Time to put our money where our mouth is
The first month of the new legislative session has ended, and things are beginning to pick up around Madison. Committees are starting to meet, legislation is being introduced and the governor is scheduled to give his 2013-15 budget address Feb. 20.
For me, the highlight last week was the first official meeting of the Workforce Development Committee. Although it was just an informational hearing—no bills have been referred to our committee yet—we heard from experts in the field who helped all of us on the committee learn about our workforce development system.
By no means is it an easy system. Nine state agencies receive funding or have oversight over nearly 40 workforce development programs. Furthermore, with 92 percent of our workforce development funding coming from the federal government, our hands are often tied as to how or when we use those funds.
The day after this meeting, I sat down with several members of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. These folks not only operate and oversee our area’s Job Centers, but they help execute several federal workforce development programs. When the economy nosedived in 2008, nearly 25 percent of overall layoffs in the state came from southwestern Wisconsin.
After participating in these meetings, I could not be more excited about the Middle Class Jobs Now package introduced by Democrats in the Legislature. It is a good first step toward closing the skills gap, offering better job training, creating incentives to attract businesses to Wisconsin and helping keep our local businesses open and workers employed.
One part of this package is the “Made in America” bill. There is a trend of many states purchasing prefabricated bridges and building materials from China. This is unacceptable. We must invest in businesses here at home. This legislation requires state and local units of government to give preference to U.S.-made products when purchasing materials.
Another bill in this package creates the Workforce Growth Skills Training Program. Essentially, this legislation would create a competitive grant program, run by the Wisconsin Technical College System, that would help businesses and economic development organizations address worker training needs. The grants could be used for scholarships, infrastructure construction, purchasing equipment, faculty costs, and curriculum development, just to name a few.
These bills and the rest of the legislation in the Middle Class Jobs Now package are a good first step at getting Wisconsinites back to work, but there’s even more work to do. Wisconsin ranks 42nd in job creation. Forbes magazine projects our state will experience the second-worst job growth through 2016. We must do something now. The fact that the state only contributes 8 percent toward our overall workforce development budget is atrocious.
With all of the rhetoric on both sides about investing in our economy and local workers, I sincerely hope we start to put our money where our mouth is. We should pass a state budget that dramatically increases funding for our workforce development programs.
Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, represents the 45th Assembly District. Readers can reach her at P.O. Box 8953, Madison, WI 53708; phone 888-534-0045; email Rep.Ringhand@legis.wi.gov.