Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch calls southeastern Wisconsin one of the hottest corridors in the nation.
The Republican stopped by the Kenosha News for a brief editorial board meeting Wednesday afternoon, where she discussed portions of Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget plan as well as Kenosha County’s growth.
“(Walker) is planting his flag in education,” Kleefisch said. “I would argue that Wisconsin’s biggest challenge today is meeting its workforce needs. If you look at where we came from when the governor and I got these jobs in the first place to where we are today, our biggest challenges have really shifted.”
Kleefisch said Wisconsin went from an 8.1 percent unemployment rate to today’s 4.1 percent under Walker’s leadership. She urged all Wisconsinites to visit the state’s updated job search website, www.jobcenterofwisconsin.com.
“We have 91,998 open jobs,” Kleefisch said. “We have a challenge, a really good one, one about which we are definitely not complaining, because it’s very different from the one we had in 2010 and early 2011 when we were first sworn in.”
The challenge, Kleefisch said, is getting enough skilled workers. That’s why she said Walker’s new budget focuses on education, from grade school through college.
Two years after Walker proposed cutting K-12 funding, he is proposing a $650 million increase in state school aid — enough for $200 per student increases in each of the next two years. Districts will have to fully comply with Walker’s controversial Act 10 law before receiving any of the new per-pupil money.
“We need to invest in our workforce — and to the governor that starts with young kids,” Kleefisch said. “This is a specific desire of the governor to make sure it reaches the classroom.”
Kleefisch said technical colleges and public universities will also benefit.
“Technical colleges will see a tuition freeze and at our University of Wisconsin System of schools, another tuition freeze,” Kleefisch said. “College affordability was something on the minds not only of young people, but of the people who love young people and employ young people everywhere.”
Under the proposal, the system would receive $104 million in new state aid — about $43 million of that would be contingent on meeting performance standards. The system would get $12 million to boost employee compensation.
Kleefisch credits growth in Kenosha County to business-friendly policies, fiscal responsibility — and not being Illinois.
“No offense to our friends just south of the border, but Illinois is not the place to grow right now,” Kleefisch said. “I’m not trying to be unkind, but here’s the thing. They’ve got about $100 billion in unfunded pension liability. States by law can’t declare bankruptcy, so that means one day they’re going to have to fix their problem — which means they’re going to have to raise taxes.”
Kleefisch said she believes people are far more likely to invest in Wisconsin because they trust state leadership will not unfairly burden business.
“Good things are happening in our state,” Kleefisch said. “We’re growing in Wisconsin.”
Kleefisch also highlighted the Kenosha Area Business Alliance.
“They are incredibly aggressive,” Kleefisch said. “Showing the Kenosha County area gets (Illinois businesses) excited about making the jump just a short few miles up the road.”