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Wis. GOP builds biggest majorities in decades

Continue reading Wis. GOP builds biggest majorities in decades

Wisconsin Dems look to make gains in Legislature

Come Election Day, all eyes in Wisconsin will be on the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But voters face a choice likely to shape their lives closer to home — whether to hand Republicans or Democrats control of the state Legislature.

Here are the key things to know about state legislative races:

WHO CONTROLS THE LEGISLATURE RIGHT NOW?

Republicans have had complete control of state government since 2011, when Scott Walker won the governor’s office and the GOP won majorities in the both the Senate and Assembly. The GOP enters Election Day with a 63-36 advantage in the Assembly and a 17-14 edge in the Senate.

WHY IS CONTROL SO IMPORTANT?

The majority sets the political agenda. Walker isn’t up for re-election until 2018, so if the GOP keeps both houses they’ll be able to pass anything they can agree on and Democrats will be powerless to stop them for the next two years. If the Democrats wrest control of either house, they can block Walker’s initiatives and create gridlock in Madison. The Legislature’s first task will be putting together the state budget; divided control could delay the spending plan’s approval beyond the beginning of the next fiscal year in July.

DO THE DEMOCRATS HAVE A SHOT IN EITHER CHAMBER?

Not in the Assembly. All 99 seats are up, but Republicans’ majority appears insurmountable. Seventeen GOP incumbents don’t even have opponents.

Things look a little brighter for Democrats in the Senate. Eight seats are in play, including five held by Republicans and three by Democrats. The Democrats need to take six of those eight to win the majority.

DO ASSEMBLY DEMOCRATS BELIEVE THEY CAN MAKE ANY HEADWAY?

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca has his sights on three open seats. He’s banking Mandy Wright can defeat Republican Patrick Snyder for a seat representing north-central Wisconsin. Wright held the seat until she lost it to Republican Dave Heaton in 2014. Heaton is not running for re-election. He also has high hopes that Dennis Hunt can beat Republican Rob Summerfield for an open seat representing northwestern Wisconsin and Scott Nelson can defeat Republican Shannon Zimmerman for an open seat representing the Hudson area across the border from Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

As for targeted GOP incumbents, there aren’t many. Democrats want to unseat freshman Todd Novak in southwestern Wisconsin’s 51st district and two-termer Kathy Bernier in the 61st, which includes parts of Eau Claire, Chippewa and Clark counties.

WHAT ABOUT THE SENATE?

Democrats have targeted an open seat in the 18th Senate district, which includes parts of Winnebago and Fond du Lac counties. Democrats have put their faith in Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris to defeat Fond du Lac Republican Dan Feyen. Walker signed a bill earlier this year barring county executives from serving simultaneously in the Legislature, which means Harris would have to trade his $102,800 county job for a $50,950 senator’s salary. Democrats complained the bill was designed to make Harris quit the race but Harris has refused to drop out.

Democrats also believe Sen. Luther Olsen, a moderate Republican from Ripon, Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, who made a name for himself by writing a bill that relaxed Wisconsin’s iron mining regulations, and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls are vulnerable.

HAVE REPUBLICANS TARGETED ANY SENATE DEMOCRATS?

They’re going after the Democrats’ most powerful figure in the chamber, Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. She faces a challenge from Dan Kapanke for her seat representing the La Crosse area. Shilling took the seat from Kapanke during the 2011 recall elections spurred by anger over Walker’s public union restrictions.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Republicans also are targeting Julie Lassa, who represents the Stevens Point area, and Dave Hansen, who represents the Green Bay area.

Fitzgerald said he believes support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will ripple down the ballot and help the state GOP. He predicted Republicans will come back with 19 seats again this session.

GOP leader predicts Trump will lose in the state without harming party

Donald Trump probably won’t win Wisconsin, given the dismal performance of past Republican presidential candidates in the state, the Assembly’s top Republican said.

