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December 18, 2022

The December 16 Holiday Legislative Breakfast took place on the stage of the RCU Theatre at the Pablo Center at the Confluence. Fittingly, state funding for the Confluence Project was a major area legislative priority in the 2015-17 state budget.

On Friday, December 16th, the Eau Claire Area Chamber held its Eggs and Issues Holiday Legislative Breakfast. This year in attendance were Senator-elect Jesse James (R-Altoona, Dist. 23), Senator Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire, Dist. 31), Representative David Armstrong (R-Rice Lake, Dist. 75), Representative Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire, Dist. 91), Representative-elect Karen Hurd (R-Fall Creek, Dist. 68), Representative Warren Petryk (R-Eleva, Dist. 93), Representative Treig Pronschinske (R-Mondovi, Dist. 92), and Representative Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer, Dist. 67). The event was a great opportunity to hear about common issues facing the Chippewa Valley area. It also allowed people to hear the legislator’s personal priorities heading into writing the state budget next year. Common themes of these priorities included the new University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire science building, tax reform, and workforce development.

UWEC Science and Health Sciences Building

All legislative members in attendance were in agreement on the importance of funding for phase two for the construction of the new science building. There was a lot of optimism about being able to get the funding approved in the budget. Rep. Emerson mentioned that she had discussed the science building with the UW System President and reiterated that getting the funding is always her top priority. Senator-elect Jesse James has also been appointed as the Vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Universities & Revenue. He hopes this will allow him to help work on getting the funding approved. Rep. Petryk mentioned that the science building does not only help UWEC, it is also an important step for helping solve healthcare shortages, a problem many rural communities are facing.

Tax reform and workforce development

Another common theme of discussion was tax reform. While there were many different ideas on what the tax reform should look like, the legislative members stated they anticipate some form of tax reform being passed. Possible ideas mentioned include implementing a flat income tax and removing the personal property tax.

Workforce development was a common concern as well for both in rural and urban areas. A struggle, not just for the Eau Claire area, but the state as a whole is being able to have individuals come back to their local communities after they graduate college. Both Rep. Pronschinske and Rep. Armstrong mentioned how this problem is leading to the shrinking demographic of younger adults in rural communities. The legislative members expect both more housing and childcare bills next year to help attract families to the area.

Wisconsin is projected to have a $6.6 billion surplus heading into next year, with many members believing that part of the surplus could go to providing tax relief. Some members discussed the surplus also be used for things like the UW-system’s list of projects, transportation aid, or exploring shared revenue.

Key priorities of each area legislator

The legislative members also talked about some of their personal priorities heading into the new legislative session:

Mental health is a very important issue for Senator-elect James, and he wants to use his experience working in law enforcement to help reform police policies, so they are better prepared to respond to crises. Because of his passion for mental health, he is excited to be appointed as the chair of the Mental Health, Substance Abuse Prevention, Children & Families Committee.

Sen. Jeff Smith wants to work on having a better relationship between the legislative and executive branches. Other top concerns for the year for him include helping public schools, redistricting reform, and removing the state’s ban on abortion.

Rep. David Armstrong wants to focus on workforce and economic development and bringing people back to their local community after college. Rep. Armstrong believes that reforms are needed with the state’s shared revenue system.

Rep. Jodi Emerson mentioned with the high number of new members in the assembly, she hopes it is an opportunity to change the attitude in the Assembly to be more cooperative. Representative Emerson wants to use the surplus to fund other areas such as childcare and mental health and crime prevention programs.

A big priority of Representative-elect Karen Hurd is municipal roads in rural communities. Because of this she is excited to be the Vice-chair of the Transportation Committee. Corrections are another important issue for her and she will be a member of the Assembly Corrections Committee.

Rep. Warren Petryk’s number one issue this year will be workforce development, including broadband internet expansion. He is also excited to see how the budget unfolds over the next six months.

Rep. Treig Pronschinske stated he wants local governments to give ideas on how the state should spend the surplus, and is excited to be on the Local Government Committee. He is also on the Sporting Heritage Committee.

Rep. Rob Summerfield is the Majority Caucus chair and said he wants to make sure the Assembly Freshmen are having their voices heard. He is also excited to be the Vice-chair of the Energy and Utilities committee. He expects more legislative action on broadband to happen after there is a better idea of what federal funding there will be.

Chippewa Valley Rally – February 22

Area business and community leaders will have the opportunity to interact with area legislators on state policy issues at the 29th Annual Chippewa Valley Rally on Wednesday, February 22, in Madison. Many of the topics discussed at the Holiday Legislative Breakfast will be on the agenda. Click here for information and registration.

More Information:
Local legislators talk budget surplus, UW-EC building funding (Leader-Telegram $)
Our View: Legislature’s commitment to education must include UWEC (Leader-Telegram Editorial)
Full list of Assembly Committees and Republican Committee assignments (Speaker Robin Vos)
Full list of State Senate Committees and Republican Committee assignments (Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu)

Posted by Emily Johnston Governmental Affairs Intern

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