BELOIT — Jobs, economic development and partisan politics were part of a reasonably cordial debate held Tuesday at Beloit City Hall.
The debate, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, pitted 45th Assembly District Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, against Democrat Ryan Schroeder, a Delavan City Council member. They are running for the newly redrawn 31st Assembly District.
About 40 people attended the debate that was moderated by Randall Upton, chamber president.
Schroeder touted his 12 years on the city council, where he served as its president and vice president, as well as being the chairman of many committees. That gave him experience "bringing different stakeholders together."
Loudenbeck told the audience that the was race "about you, your district and your future." She also touted endorsements from a variety of groups including the Wisconsin Corn Growers, Wisconsin Right to Life and the Wisconsin Tavern League.
Upton opened the debate by asking the candidates what two issues would receive their "priority attention."
"Jobs and the economy and jobs and worker training," Loudenbeck said. "I think we have to have a healthy jobs environment."
Loudenbeck said she was working with the Department of Workforce Development to craft a bill to provide money for worker training.
Loudenbeck would like to see businesses be able to train workers to meet the changing needs of the company. As workers are promoted, entry-level positions would open up.
She said she also hoped to create a worker-training fund. Money for that fund might come from payroll taxes or another source.
Schroeder said jobs and the economy were some of his top priorities, as well. A responsive educational system will promote those.
He chided the Legislature for stripping "public schools of dollars when the workforce is in need."
"I'm a strong proponent for reinstating the funding for public education and funding for technical colleges," Schroeder said. "My opponent supported those cuts."
As a follow-up question, Upton asked the candidates to specifically address the "workforce paradox." Employers say they have jobs available but struggle to find workers with the needed skills.
Schroeder said he had a record of creating jobs during his time on the city council.
He recently voted for an additional tax incremental finance district in Delavan to help with downtown development and restoration.
He also voted to support an agreement between the city and Lake Lawn Resort designed to help that business succeed.
Schroeder said the way his opponent campaigned "back home" on the issues is different from her behavior at the state Capitol where she "did what the Republican leadership wanted."
Loudenbeck said she had taken a practical, "how can I solve this problem" approach to issues.
Recently, she was at a meeting at Gateway Technical College listening to employers and others talking about the skills they needed.
"I felt like I had just been to the same meeting at Blackhawk Technical College," Loudenbeck said.
In response, she sat down with the leadership at Blackhawk Tech to ask about the possibilities of the two schools working together.
She also touted her work with Rock County 5.0, the countywide development agency.
Upton asked candidates about the prospect for maintaining a balanced budget while minimizing the tax burden on individuals.
"The prospects for a balanced budget, hopefully, will be easier in the next session," Loudenbeck said.
In the past budget, most state agencies received across the board cuts of 10 percent, she said.
The state was able to pay off a significant amount of debt but now has to pay back federal unemployment obligations.
Schroeder said he had served 11 years on the council finance committee.
"Every year it's been getting tougher and tougher," Schroeder said of the budgeting process.
Cuts in state aid to cities have forced difficult choices at the local level, and Schroeder said the state was "passing the buck."
He said Walker and the Republicans closed tax loopholes for corporations and big businesses.
In response, Loudenbeck said that she understood the local concerns—she served on the town of Linn Board.
"I was the chair of the planning and zoning committee and we had 39 miles of road to take care of," Loudenbeck said. "I just think that the starting point should not always be asking for more."