Trump appeared at a rally in Waukesha, one of the state’s most conservative cities, on Sept. 29. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos pointed out the next day that a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t won Wisconsin since 1984; he predicted Trump probably won’t break that streak.

Vos made the remarks during a debate with Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca at a downtown Madison club. He said the Wisconsin GOP was initially concerned about Trump hurting down-ticket Republican candidates, but that he now believes Trump is helping them by energizing conservative voters. He predicted that Republicans will retain their Assembly majority with something close to the 63–36 advantage they now enjoy.

“If the election was today, we’d come back with all 63 seats,” Vos said.

Trump’s Wisconsin campaign director didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Vos supported Sen. Marco Rubio during the primary season and as recently as last month, he branded Trump an embarrassment. He said during the debate that he now supports the billionaire candidate. Vos explained to reporters afterward that he was angry with Trump because Trump didn’t automatically endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of the Wisconsin GOP’s stars, in Ryan’s primary race. Trump eventually did issue the endorsement, which Vos said changed his mind about Trump.

Barca, for his part, said he expects a huge turnout for Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold. The latest Marquette University Law School poll released on Sept. 21 showed Clinton and Trump about even and Feingold leading incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Still, Barca predicted that a national Democratic wave that could carry his party back to the majority in the Assembly.

“I don’t know what record Republicans will run on,” Barca said. “We feel very positive about this environment.”

Vos and Barca spent much of the rest of the debate bickering over legislative issues as if they were on the Assembly floor, with Vos interrupting Barca several times to call him critical and negative.

“Democrats, their job is to look outside and find a way to complain about the sunshine,” Vos said.

The hottest topic was the state’s road-funding shortfall. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed delaying major projects and relying on borrowing rather than raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees, a move that Vos and Assembly Republicans have called short-sighted.

Vos said he’s open to any ways of reducing costs and raising revenue. Barca called Walker’s budget “disgraceful” and ripped Republicans for rejecting Democrats’ proposal to automatically raise the gas tax last year.

“Their record on this is abysmal and I don’t have much confidence … it’s going to be any different,” Barca said.

— By Todd Rrichmond, AP writer

Wisconsin projects $100 million shortfall under current budget

Wisconsin is expected to take in $100 million less in revenue than it expected by the end of the 2015–17 budget, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported today.

The shortfall is the result of a $158.2 million decrease in projected tax collection. Some spending will have to be cut from the budget.

Democrats said that tax revenues have fallen short because Republicans have failed to generate jobs that would increase Wisconsinites’ take-home pay. Several noted the irony of the news coming so closely on the heals of Gov. Scott Walker’s State of the State address, during which he touted the state’s economy and finances under his leadership.

Walker has slashed many state programs in order to provide large tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations. That strategy, known as “trickle-down” economics, has been the mainstay of the GOP’s financial strategy for nearly four decades.

“Big tax breaks for businesses do not trickle down to the pockets of our citizens,” said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. “Let’s try something new like prioritizing funding for education, increasing the minimum wage and roll back some business tax breaks in favor of middle class tax cuts. We know what works to improve the economy, unfortunately there is not a Republican out there that will consider proven solutions.”

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said, “The first step toward improving our state’s finances is accepting federal BadgerCare funds to provide health care to roughly 80,000 Wisconsinites at a savings of more than $300 million to taxpayers over the next two years.”

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D–La Crosse, said, “Democrats will continue to fight for investments in local schools, worker training and infrastructure projects to create jobs and move our state forward.”

The budget shortfall comes after Wisconsin experienced the worst year for mass layoffs and plant closing since 2010 last year.

But the shortfall for 2015 is better than the $2 billion deficit the state had leading into the 2015–17 budget negotiations.

Democrats say Scott Walker cherry-picked data for State of the State address

Wisconsin’s Democratic leaders issued a flurry of statements, analyses and rebuttals in response to Gov. Scott Walker’s annual State of the State address. Many questioned his cherry-picking of economic data, blasted Walker-backed policies promoting secrecy and cronyism, and illuminated gaps in the speech’s coverage.

