WisBusiness: Impact of stimulus mixed, panel says

By Tyler Greenblatt

For WisBusiness.com

Public and private sector leaders say Wisconsin’s use of stimulus funding has greatly helped government entities and programs, but admit it’s had a more mixed impact on private companies.

City of Milwaukee Director of Administration Sharon Robinson said stimulus funds helped the city avoid some budget cuts.

“This has by far been the toughest budget cycle we’ve experienced since Mayor Barrett took office,” Robinson said. “So, the stimulus has had a significant impact in helping us to thwart severe budget cuts this past cycle.”

The panel discussion was sponsored by the Public Policy Forum to gauge the impact of the stimulus program on southeastern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association Executive Director Pat Goss agreed that Wisconsin’s portion of the stimulus was a “tremendous success.” Already, he said, the consulting and engineering community was put to work by DOT to set up and deliver “shovel-ready” projects around the state to meet the criteria set by the federal government.

Godfrey and Kahn attorney Art Harrington believes the biggest potential success story of the stimulus package is in the energy field. He was, however, critical of the affect on the private sector.

“For job creation to stimulate the economy, it is more effective to allow the private sector to meet qualifications and apply for direct benefits,” Harrington said. “If you want to jump start the private industry, there’s a different model.”

Mark Wagner, vice president of government relations for Johnson Controls, pointed out that his company has received $290 million for research and development of alternate energy powered vehicles.

However, Johnson Controls is one of the few private companies in the state to receive direct stimulus funding.

“I think that the public perception was that these dollars would be trickling into the community almost overnight with flexibility and that people would be able to create job programs in any way that they saw fit,” Robinson said.

State Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, said the stimulus dollars may put communities in a hole long-term.

“There’s a great tendency by elected people to want to deliver everything to everyone,” Stone said. “It’s not easy to go out and sell pain, which is we’ve got to cut back, we’ve got to tighten our belt. It’s the responsible thing to do, but I haven’t met a lot of legislators that do it.”