DISTRICT 30: Knudson says his top priority is strengthening the economy
Calling strengthening the state's economy the number one issue, 30th Assembly District State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) is proud of the work he's done during his first two years in office, but said more work needs to be done.
"The latest numbers show that the state is heading in the right direction," Knudson said. "But we must continue to improve the business climate in the state. We have to give small businesses the confidence to grow in Wisconsin.
"Along with that, we need to be fiscally responsible in state spending and budget issues. If a business feels a big tax increase is just around the corner, they are reluctant to grow."
The incumbent said he is encouraged by the latest job growth numbers. He explained that there are two reports -- essentially monthly and quarterly reports. The quarterly reports are more accurate because it includes data from approximately 98 percent of state businesses. That report, however, has lag time -- about a four to five month delay.
"The latest numbers from March show jobs increased in Wisconsin by 37,000 between March 2011 and March 2012," Knudson said. "It's not exactly what we want, but we're making progress in the right direction.
"It's like turning a ship -- it takes time," Knudson said.
Locally he said the numbers continue to look good.
"Pierce and St. Croix counties are generally two and three for lowest unemployment in the state," Knudson said. "We are hanging around the 5 percent rate; during boom times we were at 3 percent, so there is still room to improve."
Although the economy may be the number one issue, Knudson said his passion is education.
His committee assignments in Madison included the Education Committee and the College and Universities Committee.
"It is the single most important item in the state budget," Knudson said. "We have to develop a skilled work force to help companies compete in a global market."
A recent Dane County Judge ruling questions the constitutionality of Act 10, the law passed that prohibits most collective bargaining rights of public employees. The impact of the judge's ruling is unclear, but Knudson said the decision could get to the state supreme court.
"One of the judge's arguments is that police and fire workers were exempted -- essentially creating two classes," Knudson said. "There may have to be some action to make the law uniform."
He said, however, that there are many positive results showing that Act 10 has worked.
"I hope we don't go backwards," he said.
Knudson said he has done a number of things to strengthen education including the implementation of a teacher/administrator evaluation system. He said the system allows excellent teachers to be rewarded and, on the other end, a system for teachers to be tutored to improve their skills.
Unlike public perception, he said many of the improvements and changes have bipartisan support.
"Working with reading, we want kids to be proficient readers by third or fourth grade," Knudson said. "Studies show that if kids don't know it by that time, they are likely to struggle in the years ahead. We put in provisions that require teachers to know how to teach reading before they are licensed."
He has also done considerable work at the college level and had a hand in getting approval for a new $63 million Health and Human Performance Building on the campus of UW-River Falls.
"It was the number one priority on the chancellor's list when I met with him in 2010," Knudson said. "The project is now on the pre-approved list and we could see construction start as soon as 2013.
"UW-River Falls is an important driver for our area and I've stood up for the university," Knudson said.
Regarding bi-partisan work, he said he has worked with Democrats on several issues.
"I recently worked with Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) to get a concussion bill passed," Knudson said. "The bill is for the protection of our state's high school athletes."
"When voters choose a representative from the St. Croix Valley, they need a strong voice in Madison," Knudson said. He feels that he fits that description.
"It's easy for the politicians in Madison to forget us," he said. "Last session I had to push hard in debating the funds for the new Stillwater bridge. Some on the other side of the aisle were calling it the 'billion dollar boondoggle to nowhere.'
"I took offense to that -- we're the fastest growing area in the state. We need to stand up for our area."
He said he was surprised when his opponent (Diane Odeen) was critical of the city of Hudson's debate with the School District of Hudson over a rezoning issue.
"It is not the role of the state to criticize local officials," Knudson said. "Local government deserves to have local control and I'll defend that process."
Knudson said his experience in local government has helped him on the job.
"I ran because I had experience in balancing a budget. We need to be more effective, more efficient and stand up for the taxpayer.
"People expect good quality service, but do it efficiently. It isn't the state's job to create jobs, but we can do things to hinder job growth, or help create jobs.
"Self-government -- we have the greatest system, but it's messy sometimes."