State of the State video responses from Sen. Shilling and other Democratic caucus members can be viewed and downloaded here. Below is a written compilation of several Democratic reactions, beginning with the Democratic Party’s televised official response from Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca:

From Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha

During his speech tonight, Governor Walker offered nothing more than Band-Aid proposals that are anemic and weak compared to the significant challenges we face.
 
The numbers are staggering.
 
In 2015, roughly 10,000 hardworking Wisconsinites received layoff notices, the highest single-year total since the governor took office. Wisconsin still ranks in the bottom third for job growth and worst in the Midwest, and our middle class is shrinking faster than any other state. We rank third-worst for student loan debt and our roads are also third-worst in the nation. And Republicans have cut $1 billion from public K-12 schools since 2010.
 
Wisconsin should be a leader; however, under Republicans we are falling behind. When I travel the state I hear people say we should invest in our public schools, level the playing field for the middle class, promote good-paying jobs and invest in our roads and bridges.
 
The truth is the State of our State is being neglected by Republicans putting their own needs above the needs of everyday Wisconsinites.
 
Last year, legislative Republicans turned their backs on Wisconsin’s interests in order to help Governor Walker in his failed run for president.
 
The Republican agenda included:

  • Shifting $800 million from public schools to unaccountable private voucher schools over the next decade;
  • A quarter billion dollar cut to our world-class university system;
  • Driving down wages for hardworking families;
  • And rejecting federal funding that would have meant health care coverage for tens of thousands more of our citizens.

This past fall, Republicans opened Wisconsin for corruption with an agenda designed to consolidate their own power and enrich the special interest groups bankrolling their campaigns. Perhaps most egregious was their late-night, secretive effort to dismantle our open records laws so they could hide their actions from the public.
 
It is clear after that Republicans cannot be trusted to do the right thing for the people of Wisconsin.
 
The difference between Democrats and Republicans at this juncture could not be clearer. My Democratic colleagues and I have made growing our economy and rebuilding the middle class our top priorities.
 
Our “Economic Opportunity Agenda” would help create good-paying jobs, close the skills gap by connecting workers with available jobs, increase wages and make us more competitive in a global economy. Our “Bring Back the Middle Class” package would boost retirement security and provide relief from high child-care costs and student debt.
 
Today alone on the Assembly floor, Democrats voted for proposals that would ensure significant investments in our public schools and affordable health care coverage for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites that, incidentally, would save Wisconsin taxpayers more than $300 million over the next two years. Democrats also voted for much-needed relief for more than a million student loan borrowers and equal pay protections for women in the workplace.

Sadly, Republicans rejected every single one of these bills.
 
Yet even in the face of Republicans’ inaction on these important issues and their betrayal of your trust and your interests, I believe the State of the People of Wisconsin is resilient.
 
I am inspired every day by the hardworking men and women who make up the fabric of our state. Wisconsin is in need of bold action for our workers and middle-class families and Democrats are ready to lead.
 
As Republicans continue to stack the deck against ordinary Wisconsinites and obscure their harmful agenda with election-year distractions, Democrats are focused on leveling the playing field and rebuilding the middle class the Republican agenda has hurt so deeply.
 
You can trust Democrats to restore opportunity and grow wages for ordinary, hardworking people.
 
You can trust Democrats to work to rebuild a strong middle class.
 
You can trust Democrats to grow an economy that works for everyone, not just a privileged few.
 
While legislative Republicans pursue an agenda focused on helping special interests and their own self-interests, legislative Democrats will continue to advocate for the people’s agenda in 2016 and beyond – but we need your help.
 
One of the proudest moments of 2015 was when you rose up and demanded the Republicans end their assault on open records. Your hard work and advocacy forced Republicans to back down, and you can do it again.
 
