Wednesday, January 27, 2016

WisGOP jobs, budget failures, make passing good bills today much harder

There are a series of bills that got hearings in the State Assembly’s Jobs and Economy Committee this afternoon. Most seem to be related to offering up incentives to improve on Wisconsin’s “Worst in the Nation” standing for entrepreneurship, and being in the bottom third of the nation for job growth in 2015. These bills in themselves seem to be good ideas in isolation, but given the wrecked state of Wisconsin’s budget and how it tacitly admits the failure of past pro-corporate GOP policies, I’d file them under “Too little, far too late.”

The main bill that caught my eye was one that will give $10 million to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corportion (WEDC) in the next 2 years to give out grants and contracts to organizations known as “industry cluster partnerships” (ICPs). An ICP is defined in the bill as the following:
1. Will strongly support the further development of existing regional concentrations of industry-specific businesses in this state.

2. Has raised funding or funding commitments from sources other than the corporation and the state that equal at least 10 percent of the annual amount the industry cluster partnership is requesting from the corporation.

3. Is headquartered in this state.

4. Has contractual relationships or memoranda of understanding with institutions of higher education, including technical colleges, for the purpose of promoting the commercialization of technology developed at those institutions, promoting entrepreneurship, conducting industry-specific research, or developing the workforce within the applicable industry.

5. Is governed by a board of directors with members from the public and private sectors who represent the businesses within the applicable industry, including businesses in the industry cluster partnership, and who represent the interests necessary to ensure a collaborative, strategic approach to supporting economic development, job growth, and the development of marketable products and services in the applicable industry.

Not a bad plan in itself, because God knows this state has been slow to the game in using the great research and innovations from the UW System to grow and promote businesses in knowledge-based fields. But again, why has it taken this many years to get this off the ground, and why is it being brought up after a large amount of funds have been squandered on tax cuts to corporations and WEDC handouts to campaign contributors who added next to NOTHING in terms of jobs?

And the fact that this is going through WEDC should be cause for alarm, because other than the criteria listed above, there is no other type of “scorecard” set up to determine the organization and projects best suited to use this $10 million of taxpayer money. There clearly are some organizations slated to become ICPs in order to receive these funds, which leads to the obvious question of who these organizations are and why are they being targeted. WEDC has been shown that it cannot be trusted with taxpayer dollars in these types of situations, no matter how honest the organization receiving the money may be, and I’d argue that another department such as DOA (which isn’t much better, but at least has to deal with open records), or higher educational systems like the UW or Wisconsin Technical College Board would be a better source to handle that funding.

In addition, the state budget only has $64 million (at most) in breathing room left for this budget cycle after Gov Walker signs the civil service bill in the coming days, with a legitimate possibility that revenues will be revised down further with the recent slowdown in the U.S. economy. Is it worth it to add in another $10 million in funding with no means of offsetting those extra dollars somewhere else? By the same note, a companion bill is asking for a tax credit “equal to 25 percent of a taxpayer's qualified research expenses for research conducted in this state, if the research is approved by an industry cluster partnership.” That price tag is estimated to be a little over $6 million in this budget, and $10.6 million in the next budget.

So do we have the ability to pay for it? It’s interesting to note that a sponsor of both of these this ICP bill is State Sen. Alberta Darling, who shed doubts last week on Gov Walker’s proposals on college affordability and student loans due to the tightness of the state’s budget. The price tag of Walker’s bills is estimated at somewhere around $6 million for this budget, and that’s a concern, but these two bills totaling over $16 million are OK in Bertie DAHHH-ling’s world? That seems odd.

It is obvious that the WisGOPs are finding themselves in a pickle. Their “give it away to the corporations and cut workers’ wages” policies have led to horribly lagging job growth, and a deficit-ridden state budget that has had unpopular cuts put into it. Now that the 2016 elections are coming near, they realize they have to be seen as doing something “moderate and reasonable” in order to try to soothe the angry feelings of an electorate that realizes they have been had, so they crank out proposals like the ICP bill and the half-assed “college affordability” package and underfunded rural broadband expansion to try to distract the public.

But the problem is that Wisconsin’s budget is so messed up due to their prior decisions that they are going to have a hard time being able to pass these bills into law, or in maintaining the funding in these proposals. This means either nothing gets done, and these bills will die before the end of the session, or they will get passed, causing future budgets to be even more FUBARed due to the extra spending. Funny how this tends to happen in places that follow trickle-down policies, isn’t it?

Don't be fooled by this last-minute desperation to put lipstick on this piggish GOP behavior, folks. They put all of us into the economically stagnant mess we're in now, and they don't deserve any credit for waiting 5 years to realize their self-inflicted mistakes.

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