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Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011

How Can We Create Jobs?

Milwaukeeans offer their solutions

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While Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers are offering tax breaks to corporations at the same time they're claiming the state is "broke," as well as weakening environmental protections and providing immunity to negligent medical device manufacturers during a so-called "jobs session" in the state Legislature, Milwaukeeans told their elected officials what they think needs to be done to create jobs now.

"I came here to listen," said state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) during a lively, well-attended Monday night community meeting at the Washington Park Senior Center.

Many of the legislators' solutions seemed to be long-term—and involved recalling Walker in 2012 and flipping control of the state Legislature from Republican to Democrat.

But audience members had other hands-on, short-term solutions for Milwaukee's chronic job crisis:

  • Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, representing Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) and Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative, said that he was "amazed" by the success of the city's transitional jobs demonstration project. These are minimum-wage, entry-level positions, but they serve the important function of helping to provide a stepping stone for individuals with few in-demand job skills or a poor work history.

"They have gone on to better jobs," Ellwanger said of the project's participants.

  • Sen. Larson urged the crowd and the Legislature to support his Wisconsin Jobs Initiative, which he introduced with state Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) last week. The bill would tax annual incomes over $1 million at a rate of an additional 1%, which would generate at least $70 million in its first year. That new tax would then fund jobs skills training to at least 35,000 students in the Wisconsin Technical College System. Despite publicly acknowledging the importance of Wisconsin's technical schools in the state's economy, Walker and his Republican allies slashed $34.2 million from the system in the biennial state budget.

Larson criticized the Republicans' strategy of giving tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy without asking for any commitments to create jobs in return.

"If they're not creating jobs, they lose the right to be called 'job creators,'" Larson said.

  • Khalil Coleman told legislators to oppose Assembly Bill 286—introduced by state Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) and co-sponsored by state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills)—which would allow employers to fire employees and refuse to hire job-seekers who have committed felonies.

"Kill this bill," Coleman said.

State Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood) agreed, and called Darling and Kleefisch's bill "absolutely disgusting."

  • Milwaukee County Supervisor Eyon Biddle announced that his attempt to "ban the box" passed the county board last month.

"That means that in January 2012 we will no longer be able to ask anyone about their criminal past when they apply for jobs with Milwaukee County," Biddle said. "And we only got that done because people stood behind us."

He also asked the crowd to call their supervisors and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele in support of the Biddle-Lipscomb Ready to Work Initiative, authored with Supervisor Theo Lipscomb, which would train work-ready individuals and help them access jobs with the county or in the private sector.

  • Michael Lauer, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now!, asked the crowd to sign on to the People's Blueprint for Good Jobs. The plan includes four simple steps: fund technical colleges and training programs so that workers are equipped to do the jobs Wisconsin needs; support job-creation in Wisconsin-based companies; boost transparency so that taxpayers know which companies are receiving tax breaks; and make sure that everyone—including millionaires and billionaires—pay their fair share in taxes.

"If companies that receive tax breaks or other incentives aren't creating jobs, take the money back," Lauer said.

Lauer asked the audience—as well as the legislators—to sign on to the plan so that his organization could present it to Walker to provide the governor with simple steps to create jobs in Wisconsin.