I encourage you to talk to your neighbors, friends and families about the direction our state is headed. Become engaged and make your voice heard. Together, we can put Wisconsin back on the right track and make sure the State of our State is stronger for all our citizens.
 
Thank you for watching, and as always, my fellow Wisconsinites, Forward!

From Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-LaCrosse

Over the last five years, we’ve seen deep cuts that have limited economic growth, stifled innovation and denied thousands of families the opportunity to get ahead. Democrats continue to believe that the best way to move our state forward is by restoring investments in our schools, infrastructure and worker training programs. 

When it comes to the challenges facing our state, we need solutions, not sound bites. Placing more students in unpaid internships isn’t going to help the nearly one million Wisconsinites burdened by $19 billion in student loan debt. It’s time to follow the lead of other states like Minnesota and allow families to refinance their student debt at a lower interest rate just like you can with home and auto loans.

Democrats remain committed to creating a childcare tax credit for working families, supporting new jobs through infrastructure investments and expanding retirement security options for hardworking residents. With Gov. Walker’s presidential bid behind us, it’s time to look forward at ways we can improve our state and rebuild our middle class.

From Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh

1.     The truth behind Wisconsin’s workforce numbers

CLAIM: “We have at least according to two of the statistics from the federal government, the highest number of people last year working in the last 20 years.”

(http://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/local-news/state-of-the-state-preview) 1/17/16

In May of 2010, Wisconsin had 3,074,000 people in the labor force (BLS).  In May of 2015, Wisconsin had 3,076,000 people in the labor force. The labor force growth rate over the past 5 years is an anemic 0.01%. Compare that to the growth of Indiana (.41%), Iowa (.31%), and Minnesota (.61%) over the same time period.

CLAIM: “We’re one of the top 10 states in terms of the percentage of people in the work force.” (http://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/local-news/state-of-the-state-preview) 1/17/16

This is not significant or new in any meaningful way. Wisconsin has typically had a higher labor participation rate than the rest of the U.S. going back to 1990. And it was higher than it is now under Governor Jim Doyle. Regionally, it has been higher than all neighboring states except Iowa and Minnesota.  

What is significant is that Wisconsin’s labor participation rate has dropped nearly 6 percentage points since 1995, exceeding all but Indiana and Michigan. This reflects that Wisconsin’s labor force as a percentage of population appears to be shrinking faster than most of our neighboring states.

2.     Low unemployment + slow job growth ≠ successful economic measure

CLAIM: “A recent revised report from the federal government shows that the unemployment rate in Wisconsin is the lowest it has been since the spring of 2001.”

Wisconsin does have low unemployment by almost any measure, although not as low as 15 other states.

So how can our unemployment rate be so low if our job creation rate is so bad?

The answer is that Wisconsin is losing workers at nearly every age level over the prime working years, with more people moving out of the state than are moving in. And the people who are moving out are predominantly 20-to-50 year olds. Had Wisconsin’s population growth stayed at the level consistent with our neighboring states growth rates, we would have had an additional 46,000 state residents 16 and over.  Our low unemployment rate is in part the product of workers who are choosing to leave the state for work.  (http://www.uwosh.edu/faculty_staff/mcgee/Jobs_or_Unemployment.pdf)

3. Job numbers need context

CLAIM: “The 16,600 new jobs created in the month of October is the best monthly jobs gain since April of 1992 and the best October since at least 1990.” And the 45,100 new private sector jobs added October over October is statistically significant.”

It is interesting that the Governor chose to tout October jobs in December, after the newer November numbers had been released.  The 12-month growth in November was nearly 13,000 jobs less than October’s 32,400 and trailed neighboring states. A classic example of cherry-picking.

4. “New businesses” that don’t actually exist.

CLAIM: “There has also been a net increase of over 43,000 new businesses.”

