Diverse group prepares for trip to Washington

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Jim Leute
February 2, 2014

JANESVILLE—More than 30 representatives of local businesses, organizations and municipalities will travel to Washington D.C. later this month with Forward Janesville.

They're all paying $1,000 for the three-day trip organized by Janesville's private economic development organization.

Dan Cunningham, Forward Janesville's vice president of government relations, said the primary goals are to build relationships and garner support for a national highway bill that contributes money to road projects such as the local expansion of Interstate 90/39.

Cunningham answered several questions about the upcoming trip and its goals.

Q: How would you describe the overall makeup of the group that will leave Feb. 26 and return two days later?

A: “It's a great group of people with a lot of variety,” Cunningham said, noting that Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag and school district Supt. Karen Schulte are making the trip along with people from several different industries and economic development groups around Rock County.

Q: Your group will meet with Wisconsin's two senators, as well as the two House representatives for this area. Don't you talk to these people routinely in Janesville?

A: “We do, but not as often as we should or want to,” Cunningham said. “Part of our objective is to get to know the staff people who do so much of the work.

“We want to get to know these people so that when the need arises, and it will, we're not making cold calls to Washington. We want to start building those relationships, and let them know we're interested in what they're doing.”

Q: You're also going to meet with another House member, Speaker John Boehner. How did you land on his agenda, and what's the point of that meeting?

A: “Rep. Paul Ryan and his staff helped tremendously with that,” Cunningham said. “We want him to know what Janesville is all about, what our challenges are and how we see things moving forward.

“We'll tell our story and also explain how we're moving forward and what the things are that can help us.”

Q: What is the overall goal for the trip? In other words, when you get back on Feb. 28, what do you think you'll be able to say that you couldn't say before you left?

A: “I would hope that we come home with a better awareness of how things work in Washington,” Cunningham said. “We want everyone to feel better about working with their lawmakers, and we want to establish a positive, friendly relationship with the staff members.”

Q: What work do you hope to accomplish in the lobbying effort for a federal highway bill?

A: “Our biggest message is the importance of a reauthorization of MAP-21,” Cunningham said.

MAP-21 is the acronym for the current highway bill that expires at the end of September. Without a new reauthorization bill, federal infrastructure investment falls to zero in 2015, at least theoretically. In the past, Congress has been unable to craft an acceptable bill on schedule and has instead relied on repeated extensions to cover funding while it worked out the next reauthorization.

It's uncertain if that will happen again.

“We need to make sure that Wisconsin gets back on a dollar-for-dollar basis what it sends to Washington for transportation projects,” Cunningham said. “While most of the I-90/39 expansion project will be paid for by the state, we still need to make sure that our federal transportation dollars are coming back to the state.”

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