28 Aug For this governor and the next: Ideas for going out, or coming in, with a bang
MADISON – Jim Doyle could have pulled a Sarah Palin and quit in mid-term, but to his credit he did not. He left himself and his administration time to accomplish more – and he gave potential successors in both parties a long runway on which to give flight to their own agendas.
Here are a few ideas that may apply to Doyle’s remaining 500 days as Wisconsin’s chief executive as well as those who might follow:
Improve Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness: While the Great Recession may be subsiding, unemployment likely will not for months – if not years. Productivity will return long before the jobs do, but many jobs are gone forever. Policies that stroll down memory lane will be far less successful than policies that attract and retain the next generation of jobs. Some groundwork has been laid through Wisconsin’s nationally recognized incentives for start-up companies. But it’s a different story with mid-sized firms and larger, a sector where the state must take stock of what attracts those companies and keeps them here.
Doyle began his first term with an economic advisory council led by a couple of blue-chip chairmen, but it disbanded on schedule within a year or so. It may be time for a new Competitiveness Council to examine what’s working and what’s not.
Build a 21st century tax system: Wisconsin’s tax system grew up around an economy that has changed dramatically, from one that was almost exclusively based on agriculture, raw resources and manufacturing to an economy also defined by service, technology and exports. It’s a system built upon state government being a giant ATM machine, returning dollars collected through state taxes to schools and local governments in hopes of equalizing services statewide. Some excellent tax reform plans that retain equity while enhancing competitiveness have been proposed over time; let’s dust them off.
More strongly link state aid to local consolidation: Wisconsin has more government than it can afford. With 72 counties, hundreds of cities and villages and more than 1,000 towns (a unit not found in most states), the state should make inter-governmental cooperation a requirement for state aid. That could start in typical business services, such as personnel and purchasing, and expand from there as confidence grows.
Consolidate school districts where it makes sense; bust up districts where bigger isn’t better: Consolidating school districts in rural areas need not mean mass closings of schools, but gaining administrative efficiencies. Breaking the Milwaukee School District into smaller pieces could speed improvements in our largest city.
Get our fair share of federal aid: In 2007, Wisconsin taxpayers sent $5.6 billion more to Washington than they got back. In per capita terms, Wisconsin was fourth from the bottom among the 50 states. While historically low defense spending in the state is a factor, it’s not the only problem. Example: Wisconsin ranked 49th among the 50 states in federal aid per capita to K-12 students. Are our kids somehow less deserving – or are we leaving money on the table?
Put public school teachers on a statewide contract: The district-by-district bargaining scenario that exists today unnecessarily pits school boards and administrators against teachers and sometimes parents and taxpayers, as well. It’s a race to see who can strategically settle a contract first (or last). Build in regional cost-of-living adjustments to better reflect regional differences, but make it more possible for good teachers to teach in all types of districts – rural, suburban or urban.
Redefine the senior year of high school: Wisconsin spends a great deal of money to educate kids twice – once in the K-12 system and again (for some) in the first year or so of college or technical college, where remedial education costs represent up to 20 percent of spending. Let’s try to solve the problem in the 12th grade, when students can get help in those areas where tests or performance show they’re lacking. It’s also an ideal time to better introduce students to the choices available to them, from technical college to internships to college.
Invest in bricks and clicks: The fact that one of Wisconsin’s busiest commercial interchanges is closed to truck traffic should be a reminder that reliable transportation systems are essential to farmers, manufacturers and anyone else who buys and sells tangible goods. Also vital are the high-tech highways that carry data and information around the world. Wisconsin needs both to prosper.
A time of transition can be a time of innovation. Doyle’s decision not to seek a third term has opened a window to enact or debate these ideas and more, before the 2010 campaign itself buries them in clutter.
Recent articles by Tom Still
- Tom Still: From beakers to billions of gallons: Biofuels must achieve mass production
- Tom Still: Small business research grants bill deserves quick action in Congress
- Tom Still: Popularity of `Cash for Clunkers’ prompts ideas for personalized federal stimulus checks
- Tom Still: National nuclear medicine shortage could have a Wisconsin solution
- Tom Still: In the rush to control health-care costs, don’t chill biotech drug innovation
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.