Governor Walker is referencing the number of newly registered “business entities”. However, many of these entities have no employees at all, and never will.  According to Politifact, that is because the Governor’s numbers also include non-profits such as youth groups, recreational athletic leagues, and home associations. It also includes thousands of limited-liability companies only set up to function as holding companies, startups, and out-of-state companies that register as a placeholder in case they were to do business in Wisconsin in the future.

5.  Chief Executive Magazine

CLAIM: Chief Executive Magazine today ranked Wisconsin the “12th Best State for Business” in its annual survey of CEOs, an increase of two spots over the 2014 ranking, and a significant increase since 2010, when the state ranked 41st.”

Business leaders were asked to grade states with which they are familiar on a variety of competitive metrics that CEOs themselves regard as critical. These include: 1) taxation and regulation; 2) quality of workforce; and 3) living environment. The tax and regulatory grade includes a measure of how CEOs grade a state’s attitude toward business, a key indicator. “

One of the State Advocate CEOs for Chief Executive.Net Magazine is none other than Diane Hendricks, Chairman of Hendricks Holding, Beloit, WI.  Forbes Magazine estimated Hendricks’ March net worth at $2.8 billion. Hendricks and her husband, Kenneth, built ABC Supply. She became chairman of the company after her husband died in 2007. The company posts annual revenue of more than $4 billion.

She was also Scott Walker’s largest donor, and yet owed no state income tax in 2010.

In Summary, the rankings include “a measure of how CEOs grade a state’s attitude toward business, a key indicator.” In this case, how Diane Hendricks, Governor Walker’s largest donor perceives things to be in Wisconsin.

6.  K-12 education: taking credit from decades of investment

CLAIMS:  “Schools are doing better.”            

“High school graduation rates are up again — now ranking third in the nation.”                       

“Reading/Math scores are up in fourth and eighth grades.”

“ACT scores are second best in the nation.”

Most 2015 Wisconsin high school graduates started school in 2000 or 2001. Fourth graders started school in 2008 or 2009.  Eighth graders started school in 2004 or 2005.  The point is that the achievement at any of these levels is not a snapshot of momentary success.  It is the product of investments made in public education in our state over time.

Under Governor Walker and Republicans, K-12 GPR School Aids have lost more than $1 Billion ($1.05 Billion).  Recent cuts in state education spending, no matter how damaging, take years to work their way through the system as students moved from grade to grade.

Wisconsin is just beginning to feel the effects of Act 10 as there are fewer teachers, fewer students enrolling in teaching programs and a reduction in education licensing. 

7.  The UW System: When less is actually less.

CLAIM: “For the first time in University of Wisconsin history, in-state tuition is frozen at all UW campuses for four years in a row. That makes college more affordable for our students and working families.”

The UW System has lost $795 million in state aid since Governor Walker became Governor. In the strongest national economy in a decade, Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature cut $250 million in the most recent budget from our UW system. These cuts will lead to fewer courses offered and longer graduation times.  And the low morale is leading to high faculty turnover as talented professors leave for other states. 

From WisDems Chair Martha Laning

Democrats were hoping to hear Governor Scott Walker outline a plan to work across the aisle to solve the challenges Wisconsinites face each day. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker gave an election year speech focused on spinning a failed agenda rubber-stamped by his Republican-controlled legislature instead of a plan to increase opportunity for citizens in every corner of our state.

Wisconsin Republicans have spent the last five years on an agenda that decreased family incomes and shrunk the middle class. Local schools are struggling to do more with less in the face of budget cuts, our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, and mass layoffs just hit a five-year high.

If Republicans are ready to listen to concerns of Wisconsin families instead of focusing on their self-interests, Democrats are ready and willing to help lead on an agenda focused on growth, innovation, and opportunity.  

After a year of missed opportunities, it’s time to return to basic Wisconsin values and make sure that those who pay their fair share and play by the rules will have an opportunity to succeed and get ahead. Our state deserves an economy that works for everyone, not just millionaires and billionaires.

