprint Offers a New Direction for Our State
By State Senator Julie Lassa
Governor Walker’s presidential campaign travels created a leadership vacuum in the state, one that has left Wisconsin searching for direction. Our state continues its long economic malaise, trailing behind the region and the national average in new job creation, even as we continue to lose jobs that pay middle and upper range salaries. A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that Wisconsin citizens are falling out of the middle class faster than any other state in the nation.
The response of the Governor and the Republicans who control both the Assembly and Senate has been to advance proposals such as ending the open records laws, abolishing the Government Accountability Board, and changing the John Doe Law. These moves to blind good government watchdogs are more about protecting their own political power than about leading our state forward. Clearly, we need a new approach.
After listening to the hopes and concerns of people across the state about the future of Wisconsin, my fellow Senate Democrats and I have offered a new way forward. We call it the “Badger Blueprint,” a series of proposals that will lead to growth, innovation, and opportunity for all the people of Wisconsin. In my next three weekly columns, I’ll share the strategies we’ve put forward that can return our state to its traditions of prosperity and progress.
The first focus of the Badger Blueprint is Growth. In order to grow our economy, we need to grow the capacity of our people to take advantage of 21st Century opportunities. Wisconsin already faces a significant skilled workforce shortage, and our aging population means that our workforce will actually begin to shrink in less than twenty years. If we want to avoid the economic devastation this would cause, we can’t keep doing as Republicans have done, making catastrophic cuts to the public schools and universities we need to build our future workforce.
The Badger Blueprint would reverse this trend by restoring funding for our public schools, an investment we would fund by getting back more of our federal tax dollars which Governor Walker and legislative Republicans have stubbornly turned away. This would enable Wisconsin to invest in proven initiatives to improve the quality of our children’s education, such as expanding early childhood programs and improving access to four-year-old kindergarten. And we would address the conditions that have led to a shortage of the teachers we need to give our kids a quality education.
After our public K-12 schools, the bulwark of our future economic growth will be our higher education institutions, which have also been handed massive cuts under the Republicans. The Badger Blueprint will prepare our state for greater growth, not only by investing in our universities and technical colleges, but by helping make college more affordable and easing the crushing load of debt on college graduates.
We need to make sure that our efforts to generate growth benefit all the regions of our state, especially those rural areas that have particularly suffered in recent years. I’ve heard from many business leaders and economic development experts that attracting skilled employees to these areas is a barrier to greater economic growth. The Badger Blueprint will address this by providing student loan reimbursement for individuals who move to rural counties after graduation to fill in-demand jobs. We will also invest in expanding broadband access in rural communities, which has become the lifeblood of industry, retail, and even agriculture.
And we need to remember that the foundation for building and growing the economy of our communities will be maintaining the unique quality of life we enjoy in Wisconsin. That means preserving Wisconsin’s public lands rather than selling them off to the highest bidder, and protecting our clean air and water, which are the basis for the tourism economy and our entire way of life.
Business people understand that growth requires investment. The Badger Blueprint lays out a plan for investing in our people and institutions in a way that will create greater growth and opportunity for all the citizens of Wisconsin.