For the City Times
As the old year ends and the new one begins, many of us make New Year’s resolutions. Reflecting on the state of Wisconsin as we enter 2016, it seemed to me that government leaders could also stand to adopt New Year’s resolutions of their own, to address our growing challenges and return to our traditional values.
Return to Open Government: Many of the recent proposals of the Governor and Republican leaders in the Legislature have been designed, not to help average citizens, but to protect themselves from public scrutiny. From attempting to severely weaken our state’s open records laws, to exempting themselves from John Doe investigations, to hiding the identities of their campaign donors, to abolishing the highly-respected, non-partisan Government Accountability Board, Republicans have drawn a veil of secrecy over state government. It’s time we return to Wisconsin’s historic commitment to clean, open government, and stop placing elected officials above the law.
Restore our Schools and Universities: Over the past six years, our public schools, technical colleges and universities withstood historic cuts in state funding. The resulting damage is beginning to show. Local school districts are cutting education programs and scrambling to keep their doors open. University faculty are leaving to find more competitive salaries and secure positions elsewhere. Companies are thinking twice about locating in Wisconsin because they know that defunding public education will make skilled employees even harder to find. If we want to avoid long-term harm to our economy and our children’s quality of life, we must reinvest in our education infrastructure.
Fix Our Roads: You don’t have to do much driving around the state to know that many of our roads are falling apart. One of the greatest failures of Republican leaders in 2015 was their inability to find a solution that would allow us to repair our state, county and town roads and keep projects on schedule. We can’t continue to ignore our transportation infrastructure, and we can’t simply rely on the state credit card to fund it. We need to come together on a bipartisan basis to look seriously at all of the funding alternatives, and then have the political courage to put forward a balanced plan that protects the billions of dollars taxpayers have already invested.
Address Our Workforce Crisis: As the Baby Boom generation retires, our skilled workforce is tightening. Many industries are already having difficulty finding skilled employees, and the Department of Workforce Development predicts that within 20 years, our workforce will actually begin to shrink. This will make it difficult for businesses to expand or locate here, and will lead to a downward economic spiral that will affect all of us. A number of bipartisan proposals have been introduced, including two bills I authored that would use student loan debt relief to keep and attract skilled workers to the state, especially to rural areas. It’s time for the Legislature to act.
Get Serious about Job Creation: Wisconsin continues to lose out on the national economic recovery. We’ve fallen to 37th nationwide in new job creation, and we are dead last in new business startups. Meanwhile, our state job creation agency has lost credibility, both with the Legislature and general public. Governor Walker and Republican legislative leaders must finally take economic development seriously, and move to restore both effectiveness and public confidence to our state job creation efforts.
I could add to the list: addressing the student loan debt crisis, getting back our federal tax dollars to expand BadgerCare, managing our groundwater resources, and more. There is much work that needs doing. At the same time, Republican leaders indicate that they intend to adjourn the legislative session months early. I hope that, before they go home for the year, legislative leaders will resolve to make progress on these vital issues that affect the lives of everyone who calls Wisconsin home.
Julie Lassa represents the state’s 70th District.