Local legislators tout support for UWEC Science Building, see potential common ground on Transportation
In their opening statements, emphasis on the budget was apparent. Senator Bernier stated, “The primary focus is the budget.” Representative Emerson described it at “the people’s budget,” in which the people were being given what they asked for through listening sessions. The local listening process was brought up again by Representative Summerfield. He stated that the local listening process should be continued, but he did think that the budget is “very Madison and Milwaukee-centric,” and the rural areas cannot be forgotten about. All of the legislators realize that it will be about negotiation and compromise, which was brought up by Representative James, and that priorities will have to be determined. For Representative Petryk, those priorities are helping fill jobs by helping people that have the skills and training people who want to gain the skills. Representative Kulp states that one of his priorities is to repeal the personal property tax.
The first question was regarding the UW-Eau Claire Science Building and how they think it will fit into the budget negotiations now that it is included in the capital budget that Governor Evers introduced. All of the legislators have high hopes for the project, but realize there will be challenges moving forward with the next steps. Representative Emerson highlighted the UW-Eau Claire Science Building as a “living example of bipartisanship,” both in Madison and the Chippewa Valley. Legislators from both sides of the aisle are supporting this building, and education and businesses are coming together in Eau Claire to make it happen. Representative Petryk focused on the importance of the Mayo Clinic partnership in making this happen, and Representative Summerfield made the point that it was important to all of Northwestern Wisconsin. Representative Kulp stated that he still needed to learn more about it, but realizes the challenges that are approaching in the next stages. The Governor and the legislator have a lot of ways to reject proposals, and with a divided government, this is likely to happen. Representative Kulp said, “There are a lot of ways to say no, we have to find ways to say yes.” Overall, there is a hopeful tone regarding the project and the legislators are working to make it happen.
The second question was, “Can each of you highlight one specific area in which your funding priorities aligns with the governor’s (not including the UW-Eau Claire Science Building) and one in which you differ most strongly?” There was a common theme among several legislators that they agreed with the transportation portion of the budget, including the eight cent gas tax increase. Legislators that focused on potential for compromise on transportation included Representative James, Representative Petryk and Representative Kulp. Representative Summerfield showed his support for the broadband expansion initiatives in the budget.
The disagreements were much more varied among the legislators. Representative James disagreed with the in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, and Representative Emerson disagrees with repealing the minimum markup law on gas.
The third question was regarding long-term solutions for transportation and if the legislators see hope for a bipartisan approach to make that happen. A common theme was that it looks better that it has in the past, but it still be a challenge in this session. Representative Summerfield and Representative Emerson agreed that the big picture must be looked at and the future has to be planned for. With the popularization of electric cars, Representative Summerfield highlighted that tolling and registration fees should be considered, not just a gas tax. Representative Emerson said that looking at mass transit and the expansion of bike paths would also be a viable option.
The fourth and final question was, “Last year, WEDC launched a marketing campaign to draw talent to the state, focused on millennials, alumni and transitioning veterans. However, WEDC’s funding request to continue the campaign at $5 million annually was not included in Governor Evers’ budget. What are your thoughts on talent attraction being part of the state’s workforce strategy?” Representative Petryk stated that attraction, retention and training were crucial to solve the workforce issues, while Representative James stated that focusing on the youth should be one of the top priorities. Senator Bernier highlighted that a multi-faceted approach must be taken.