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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 12:01 AM 

Walker, GOP leaders roll out workforce development bills for fall session

Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislative leaders rolled out eight bills they said will be priorities in the fall session geared toward improving the state’s workforce development.

Walker touted a recent string of positive economic news while laying out the package as something he believes will build on past work in the state budget, including a $100 million investment in workforce development.

“We’re not going to stop pushing forward now,” Walker said. “This is a sign that I am members of the Legislature are very committed to continuing help move the state forward.”

The package includes things like an additional $500,000 for the youth apprenticeship program, which provides job training as well as tech college-level instruction for students at their local high schools, and a separate bill creating $1,000-per-pupil incentive grants to school districts to graduate more students with skills in high-need fields. The incentive grants were originally proposed by state Superintendent Tony Evers and modeled after a program in Kansas.

The most expensive piece is a bill from state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, and Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, that would invest $4 million in state funds in vocational rehabilitation services for those with disabilities. The state money would be matched by $14 million from the federal government over the next two years.

Walker’s office said the package included $8.5 million in state dollars and $14 million in federal money. The guv said some would be new funds, while other money would be reallocated within state agencies.

The other pieces include:

- LRB 2976, which would reimburse 25 percent of tuition to the employer or the student for apprentice training. It would be capped at $1,000 per apprentice.

- LRB 3026, which would allow schools to design the criteria for the Academic Excellence Higher Education Scholarship to increase the number of students who use them for a technical education.

- LRB 3054, which would expand the Wisconsin Workers Win program that was created last session. It was a voluntary option for the unemployed to train in a new occupation while continuing to receive unemployment. But the program expired this year.

- LRB 1866, which would allow prospective licensees to take their licensing exams at the Department of Safety and Professional Services prior to completing their training, though the license would not be issued until the training was over.

- LRB 3183, which would allow the Department of Children and Families to create a new Transitional Jobs Program serving cities or counties with high unemployment and/or child poverty rates. A pilot program that operated in Milwaukee ended in June and a successor, the Transform Milwaukee Jobs program, was created in the budget targeting Milwaukee.

See an overview of the package.

Walker said additional announcements will be made in the coming days on economic development, government reform to improve the business climate and education reform, but did not offer details.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald described the first package as fine tuning what Republicans have already approved in the previous biennium or programs that have been in place for some time.

“We still continue to see the economic expansion, we’re starting to see better numbers all the time and believe the job creation is there and a lot of these bills will enhance that,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said some of the bills will be on the floor in the fall session, which includes two weeks each in October and November, with the goal of getting some back to Walker before year’s end. He did not specify which bills would go first.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he has been skeptical of transitional jobs in the past. But he cannot argue with results and supports what Walker has put forward, saying it focuses “on programs that work and making sure we do everything we can to get people back to work all across the state.”

Walker and the two GOP leaders previewed the package in a conference call with four media outlets Tuesday afternoon on the condition the details were embargoed until early Wednesday morning.

But as details leaked out elsewhere, Dems dismissed the package as underwhelming.

“At a time Wisconsin needs big, bold action, today Republicans announced baby steps,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. “No amount of money spent on television ads will be able to hide the fact that Republicans have not prioritized economic recovery and job creation in our state. They made anti-education, anti-worker, anti-healthcare, anti-women agendas their first priorities and allowed the results of a global recession to fester in our state that once proudly led the nation. It is not too late, however, for Republicans to change course and truly take bold strides forward on jobs for middle-class families. If they do, Democrats stand ready to join them.”

On Tuesday, Walker touted the latest release from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia putting Wisconsin No. 2 in its index measuring various economic indicators for future growth.

But Barca accused Walker of failing to follow through on his promise to have a laser focus on jobs, charging he’s been changing his definition of success.

“And when Republicans fear bad jobs news, they try to change the rules of the game,” Barca tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “’New metric.’ ‘No magic number.’ ‘It's not about jobs...’"

Walker insisted on the call he has not backed away from his promise of 250,000 new jobs in his first term, saying the package “goes an awful long way” to accomplish that pledge.

Walker has previously stressed quarterly job numbers audited by the federal government as a better measure of job growth than the monthly unemployment rate. But his administration has lately been playing up the numbers out of the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia. The guv insisted that’s because the quarterly numbers have a significant lag compared to the current environment.

“It’s not a shift. It’s just a point of looking forward,” the guv said.

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