Area legislators offer opinions on WEDC
More than 30 people gathered at WITC in New Richmond for the fifth annual St. Croix Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) Legislative Forum. The event advertised eight state legislators, but only three were able to attend: State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) and State Rep. John Murtha (R-Baldwin). State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) was injured in an auto crash the previous weekend.
Roger Humphrey, St. Croix EDC board member and past president, hosted the event.
After allowing each legislator an opening statement, Humphrey asked the first question about their thoughts on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
In 2011, the WEDC replaced the former Wisconsin Department of Commerce as the lead economic development organization in the state. About a year ago, Reed Hall was named the CEO of the organization, which is still trying to find its footing.
“Obviously after it was created, there were some rough times,” Harsdorf said. “It was rough going. There were some glitches in the new agency, but I will say that Reed Hall really came in. Most of the problems — pretty much all the problems — occurred prior to Reed Hall coming in as the secretary of the agency. There have been major changes made. I think there’s been a recognition of the importance of getting the ship in order.”
Murtha said he was pleased with the program, and Knudson offered some sharp criticism.
“I think ultimately the WEDC has yet to achieve really the potential of what the vision was,” Knudson said.
He acknowledged that the WEDC has tightened its loan practices and found several areas to work on thanks to multiple audits.
“I don’t think there are any problems with it as an entity that haven’t now been discovered,” Knudson said. “They haven’t all been fixed, but they’re working on all of them.”
Affordable Care Act
Humphrey’s second question was about the Affordable Care Act, and the three Republicans each took a turn criticizing the new federal health care plan and explaining its unintended consequences that affect small businesses.
“Most of what’s good about Obamacare — the good parts — Americans have already seen,” Knudson said pointing to the ability for adult children to stay on a parent’s insurance longer and the elimination of pre-existing denials. “Other than that, there’s an awful lot of pain, and it’s going to ripple out in waves.
“The business changes have been somewhat put off, but it’s going to be very difficult for small businesses to make the decision about whether they want to continue to be the provider of insurance, or whether they would be better off to have their employees on the exchange,” Knudson said. “That’s a decision that got put off, and in the next one to two years, you’re going to see a lot of that.”
Once Humphrey opened the forum up to audience participation, the legislators fielded questions about frac sand mining and the loss of local control, removing the state’s sales tax on clothing, shifting tax burdens from state to local and business climate uncertainty in general.
Each of the three said they wouldn’t support the frac sand regulation bill currently in the legislature unless it is amended to preserve key aspects of local control.