DISTRICT 29: Helping businesses add jobs is vital, says Murtha
Fostering a business climate that encourages job creation and keeping the state's finances in order are his priorities, says John Murtha, who is seeking re-election as 29th District assemblyman.
He says his experience -- both as a small businessman and in the Assembly -- is a plus.
"You build yourself a reputation. Like any place, I think you build respect," said Murtha of his six years in the Assembly. "It isn't always the loudest voice that's heard. It's how you talk and who you talk to."
The legislature's main challenge now is to foster job creation, said Murtha. "The government doesn't create jobs, private industry does, but we have to create an environment that is conducive for them to succeed."
His second priority is balancing the state budget and getting its finances in order.
"We made tremendous strides in that in the last session," said Murtha, adding that the state needs to continue to be fiscally responsible, look at more reforms and eliminate waste.
Some government programs are abused, said Murtha, who suggests assuring that programs and agencies are run efficiently. He said that can be done through "a review of all programs and all the public money spent."
"There are a lot of great programs that we all support their funding," said Murtha. But, he said, lawmakers must make sure the public's money is used as intended.
He used BadgerCare and Medicaid as examples because "they seem to consume the biggest share of the dollars in the state budget."
Murtha said the state needs to ensure that the programs are serving those who truly need them and cut off those who can help themselves.
"I think that as a businessman, I realize the impact that government has on you," said Murtha of his experience as a small business (Murtha Sanitation) owner.
The uncertainty of the last few years has certainly paid a part in the willingness of businesses to add jobs, said Murtha.
"Rules change every time the administration does," he said, and he expects to see some growth once the elections are over.
Government must encourage small business growth because it's good for the state and its people, said Murtha. As well as tax breaks for new businesses, he supports tax incentives that help existing businesses remain profitable and add employees.
One such program he pointed to offers rural manufacturing tax credits that help agriculture-related industries, like cheese companies, upgrade equipment.
This program helps ensure that small, less-populated areas have access to tax credits "so it's not always just used in the big cities," said Murtha.
Recently adopted legislation that limits frivolous lawsuits has also helped small businesses, he said.
With the cost of doing business and competition for dollars, "everything makes a difference," said Murtha.
"If there isn't enough room, margin, to operate, you don't," said Murtha, summarizing the situation that small businesses face.
His six years in the Assembly have taught him to listen, to learn and to be patient, said Murtha.
He said he has learned that there is always more than one side to an issue and many issues that initially seem clear-cut usually aren't.
"I think there's a need to listen and hear what's going on around you," said Murtha. "Don't form a quick opinion."
He said there are a lot of things going on that a person isn't aware of until he hears from the various sides: "Every industry has its own battles and issues."
Often a legislator doesn't see the big picture upfront, and he must seek a lot of input on every bill proposed, he said. Once input is heard, amendments should be expected.
"You've got to be patient -- government is slow," said Murtha. "Sometimes it's frustrating ... That's a thing you need to learn to accept and roll with."
When someone comes to him with a proposal, Murtha said he has learned to ask an important question.
"I always ask, 'Who opposes this?'" said Murtha. "That will bring out a lot of the pluses and minuses."
Then, he said, lawmakers have to consider what's good for the taxpayer.
"When all's said and done, it's never perfect," said Murtha. "(But) compromise is all right."
One thing lawmakers can do for business is streamline permitting processes. Murtha wonders if some of this could be done in advance to assure that when a company wants to move to the state, it won't have to wait a year or two.
Regulators should be able to give industries "reasonable, expected time limits for these permits," said Murtha.
He feels government shouldn't just hand out money but should give tax incentives and grants for new and expanding businesses.
"I think we need to continue doing that," said Murtha, but he added that government also has an obligation to make sure the money is used as it is intended.
The consensus is that there will be a surplus in the current state budget, said Murtha, but he added, "That said, part of that surplus money is already spoken for."
The state no longer has stimulus money to fall back on and the demand for some services had climbed, explained Murtha.
He said the state needs to try to reform its education programs, but had no specific recommendations other than to say, "We have to utilize our scarce dollars as best we can."
About half of every dollar state government brings in goes toward education, said Murtha, adding that he feels strongly that the state needs to continue to support education, but still needs to make sure it is spending tax money wisely.
"We all get in our own comfort zone," said Murtha of resistance to change in the way the state educates it youth. But, he said, it's necessary to see if there are ways of doing things better.
As for protests over Act 10, the legislation that limits bargaining by state employees and requires them to pay a greater share toward fringe benefits, things didn't turn out as badly as some predicted, said Murtha.
"The sky didn't fall. (Schools) are still doing well," said Murtha, adding that some districts have hired more teachers.