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EDITORIAL: Be bold! Report offers suggestions

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opinion New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

Tough times require bold action by state government.

That's the message, in a nutshell, from the recently released report "Be Bold: The Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy."

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The report is the document generated as a result of the Wisconsin Economic Summit Series, three meetings held this year with leading economic development experts, elected officials, business leaders, entrepreneurs and others to help create a road map for the future.

The 20-page comprehensive strategy plan offers ideas on creating jobs, growing the state's economy and addressing the Wisconsin's financial challenges.

The report was forwarded to Gov.-elect Scott Walker and legislators, with the hope that they will heed the suggestions that could possibly lead to improved economic prosperity for the state.

In setting the stage for the report, a number of startling economic facts are listed.

• Wisconsin's wage level is 86 percent of the national average. In the 1990s, per capita income was near the national average. Now the state is 6 percent below average.

• Since 1963, Wisconsin's share of the national Gross Domestic Product has dropped from 2.1 percent to 1.7 percent today. That means our state is generating a smaller piece of the overall national economic pie, and that's not good.

• The state gets back just 86 cents of each tax dollar it sends to the federal government.

• On a per capita basis, Wisconsin's budget deficit is one of the highest in the nation.

• Wisconsin has one of the highest debt levels per capita in the nation. The state's debt level has risen from $2.7 billion in 1990 to $11.3 billion in 2009.

Despite the gloomy economic numbers, report authors say there is cause for hope, if immediate steps are taken to correct the situation. The key is helping business to create more high-paying jobs, and continuing to educate the work force to prepare for those skilled positions.

Among the ideas being promoted through the report:

• Revamping the state's angel investment groups to provide more early-stage funds.

• Establishing a $1 billion Wisconsin Prosperity Fund used for investment in start-up Wisconsin companies focused on innovative technologies.

• Restoring Wisconsin's capital gains exemption to 60 percent.

• Creating interdisciplinary technology centers in partnership with universities and private companies.

• Raising the percentage of residents who get their four-year degrees.

• Creating a commission that would study ways to consolidate and improve state and local government processes and to save money.

• Changing the reimbursement system for health care providers by paying for health care services based on quality, efficiency, cost effectiveness and service rather than volume.

Not all of the recommendation will find their way to approval on the floor of the Assembly and Senate.

But elected officials would be wise to study such input, as well as feedback from other groups and individuals, while developing a plan to pull Wisconsin's economy out of its tailspin.

One thing most everyone agrees with, however, is that bold action will be required.

The upcoming legislative session will be no time for the new governor and legislators to worry about boosting their popularity ratings. Tough choices will be required, but there will also be an opportunity to re-establish the state's priorities and determine exactly where tax money should be spent in the future.

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