State Views: Current approach hurts, rather than helps, economic climate

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Rep. Andy Jorgensen
Friday, March 7, 2014

When a child brings home a disappointing report card, a concerned parent takes action. Mom or Dad might meet with the teacher, limit TV time at home, double-check assignments, and find new ways to encourage the son or daughter’s best effort.

While it would be a stretch to say lawmakers are like parents to the state of Wisconsin, it’s true that we are responsible for its well-being. We are to follow its progress on a whole host of issues, and to take action if we see areas that need improvement.

Wisconsin’s economic report card remains disappointing, at best. Our state stands at just 37th in the nation in job creation and 45th in the country for wage growth. If we’re grading on a curve, that’s probably like a “D” and a “D-”.

I’m very concerned about this—but it seems partisan roadblocks stand in the way of progress.

Just this past week, my fellow Assembly Democrats and I called for creation of a Clean Energy Jobs Task Force. This special committee would be charged with finding ways to create family-supporting jobs that reduce pollution and with preventing foreign countries from dominating the clean-energy field. Labor experts say this industry is growing much faster than others, even health care, and I don’t want Wisconsin left behind.

This should have been a no-brainer—an easy “yes.” But Republicans refused to support even the creation of a task force on clean-energy jobs.

In stark contrast, the same day, they pushed a bill through the Assembly that stands to eliminate a “living wage” for thousands of municipal workers in Wisconsin. You see, local elected leaders in Madison and in Dane and Milwaukee counties have enacted ordinances requiring that their employees be paid at rates that keep them out of poverty—around $11 or $12 an hour.

There are lots of reasons to support living-wage ordinances; you can argue for local control, you can argue that the plans keep people off of public assistance programs (which cost taxpayers even more), or you can argue for wage equality. I offered an amendment to require businesses that contract with the state to cap their executive salaries to no more than $1 million a year. Frankly, if we can’t afford to provide custodians or home health care workers with living wages, we certainly shouldn’t be lining the pockets of CEOs so they can buy bigger houses or fancy sports cars. Unsurprisingly, my amendment failed on party lines.

I think eliminating living-wage provisions across the state only stands to hurt our economy and further lower our ratings, certainly in terms of wage growth. This approach isn’t working.

In the final days of this session—and beyond—I will continue to speak up for the priorities of Wisconsin’s middle class and try to bridge the divide between the parties. We must find a way to “improve our grades” and ensure a brighter future for all.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, serves the 43rd Assembly District, including parts of Dane, Jefferson, Rock and Walworth counties. He also serves as the Assembly Democratic Caucus chairman. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708; phone 888-534-0043; email Rep.Jorgensen@legis.Wisconsin.gov.

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