Calls for a new approach in the 44th District
JANESVILLE The four Democrats who hope to unseat Rep. Joe Knilans in the 44th Assembly District didn't disagree on much Tuesday about what they said was the need to restore sanity and Wisconsin values to Madison.
All said their top priority would be to repair the collective damage of a loss in collective bargaining rights for public workers and a state budget bill that cut education funding and extended tax credits to businesses with no guarantees of job creation.
"I think that is why we all got into this race," said Deb Kolste, who joined Sam Liebert, Kevin Murray and Yuri Rashkin before a packed house at the Janesville Senior Center.
The four participated in a forum sponsored by the Janesville League of Women Voters and Forward Janesville ahead of an Aug. 14 primary that will determine who faces the Republican Knilans in November's general election.
The district covers most of Janesville.
Budget and collective bargaining issues aside, the four said meaningful job creation is a top priority.
Murray said he would make it a priority to connect the district's outstanding education system and the local business community to help create new jobs.
Specifically, he mentioned United Alloy, a local manufacturer that's had difficulty hiring welders.
He also said he supports increases in funding for sustainable energy programs such as "Focus on Energy," which he said saves money, creates jobs and protects the environment.
With more than 50 years of relationship building in the community, Murray said that if he were sent to Madison, he'd get back to Janesville as fast as he could to tap the collective wisdom of the community.
"The goal is what can we do," said the retired Janesville firefighter/paramedic and Air Force veteran who is in his eighth year on the Janesville School Board. "I've spent most of my career running in when others are running out, and that's what I intend to do in Madison."
State government needs to do a better job of providing tools to not only retain existing businesses but also attract new ones to the area, Liebert said.
He said he would support a retooling of state laws on tax increment financing to allow their use to help the redevelopment of brownfields, of which Janesville has several, including the vacated General Motors plant.
Liebert, a private security contractor for the Rock County Health Department and a member of the Janesville City Council, said he'd also support legislation to make tax credits portable, which could provide more value to businesses that receive them but can't use them because they have no state tax liabilities.
While Wisconsin might be open for business, it needs to be open to employees, too, he said. That requires policies that level the playing field for workers and fairly balances wealth to support a consumer society.
"I'm not doing this because I need a paycheck or because it's a passing hobby," he said. "I want to give back to the community and, with my age and because I'm a minority, I'm something we haven't tried yet."
Rashkin, a two-term council member, is a musician, court interpreter and college instructor. He said government help in business attraction and recruitment efforts needs to be carefully balanced with outcomes, particularly in the generation of family-sustaining jobs.
Too often, he said, governmental units get into unnecessary arms races in offering incentives to businesses. Businesses should want to come to communities such as Janesville because it is a great community with wonderful attributes, not one with the deepest pockets.
In addition, he said, the pressure to create jobs must always be weighed against the cost of those jobs to the environment, particularly as they relate to an expansion of mining in the state.
Specifically, Rashkin said he would work to locate a medical college in downtown Janesville, open new markets in his homeland of Russia for local businesses and bring together the area's non-profit organizations that are struggling with budget cuts.
"I will beat Joe Knilans," he said. "This is a real opportunity to return representation to Janesville."
Kolste, a three-term school board member, said the local infrastructure—roads, education systems and health care—are vital components in retaining and attracting businesses and creating new jobs.
The last budget, she said, gutted funding for that vital infrastructure and actually served as a vacuum to suck jobs out of the state.
She said the infrastructure is in place in Janesville for amazing results, if it can avoid further funding cuts.
Kolste said her experience includes positive leadership in business, agriculture, education, health care and family issues.
"Some have said that maybe I'm too nice or too soft," she said. "I don't consider that a detriment. I do have a toughness, and I do bring a calmness.
"I will always do my best to do what is right for Janesville."