Murphy’s Law

How Democrats Are Growing the Economy

By - Aug 15th, 2001 10:23 pm
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(While Bruce Murphy is on vacation, milwaukeeworld has invited some guest columnists to sound off.)

The recent state budget debate provided insights and displayed the dramatic differences between the parties as to how we answer questions about our state’s economic future and how we compete for the high-paying jobs of the 21st Century.

Republicans continued to play their one note song – taxes, taxes, taxes – and ignore the investments we must make if our state is to succeed.

The Wisconsin Economic Summit held in Milwaukee late last year brought together academic, business and political leaders to discuss how Wisconsin can position itself to succeed in the new century and the “new” economy. The overwhelming consensus was that Wisconsin succeeds if we invest in our universities, technical colleges and K-12 education system. The investments are critical to develop clusters of high tech industry centered near leading research institutions and provide business with access to the highly skilled workforce the new economy demands.

Senate Democrats answered the question of how we position our state and its citizens for success by proposing a budget that invests in the “human infrastructure” of our state – fully funding early education programs like four-year old kindergarten and the SAGE smaller class size program, providing additional funds for more class sections in high demand areas of study at technical colleges, and investing in the University of Wisconsin System across the state, including full funding for the economic stimulus package, the Madison Initiative and the Milwaukee Idea.

Assembly Republicans and their cohorts at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce by contrast continued to play their one note song – taxes, taxes, taxes – and ignore the real needs that must be met and the investments we must make if our state is to succeed.

One only needs to look at the experience of our neighbor state Minnesota to see how out of tune the Assembly Republican and WMC agenda is. Recently released data ranks Minnesota fourth in per capita state tax collections and yet their economy thrives while Wisconsin’s slows (other high-tech leaders like Massachusetts and California also have a heavier tax burden than Wisconsin). The median income in Minnesota outpaces Wisconsin by almost $6,500. Not coincidentally 28% of Minnesotans age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 22.7% of Wisconsinites. Clearly it is education and access to a well-trained workforce – not tax climate – that drives the decisions of the new, high-tech economy.

In spite of the experience of other states, the Republican budget launched an unprecedented attack on K-12 education, failed to invest in the university system and sought to criminalize cutting-edge medical research on embryonic stem cells — research pioneered in Wisconsin that could open the door to cures for fatal diseases and position our state as a leader in the emerging field of biotechnology.

The Assembly GOP proposed decimating K-12 public education by eliminating funding for four-year old kindergarten and slashing $60 million from the state commitment to fund two-thirds of the cost of public education (ironically, this would also cause a $60 million property tax increase).

Much has been made of “branding” Wisconsin as a way of attracting business. Threatening to throw researchers in jail would certainly “brand” our state.

Moving on to the University of Wisconsin System – the engine of new growth for our state – the Assembly GOP refused to invest in the economic stimulus package called for by 62 leaders of many of the largest businesses in the state. The UW sought additional resources to offer more classes in high-tech fields of study for students at out-state campuses, funding for the Madison Initiative and the Milwaukee Idea and resources to continue projects like BioStar. The GOP’s answer? No.

For good measure the Assembly GOP, led by their radical right wing, then attempted to take Wisconsin back to the dark ages by criminalizing embryonic stem cell research while Wisconsin is poised to be national leader in the emerging bio-tech industry.

Much has been made in the business and political world of “branding” Wisconsin as a way of attracting new businesses and good paying jobs. Threatening to throw researchers in jail would certainly “brand” our state.

Thankfully Democrats were able to turn back the Assembly Republican assault on education and common sense in the final budget package. But the debate will continue. The GOP and WMC continue their 30-second sound bite calls for more corporate tax cuts at the expense of investments in education.

For the sake of our economy we can only hope the GOP and WMC recognize the reality of our changing economy and play a new tune.
This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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