LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) – Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D, Milwaukee) and the Democrats unveiled an expansive jobs proposal last week made up of nine initiatives.
Among the proposal's plans are giving small businesses grants up front to get started rather than tax credits down the road, requiring Wisconsin to buy American products when it comes to infrastructure and a new grant program to fund workforce development partnerships between businesses and technical colleges.
"If we restore funding to technical colleges that was cut and we're able to close the skills gap that we have, that's 35-thousand jobs," Larson said on a visit to La Crosse Tuesday. "With the buy American and prioritize Wisconsin initiatives, as well as the one putting grants up front as opposed to tax credits, those would take more time to come through."
"But all in all we're looking at several thousand jobs," Larson said.
The prioritize Wisconsin initiative requires the state "attempt to purchase at least 20-percent of materials and contractual services from Wisconsin-based businesses."
"You can make sure there's a priority given," Larson said. "When we send money out of state for contracts or supplies, that money's likely not coming back."
"But if we incentivize to make sure, even if it means we have to pay a little bit more, that we're employing Wisconsinites and making sure they have a job, then that money is staying in our state's economy," he added.
Larson also called on Senate Republicans to approach job creation with greater urgency.
"We haven't seen a jobs proposal come through the senate yet, which is why we put these out," Larson said. "The first thing to pass was a bill settling a political score against the secretary of state."
"So (Democrats) shrugged our shoulders at that and decided that, if the Republicans aren't willing to put forth jobs proposals, let's put some forward and hope the Republicans see them," he said.
Larson added that, while job creation is his party's top priority as the new legislative session continues, the Democrats also have other goals.
"We saw largest cut in state history to education in the last budget -- $800-million to K-12 education alone," Larson said. "So we're looking to see those funds restored. With the Governor touting extra money from those cuts and looking to spend that money, we'd like to see that priority set to make sure all kids have access to a quality education."
"I also think another priority everyone can agree on is making sure we have more accountability and transparency throughout our government," Larson said, "particularly in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation which has seen inherent problems."
"We've seen millions of dollars lost and now we've seen least qualified individual on the list of people to be hired getting the reigns to the organization from the Governor," he said.
Governor Scott Walker announced that Reed Hall, who had served as the WEDC's CEO on an interim basis, would accept the post full-time earlier this month.
The state paid for a search firm which recommended three finalists to the Governor, but the Governor said all three of those finalists recommended he appoint Hall instead.
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