THE ASSOCIATED PRESS October 17, 2011,
Wis. legislature returning for jobs session
By SCOTT BAUER MADISON, WIS.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he wants lawmakers to be focused "like laser beams" on creating jobs during the special session that starts Tuesday, but two proposals most likely to spur job creation aren't yet on the docket for the Legislature to take up.
Despite Walker calling it a "Back to Work Wisconsin" special session, much ballyhooed bills to make more venture capital available for investors and to facilitate the locating of an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin are not included.
Instead, Walker wants lawmakers to take up a variety of low-impact tax credit bills, litigation reforms and other measures like one that would eliminate length restrictions for semis carrying girders, pipes and other similar materials.
Passing some or all of what Walker wants to get done this fall without those two bills would only be a partial success, said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Innovation Network.
"A much fuller success would be passage of a bill that allows safe mining in northern Wisconsin and creation of a venture capital program," he said, saying those measures would have a "truly significant impact if passed."
The session will still be a success even if the mining and venture capital bills don't pass, said Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie.
"Ultimately the session is about keeping the state focused on job creation and giving employers confidence to gain jobs," Werwie said.
Both the mining and venture capital bills have been talked about for months, but Walker, lawmakers and other interested parties on both topics have been unable to reach agreement.
The Senate has created a bipartisan committee to work on the mining bill but it has yet to meet. The company hoping to open the mine said it would lead to creating 700 jobs paying about $60,000 a year, almost twice the per capita income in the nearby counties, and drive creation of 2,000 or so more jobs for the region's service and transportation sectors.
A bipartisan working group is also trying to coalesce around a venture capital proposal to spur investment and job creation in local start-up companies.
Walker had previously backed a $400 million venture capital fund that failed to pass earlier this year. That version would have provided $200 million in tax breaks to insurance companies and given hundreds of millions of dollars to certified capital companies to manage.
This is the second jobs-focused special session Walker has called. On his first day in office he called a special job-creation special session during which lawmakers passed a number of bills that revamped the state's Commerce Department into a public-private partnership, cut taxes for small businesses and others that move to Wisconsin, and eliminated the tax on health savings accounts.
The changes haven't immediately improved the state's economy.
From January when Walker took office through August, the state has added 30,100 jobs. That is not on pace to create the 250,000 Walker promised to add by 2015. Wisconsin's unemployment has increased from 7.4 percent in January to 7.9 percent last month.
The Legislature's ability to dramatically improve the economy through anything it passes this fall is limited, Still said.
"What happens in Wisconsin alone certainly has its limits within that national and global perspective," Still said. "Certainly the federal reserve board could take an action tomorrow that's more important than all of this combined."
Walker defends the agenda for this fall's special session, saying the bills he wants the Legislature to pass will "make it easier for employers to create 250,000 private sector jobs." He said the main goal is to "create as much certainty as we can for employers and workers at the state level so that they can create jobs."
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the bills being taken up in special session will help create a better economic environment in Wisconsin, even though the mining and venture capital bills have a more "finite" jobs number attached to them.
"What we're doing is trying to create the environment that ultimately makes Wisconsin a good place for businesses to locate or expand," he said. While Fitzgerald said he always wishes there were more job-creation proposals for the Legislature to consider, "There's no perfect list or perfect number for the amount of jobs bills you can say `Look at this. We've had success.'"
When lawmakers return on Tuesday they will take up a variety of other bills including one that would limit the amount plaintiff's attorneys can charge in some cases to three times the amount of any compensatory award.
Another would allow banks and credit card companies that take their customers to court to earn a higher interest rate on their judgments than people who successfully sue for injuries.
Another proposal would give drug-makers and medical device manufacturers immunity from lawsuits if their products had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The immunity would not be granted if they committed fraud.
Those litigation reform measures were roundly criticized by consumer attorneys and advocates who said they are more about protecting special interests than they are about helping consumers or creating jobs.
The bill granting immunity to drug manufacturers "does not create one single job," said Ed Vopal with the Wisconsin Association for Justice.
Werwie, Walker's spokesman, said the litigation reform bills deal with the type of claims that affect job creators for the long term and the changes proposed will "help create certainty and confidence in the state's legal climate."
Even though some of the bills to be taken up are authored by Democrats, they have been quick to criticize.
"It seems to take a lot of nerve to propose this agenda," Democratic state Rep. Donna Seidel of Wausau said when Walker announced the special session. "Item after item won't help create jobs."