 From Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee

Wisconsin is 32nd — dead last in the Midwest — in private-sector job growth over the past four years. It was reported recently that layoff notices in Wisconsin topped 10,000 in 2015, the highest single-year total since Governor Walker took office. In sharp contrast, the Democratic agenda features job creation, wage growth, and other efforts to rebuilding the middle class as our top priorities. 

In his State of the State speech, our governor failed to mention the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), his privatization scheme, which has been plagued by outsourcing, corruption, and allegations of pay-to-play while failing to create jobs. Democrats have put forward a plan for a job creation agency that would be fully accountable and help entrepreneurs.

Tonight, Governor Walker spoke of his plan to address student debt, but it falls comically short of where our state needs it. Wisconsin is third-worst in the nation in student loan debt, yet Walker’s plan would provide relief to a mere 3% of Wisconsinites who need it. The Democratic plan allows people to refinance their student loans just like a mortgage or car payment, a common-sense plan supported by the vast majority of Wisconsinites. 

Republicans have been actively tearing down our state’s public, higher education system, disregarding the many Wisconsinites who depend on it. This included massive cuts to our technical colleges and a total loss of $795 million in state aid to the University of Wisconsin System under Walker and Republicans.

It should be no surprise our governor is out of touch with Wisconsin’s needs. During his failed presidential campaign, he spent approximately 48 minutes per day doing state business. Still, he blamed his gubernatorial duties, which he was elected to do, for his campaign’s failure. Democrats know that we need to listen to our constituents and respond to their concerns all the time, not just when it’s politically convenient.

Governor Walker is not on Wisconsin’s side, so I am very concerned about the State of Our State.

From Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee

While Gov. Walker and Wisconsin Republicans claim there’s a Wisconsin ‘comeback,’ more and more Wisconsinites are falling further behind under their willful ignorance and neglectful watch. 

The governor himself said that ‘we need to think more about the next generation than just about the next election.’ If that were true, we would have heard about the tragic epidemic of gun violence ravaging our communities. We would have heard how deep cuts have devastated our local public schools, and how too many students are drowning in debt due to our crushing student loan debt crisis. We would have heard about how families have been shattered by the lack of access to good paying jobs, so that they can put food on their tables and provide basic necessities for their loved ones.

We have serious problems to solve, and we need people serious about doing their jobs and serious solutions to fix them. I will continue to fight for a brighter future and better opportunities for families in Milwaukee and across the state.  This means standing strong for our values and fighting for safe neighborhoods, healthy children, strong local public schools, real student loan debt relief, and opportunities for workers to provide for their families.

From Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee

Just like he failed Milwaukee County as the Milwaukee County Executive, Governor Scott Walker has failed to lead Wisconsin. Last year, Governor Walker was so focused on trying to get elected to his next job that he failed to do the job he was elected to. Tonight, Governor Walker should’ve just said two simple words to the entire state; ‘I’m sorry.’

In tonight’s State of the State address, Governor Walker should’ve apologized for saying Wisconsin is open for business while ushering in a 5-year high of private sector layoffs. Governor Walker should’ve also apologized for saying we should transform education, yet making the largest cuts to public education in the history of Wisconsin that led to poor literacy rates and a drastic drop in ACT scores. Finally, Governor Walker should’ve apologized for failing to focus on running Wisconsin’s government, which led to financial abuse at WEDC and physical abuse at Lincoln Hills.

Tonight, the state of our state can be summed up in one word; neglected.

From Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison

During this entire legislative session, Governor Walker and legislative Republicans have shown that their priorities are protecting their own political careers, not the people of this state.  Time and time again we’ve seen this Governor and this Legislature put themselves, their campaigns and their own jobs, first.    

