On Building a Strong Economy

“For decades, an ever increasing share of the wealth in our country has gone to those at the very top. It’s time to build an economy that works for everyone, based in values of opportunity and fairness. We must strengthen and expand the middle class, and help those who have been left behind.”

For Wisconsinites to share in the American dream, we must foster a growing economy with fair rules and shared prosperity. Economic growth comes from increases in labor productivity, judicious application of capital, and innovation. Our government’s role is to ensure a level playing field, reduce uncertainty that hinders innovation, and to invest in the labor and infrastructure we need for a strong, vibrant economy. Tax cuts and giveaways to big corporations are one of the least effective ways to create jobs – but politicians tout them because of the undue influence that big businesses and the wealthiest have have over our political system. We must make strategic investments to ensure that workers and businesses are able to succeed today and long into the future. My plan to ensure a strong economy and family-supporting jobs will:

Help small businesses and homegrown innovators, because they are the key to a growing economy. The vast majority of net new jobs come from new businesses – startups and early stage companies. As an entrepreneur and small business owner myself, I understand the challenges of starting a company and will prioritize the needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs willing to take a risk on an idea. Under Gov. Walker, Wisconsin was dead last in startups – I know we can help build Wisconsin’s economy by ensuring that small businesses can finally thrive. My Small Business Plan will help new and existing entrepreneurs to succeed, while leveling the playing field for all workers and employers.

Repair and maintain our aging infrastructure. Too much of our infrastructure, which is our public wealth, needs significant maintenance or to be replaced and updated. While roads and bridges are part of this, we also must upgrade our rail corridors for passengers and freight. Many of our water systems are in desperate need of repair, both drinking water and sanitation/sewage systems. We should retrofit schools and public buildings for energy efficiency and remove toxic or environmental hazards.  

Invest in the 21st Century infrastructure we need to succeed in a global economy. We need statewide broadband connectivity, wireless infrastructure, and computing power, just as communities needed electrification and telephone connectivity in the 20th Century.

Make Wisconsin a leader in clean energy tech/manufacturing. Our state has no fossil fuels, so every dollar we spend on dirty energy leaves our state and contributes to climate change. We can become energy independent by fostering local, clean, sustainable energy production, “smart” grids, better power storage, and multimodal transit options for people and goods. Wisconsin already has skilled workers and an advanced manufacturing base, and with a strong state commitment to renewable energy, we could help this burgeoning industry provide thousands of good-paying jobs. Finally, we should employ emerging technologies to increase the efficiency of industrial processes, for instance in waste management, to save energy and money, and to reduce the strain on our environment.

Increase our investment in education and training. No modern economy can thrive without skilled, educated workers. We must ensure that quality public education is available to all Wisconsinites. A strong, stable economy requires investing in public education, including universal access to early childhood education, K12 schools, higher education, and workforce development.

Ensure workers are treated fairly and have the right to bargain collectively. Workers deserve a voice in the workplace; I fought for and support collective bargaining rights for workers in the public and private sector. The decline in unions corresponds to the decline in the middle class – that’s because even non-unionized workers see higher wages and better benefits when unions are prominent in their communities.

Make sure every worker earns a fair wage and has benefits. No one who works 40, 50, or 60 hours a week should live in poverty. Our minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour (it’s currently set at the federal minimum of $7.25/hr), and local communities should have the power to set their own standards for workers. Similarly, no one should risk losing her job because she is sick, has a baby, or needs to care for a dying parent or spouse.

Provide universal paid family and sick leave to all workers. I support a minimum of twelve weeks of paid leave to use when having a baby, caring for a loved one, or dealing with a serious illness. Paid leave is a basic necessity that every other developed nation already provides, and that states are beginning to adopt. Paid leave will help Wisconsin attract and retain younger workers who are leaving our state in droves. Making coverage universal, rather than based on individual companies, will level the playing field, helping small businesses compete for employees and allowing would-be entrepreneurs to take the risk of starting a business. It also disproportionately helps lower income and middle class workers, who are less likely to have the flexibility and financial cushion to take time off for family or medical needs.  No one should risk losing his or her job or housing because of illness, a new baby, or caring for a family member.  

Make the Wisconsin Retirement System open to all workers and companies. As a state legislator, I paid into to the WRS – one of the strongest and best run public pension programs in the United States. Every worker – public and private – and deserves a secure retirement after a lifetime of work and should have the option of buying in to the program. Every small business should have access to the kinds of pension programs that large employers can provide. Creating a parallel pension fund that private sector and nonprofit workers and employers could buy into will help increase the number of Wisconsinites with a financially secure retirement, while strengthening the WRS by increasing the number of people who benefit from it.

Ensure equal pay for women. As a supporter of Wisconsin’s now repealed Equal Pay laws, I believe that women should be paid equally for the same work, and that no worker should have to face discrimination or harassment at the workplace.