Legislators convinced state is on right path
Two of the area's state legislators attended the third annual St. Croix County Economic Development Corp.'s legislative forum Monday night.
Held at the New Richmond campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, the forum provided a chance for attendees to ask questions and get an update on state business during a 90-minute event.
In opening statements, State Rep. John Murtha (R-29th District) said the Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker have focused most of their attention on job creation over the past year.
Through new tax credits and a stabilized tax structure, Murtha said businesses can "feel safe" and begin adding jobs.
"The state feels we need to get out of the way a bit," Murtha said.
Murtha predicted that legislators will continue to work on ways to improve Wisconsin's business climate when the Legislature goes back into session in January.
State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-30th District) said the state has come a long way over the past 12 months, noting that Wisconsin faced a $3.6 billion deficit at the start of 2011. Now, for the first time in decades, Wisconsin has eliminated its structural deficit, he said.
"I'm not going to tell you that everything is all better," he told the crowd. "It's not. But I think there's some movement here. There's some glimmer of hope."
Knudson admitted that the tough choices elected officials made to get the state's financial house in order didn't please everyone, but he said those choices were necessary in order to ensure the financial stability of Wisconsin.
As the state budget stabilizes, there's a better chance that businesses will hire and companies outside of Wisconsin will consider moving to the state and create jobs, Knudson said.
"It's not the job of government to create the jobs," Knudson said. "What we need are private employers who are willing to invest in Wisconsin."
During the question and answer portion of the forum, audience members wondered about everything from the current status of the Stillwater bridge proposal to tax reciprocity between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
On the tax reciprocity issue, Murtha said negotiations continue to reinstate the agreement that allows people who live in one state but work in another to just file one state income tax return.
As for the bridge, Knudson said he's optimistic that the project will gain the approval necessary to proceed.
"I think we're kind of at a tipping point," he said. "We're on the cusp that it could actually happen."
Addressing a concern that the project is too expensive, compared to the cost of the new Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, St. Croix EDC Director Bill Rubin said people fail to realize that the Stillwater project is more than just a bridge. The project is more than six miles long and includes expensive approaches, roadway upgrades and mitigation measures that bump the total cost up.
As the project inches closer to reality, Knudson said it's not surprising that opponents are taking pot shots and trying to derail the process. But with all the bi-partisan support behind the proposal, Knudson said it appears it may go forward.
"It's time to get it done," he said.
Responding to a question about Wisconsin's marketing efforts to attract businesses to the state, Knudson said state officials are focusing much of their recruiting effort on businesses in Illinois that have been negatively impacted by tax increases.
"Illinois is a wreck right now," he said.
Knudson said he's disappointed that the newly established Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which is charged with marketing the state to job creators, has taken so long to get established. But he claimed legislators and the governor know that the path out of the economic recession must include more employment opportunities, and many are committed to pushing for legislation that will eliminate the obstacles to job growth.
Responding to a question regarding recent business rankings that show Wisconsin is becoming more business friendly, Murtha said recent legislative action played a big role in the improvement.
"It's one indication that we're on the right track," he said.
Knudson agreed, noting that business leaders pay attention to such rankings when deciding what states to consider for relocation or business start-ups.
"We need to create an impression that we are friendly to business," he said.
The forum provided time for business leaders and legislators to talk informally about various issues as well.