Since coming into power and following Governor Walker’s lead, legislative Republicans have cut more than $2 billion from our public schools, universities and technical schools.  They expect our public schools to Book Fair and Bake Sale their way out of the black hole they have created for our state, and our children.  Tonight we heard Governor Walker’s plan for Divide and Conquer 2.0 – taking health care options away from state employees to throw pennies at our public schools, instead of making the education investment our children need.

The vision outlined by Governor Walker tonight exemplifies a series of bad choices that continue to catapult Wisconsin’s families to lower wages, more student debt and fewer quality health care providers.”  

It is not too late for Wisconsin.  We are just one decision away from starting to turn this ship around.  Accepting the federal Medicaid dollars provided a pathway to put more money into the classroom while reducing if not eliminating the funding cut to our higher education institutions.  Despite my colleagues taking their marching orders from the special interests bankrolling their campaign coffers, we as legislators must continue to fight for the Wisconsin we all believe in, and protect the people’s backs, not our own.

From Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville

While he was running for President, Governor Walker focused on the priorities of Republican primary voters and wealthy donors. Now that he has dropped out of the race, it is time to focus on things that affect everyone in Wisconsin.

The Governor has vowed to restore a commitment to public education and the University of Wisconsin. After leaving thousands of students and families behind while pursuing the presidency, it is refreshing that Governor Walker finally recognizes that it is time to focus on what is good for Wisconsin.

Everyone in Wisconsin has been affected by the cuts to public education and the UW-System. We need to make sure that our workforce is prepared to fill the jobs that are currently available and that everyone is trained for the jobs of the future.

I wish we would have heard about are how we are going to fix our transportation budget and repair the crumbling roads and bridges throughout our state. This is a problem that is hurting every business, every community and every family in Wisconsin.

Kicking the can down the road while our highways and bridges are falling apart is a failure of Governor Walker’s leadership. It is time to bring people together and fix this problem for the future of our state. We cannot borrow our way out of this crisis and doing nothing only makes the situation worse.

I hope that Governor Walker can provide the leadership needed to focus on the issues that affect everyone in Wisconsin and not just the fringe group of primary voters and special interests.

From Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit

I am disappointed in Governor Walker’s State of the State address this evening. Wisconsin is in need of bold action for students, workers, and middle class families, but the Governor and legislative Republicans seem content to merely offer Band-Aids that are too little and too late for the challenges we face.

Student debt is a very real problem facing millions of Wisconsin residents, including senior citizens who are still paying off student loans decades after graduating from college. But Gov. Walker’s student debt plan would help only a tiny fraction of student borrowers. However, the Democratic plan provides real relief and allows people to refinance their student loans just like a mortgage or car payment. Allowing refinancing of student loans will help lower interest rates, level the playing field, and give more Wisconsin residents the opportunity to buy a car, own a home, and start a family.

Additionally, despite 10,000 layoff notices given out in Wisconsin last year, Gov. Walker and Republicans still have taken no significant actions to promote job growth in our state or make meaningful reforms to WEDC, our struggling economic development agency. As these layoffs occur and our economy progresses in the 21st century, the importance of retraining for laid off workers and preparing tomorrow’s workforce continues to grow.

Instead of bolstering our future workforce, Republicans have done serious harm to education in our state, handing down massive cuts to our public schools and technical colleges, and a $250 million cut to our world-class university system in their latest budget. If Republicans are serious about workforce development and growing our economy, they should restore these cuts and fully fund our public schools from kindergarten through college.

Wisconsin Democrats are ready to lead and will continue to demand action for the middle class and Wisconsin communities. We know we need better roads, stronger schools, more economic opportunity and real relief for all student loan borrowers. We know we need to expand access to healthcare, raise the minimum wage, make childcare affordable, and ensure retirement security for all workers. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker’s anemic plans for Wisconsin are too little and too late, and simply a distraction from the Republican inaction on these critical issues.

From Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee

Governor Walker is out of touch with the everyday needs of Wisconsin families. It is no surprise that while he was busy campaigning across the nation, he forgot about the real concerns of families at home. Wisconsin families are facing increased costs in childcare, layoffs from good-paying jobs and the daunting costs of student loans. Our children are suffering from the historic budget cuts to public education, and our parents are facing rising costs of healthcare due to the Governor’s failure to accept the federal funds for Badgercare. Rather than prioritizing the needs of the wealthy, we need to invest in an economic plan that will work for all Wisconsin families.

Senate Democrats drafted the Badger Blueprint because we know a strong Wisconsin starts with a comprehensive plan to strengthen and raise the standard of living for families across our state. From proven solutions to grow our economy as well as new ideas to increase opportunities for workers, the Blueprint shows that Senate Democrats are committed to helping all individuals succeed.

At half the national average, job growth in Wisconsin lagged again in 2015

Wisconsin ranks 37th in private-sector job growth over the past year, according to figures released today by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the same time, figures from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages show that Wisconsin ranked dead last in the Midwest over the past four years. Wisconsin’s private-sector job growth rate during the most recent one-year period was 1.27 percent, barely half the national rate of 2.3 percent.

Democratic legislative leaders seized on those numbers to underscore the failure of the state’s Republican majority leaders. Early this month, Dems called for an extraordinary session of the Legislature to address the state’s job crisis, but state GOP officials ignored them.

Instead “the Republicans in power chose to force through bills that shred the fabric of Wisconsin’s nationally recognized model of good, clean government,” said state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, in a statement he released at the time.

Other job-growth measures for 2015 have been no better than the recent ones. Between June 2014 and June 2015, Wisconsin added only about 31,000 new jobs — the second lowest in the last five years for the June-to-June time span.

Another report says by the end of 2015, there will have been a total of 11,000 mass layoff notices sent out to Wisconsin workers, nearly double the 6,500 mass layoff notices that the state averaged between 2012 and 2014.

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha vowed in a statement released today that “legislative Democrats will continue to advocate for the people’s agenda.”
“The difference between Democrats and Republicans couldn’t be clearer,” Barca said. “Democrats have called for an extraordinary session focused on creating jobs and strengthening our middle class, and we have brought forward numerous bills and ideas to help accomplish those goals. … Legislative Republicans continue to pursue an agenda focused on helping special interests and their own self-interests.

Report: Wisconsin job creation agency is spending more money to create fewer jobs

Wisconsin’s troubled job-creation agency handed out more awards last year but created fewer jobs, according to its annual report.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation awarded nearly $90 million more in economic development awards last year than the previous year, according to the recently issued report. But those awards are expected to create or retain almost 6,000 fewer jobs and result in $400 million less in capital investment.

Most of the additional funding resulted from a historic rehabilitation tax credit that Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature expanded in 2013, the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1OPh6L3 ) reported. Even without those credits, total awards increased $13.5 million, while promised job creation and capital investment dropped.

A WEDC spokesman says job numbers dropped because of declining interest in a tax credit program.

Democratic lawmakers on the WEDC board repeated their call for replacing the agency with a new public entity.

“I am deeply concerned that taxpayers are not getting the needed bang for their buck at WEDC,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said in a statement.

State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said she’ll ask for an explanation of the numbers at tomorrow’s WEDC board meeting.

“We know Wisconsin continues to lag behind the national average in new job creation, and I think we have to acknowledge that our state job creation programs haven’t had the kind of impact we need,” Lassa said in an email.

Republican lawmakers on the WEDC board did not respond to a request from the newspaper for comment.

Walker and the Legislature created the WEDC in 2011 to replace the state Department of Commerce. The agency has been plagued with problems since the start. A May audit noted WEDC’s contracts with grant and loan recipients haven’t complied with state law and the agency hasn’t demanded proof that award recipients are actually creating or retaining jobs. Documents WEDC released in June showed the agency handed out more than $124 million to companies without a proper review — taxpayer money that is now mostly lost.