WisBusiness: Business leaders laud Walker budget

By Brian E. Clark

For WisBusiness.com

Wisconsin business leaders say they’re extremely pleased with most of the $66 billion two-year budget bill now signed into law, with one calling the changes in the first six months of Gov. Scott Walker’s term “truly remarkable.”

Walker signed the $66 billion, two-year budget bill on June 26 at a guests-only signing ceremony at a Green Bay manufacturer.

While the business community is generally very happy, a top Democratic leader at the Capitol remained skeptical that it would lead to the kind of job growth the state needs.

“Gov. Walker’s budget includes tax breaks for manufacturers even if they cut jobs,” said Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, a former Midwest regional administrator to the U.S. Small Business Administration. “Unfortunately, this budget also slashes funding by nearly a third for job retraining programs that companies support and that help match workers with new jobs.”

Barca said Walker and Republican legislative leaders should be using targeted tax cuts that focus on economic development initiatives directly targeted at producing jobs.

But business leaders appear overwhelmingly in favor of Walker’s moves.

“We did very well,” said Kurt Bauer, CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby.

“We’ve seen some historic reforms both within the budget and within the first six months of the session that have really changed the business climate and how business leaders around the nation see Wisconsin,” he added. “It’s truly remarkable.”

Bauer lauded Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature for passing a manufacturing tax credit, which he hopes will lead to industrial expansion in this state.

But his greatest praise was for passage of a balanced budget without raising taxes.

“It’s something they should receive acclaim for,” he said. “It sends a message to business leaders in our state and nationwide that Wisconsin is no longer in denial about the seriousness of our chronic budget deficits. It has created a positive buzz for our state.“

He said the balanced budget contrasts Wisconsin “very nicely” with the neighboring states of Illinois, which has raised taxes, and proposed tax hikes in Minnesota.

“It also removes uncertainly about the future direction of the state for business leaders, which positions Wisconsin better than many other states which lack the courage to make the tough but necessary choices to get their fiscal houses in order.”

Bauer, however, said he’s unsure when the changes made in the budget bill will translate into more jobs for the state’s residents.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think we can give a certain date,” he said. “Overall, the best way to put is that there is reason to be bullish about Wisconsin’s economy for job growth. But there remain lingering concerns, particularly about the overall strength of the U.S. economy.”

If the national economy continues to see anemic growth, he said that will be a drag on the Wisconsin economy, no matter how attractive the state’s business environment is.

Brandon Scholz, CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, said he, too, was pleased with the budget bill because it didn’t include new regulations, tax hikes or fees and “does not make it tougher for companies that drive our economy and hire people.”

“This is a good budget because it doesn’t impose any additional burdens on the business community,” he said.

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, also lauded Walker and the Legislature.

“This budget will protect and enhance some of the key investments in small business formation in Wisconsin, which is an area where Wisconsin has great potential to improve,” he said.

“Creating 10,000 new businesses over four years will be a tall order, but it’s achievable if the state and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. foster the right conditions and provide appropriate incentives. Technology-based businesses create jobs that pay well above the statewide average, and Wisconsin is poised to compete on a global basis.”

The WEDC officially succeeds the old Department of Commerce in this budget.

But not every member of the state’s business community was pleased.

Jeff Hamilton, president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild and Milwaukee’s Sprecher Brewing Co., said he was disappointed Walker didn’t veto a provision in the budget that small brewers believe will harm their ability to expand.

“Generally, the majority of this budget is a good thing,” he said. “But business models that were available to us before this budget no longer exist, so our company has been devalued and opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop their businesses have been taken away and we’re not too happy about that.”

He said his association is working with several legislators do away with the changes.

Hamilton also bristled at comments by Walker that craft brewers didn’t understand changes to the state’s beer distribution rules in the budget.

“For him to say that was insulting to small brewers because it implies that we don’t know anything about our business or the government affairs that affect it,” he said.

See more on the new budget at WisPolitics.com: