Improve college access
Wisconsin is at a crossroads in sustaining college opportunities for its citizens. Over the last decade, state support per student has declined 25%, while tuition has doubled. More than ever, we need a financial aid program to make college affordable for all residents.
The governor has already signed the Wisconsin Covenant Partnership Agreement with leaders of the UW System, the state technical college system and the state association of private colleges and universities.
The covenant promises all Wisconsin eighth-grade students a college or technical-school spot with financial aid if they maintain a B average in high school and take the necessary preparatory classes. The question for the governor and Legislature is: Will they provide the necessary financial aid for these covenant students?
The state also needs to make a better effort to attract and retain top faculty and staff by providing competitive compensation and domestic-partner health insurance like that available at other Big Ten universities. Investing in top faculty and staff pays itself back many times over in the flow of research funding, innovations and spin-off businesses.
Katharine Lyall is past president of the UW System.
Be a political reformer
After the most expensive, nasty and demoralizing election in modern Wisconsin history, the governor has an opportunity to address the political reforms he promised in 2002 and then largely ignored over the next four years.
Gov. Doyle should immediately begin working with state Sens. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) and Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), who have again proposed a sweeping, bipartisan campaign finance reform proposal. Their bill would increase public financing of elections, end unsavory fund-raising during budget deliberations, raise disclosure requirements and regulation of campaign ads financed by non-candidate groups, and restrict out-of-state special-interest money.
In late October, Doyle said he supported this bill. Now he should prove it by making it the first order of business in his second term.
The governor should also push to eliminate the ineffective State Elections and State Ethics Boards and replace them with a more powerful Government Accountability Board empowered to root out corruption and enforce campaign and elections laws.
Jay Heck is executive director of the nonpartisan campaign-reform group, Common Cause in Wisconsin.
Strengthen Standards for Low-Wage Workers
In Wisconsin, one in five workers earns less than $10 per hour. Annually, that's just $20,000, barely enough to keep a family of four above the nation's paltry poverty level.
But the pay isn't the only problem. These jobs often have irregular hours and few benefits. Less than one in four includes health insurance. Less than one in five has a pension plan. Most even lack basic benefits like paid sick leave and vacation.
We can do better by building stronger standards for low-wage workers. The minimum wage should be indexed to protect workers from inflation. This past election day, initiatives to raise and index the minimum wage passed resoundingly in six states, including Montana and Missouri. We could join them.
When they get sick, the vast majority of low-wage workers face an unattractive choice: take time off and lose income, or go to work and hope for the best. Mandating sick pay would level the playing field for businesses already providing this benefit.
The state should also turn up the shame factor for employer lawbreakers. It could compile a public database listing documented violations of wage and hour rules, safety and health regulations, and labor laws. Consumers and workers deserve easier access to this vital information.
Laura Dresser is the associate director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.
Establish health care for all
Our health-care system is broken. Too many Wisconsin working families are either uninsured or underinsured. Approximately a half-million Wisconsin residents lack health-care coverage ' 70% of these are workers and their families.
Our employer-based health-care system is leaving socially responsible companies at a disadvantage, while other companies prey on taxpayers. Last year, Wisconsin taxpayers paid more than $19 million to cover Wal-Mart employees through publicly funded programs like Medicaid and BadgerCare.
Gov. Doyle must step up to the task of ensuring health care for all, without driving away much-needed industry. There are three worthy health-care plans on the table: the Wisconsin Health Plan, Health Care for Everyone, and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO Health Care Plan.
The governor and Legislature need to act. As each month passes, more and more working families struggle to find affordable health care.
Dian Palmer is a registered nurse and president of the largest union of health-care professionals in Wisconsin, District 1199W of the Service Employees International Union.
Gov. Doyle should fashion a Marshall Plan for Milwaukee. Much like the United States helped finance and direct the rebuilding of Europe's economy after the devastation of World War II, the state needs to rebuild Milwaukee, using state and private resources.
Issues including race, economic development, transportation, crime, higher education and, most important, the performance of the Milwaukee public schools should be on the table. Recent stories detailing physical assaults on teachers and an abysmal 40% drop-out rate for incoming high school freshmen suggest that we don't have much time left to turn things around.
If we are going to rebuild the economy of Milwaukee and prepare Wisconsin for the 21st century, we need to save these kids before they drop out into joblessness, drugs and crime. Admittedly, it may be hard to convince rural Republicans to support a Marshall Plan for the state's largest city. But lawmakers should understand: As Milwaukee goes, so goes Wisconsin.
Mark Bugher, former secretary of Administration and Revenue under Gov. Tommy Thompson, is director of the University Research.
With poverty comes poor health, learning challenges, bleak employment prospects and a greater need for economic assistance.
Wisconsin needs a comprehensive poverty strategy ' child care, transportation to school and to job training, access to community health, and more ' to deal with these problems.
We know that kids who succeed in school are raised in a supportive environment. They have access to computers to do homework. They get decent medical care so they do not miss five or six days each semester because of illness. And we know that after-school and summer recreation programs help keep kids out of trouble and reinforce their classroom work.
Most important of all, we know that the best way to combat poverty is through accessible jobs, with career ladders and health insurance. Gov. Doyle needs to offer tax incentives to create those jobs in every region of Wisconsin.
Blogger Paul Soglin, www.waxingamerica.com, is a former Madison mayor.
Fix the W2 Program
Gov. Doyle may have inherited W-2 (Wisconsin Works) from Gov. Tommy Thompson and Assembly Speaker John Gard. But in his second term he should take ownership and improve the state's showcase welfare reform program to move poor people into economic self-sufficiency.
W-2's primary failure, as a state audit revealed, is that 50% of those who leave the program return within one year. Just as bad, 80% of those who exit don't make wages above the poverty level. How can we improve these abysmal statistics?
With education and job training.
W-2 and other income-maintenance programs provide child care, food stamps, Medical Assistance and a financial stipend. Doyle should seek changes in W-2 rules to expand educational opportunities and job training as part of the 30 hours of community-service work expected of participants each week.
If we don't take steps to prepare poor people for jobs, W-2 will not truly succeed. The taxpayers will end up spending millions of dollars on a program that essentially keeps people coming right back in the door for help.
Gov. Doyle knows we can do better.
Tamara Grigsby represents Milwaukee's 18th Assembly District. She holds a master's degree in social work from UW-Madison and focuses on poverty issues in her legislative work.
Spur private investment
In his first term, Gov. Jim Doyle worked with the Legislature to enact solid strategies for improving Wisconsin's investment climate. Notably, there was Act 255, which created tax credits for 'angel investors,' who bankroll tech companies in their early, risky stage of development. In his second term, the governor must be even more aggressive.
Wisconsin is now nationally known for spurring angel deals. But the state still lags in attracting venture capital ' which is often the 'follow-on' money needed to push angel-backed companies toward profitability and job creation. By enhancing these tax credits, an already good program can become great.
Doyle should also propose changes in capital-gains tax rules to encourage investments in high-growth state companies, and phase out other tax rules that prompt many Wisconsin retirees to take their money out of state.
It's tough enough to compete with California and Massachusetts for investment capital; it's even tougher to lose a homegrown capital source to Arizona and Florida. The state Department of Revenue might flinch over the short-term revenue loss, but the long-term gain will help propel Wisconsin's economy for decades.
Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, a nonprofit group that promotes science- and technology-based business in Wisconsin.
Lead the state workforce
When Gov. Doyle told the world he planned to eliminate thousands of state jobs, he sent a shock wave through the halls of government. Taxpayer advocates may have celebrated, but the reaction inside government was downright gloomy.
Several hard-working employees told me they no longer looked forward to going to work in the morning. For them, the ship of state was not just getting smaller, it was drifting as well.
On management's side, Gov. Doyle's appointees felt they couldn't trust the civil servants they inherited from Republican Govs. Thompson and McCallum.
You don't need an MBA to see that this disconnect between management and workers holds the prospect for disaster. Governments throughout the country have learned a hard lesson: Downsizing done wrong can damage operations for years.
Job 1 for Gov. Doyle as Wisconsin's CEO is to ensure that the best and brightest choose state service. Job 1-A is to sufficiently reinvest in training that workforce.
Finally, Gov. Doyle needs to articulate his plan for state government. Is he still committed to his downsizing goal? If so, he needs to tell his workforce how he intends to meet it. If not, he has an obligation to taxpayers to devise a plan for making government more productive.
If he does neither, we should lower our expectations of state government.
George Lightbourn, a senior fellow with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, was secretary of administration for Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Reform prisoner-release policy
Wisconsin's correctional strategies are costly and fail to enhance public safety. Rather than reducing recidivism, longer prison terms result in a 3% rise in criminal behavior once offenders are released. There are cheaper and more effective alternatives.
Since parole and probation revocations are the fastest-growing category of prison admissions, we need to do a better job of returning ex-offenders to the community. This could be done through a rewards system and creative supervision rules that maintain offender accountability and protect public safety.
Current correctional policies have destroyed most incentives, and the consequences are not good. Hopeless offenders are turning into more dangerous criminals. There is increased violence among inmates, greater risks for correctional employees and higher costs for incarceration.
A smarter strategy would center on early-release incentives and community supervision for low-risk offenders. (Our limited resources should be directed toward high-risk offenders.) State probation and parole agents could work closely with local law enforcement and other community partners to remove temptations and create safety nets for these ex-offenders.
These views are shared by many Wisconsin corrections officials. But Gov. Doyle needs to demonstrate leadership for these changes to happen.
Cheri Maples is a retired Madison police officer and a former head of the state's parole and probation division.
Boost student performance
Because the global economy requires a much higher level of expertise, the first challenge for Wisconsin schools is to dramatically boost student performance. To be sure, we now have a good public education system. However, Wisconsin's students do not compare well to international benchmarks, and the performance gap for low-income and minority students is even wider.
Wisconsin needs to create a great educational system by doubling the performance of its students in the next five to 10 years. This should be the education focus for Gov. Doyle in his second term.
The challenge is not as daunting as it seems. Research shows that small class sizes in the early elementary grades, heavy investments in professional development and multiple extra-help strategies, such as one-on-one tutoring, can improve the performance of struggling students.
The good news is that this model (coupled with a new 'foundation' formula to distribute state aid) would only cost the state 5% to 10% more than it currently spends and could be phased in over one or two biennial budgets. And these changes, if enacted, would position the public education system to play a critical role in expanding the state's economy.
Allan Odden, a professor of educational leadership and policy analysis in the UW Madison School of Education, chairs a statewide task force on educational finance reform (www.wcer.wisc.edu/cpre).
Help family farmers
During the Thompson years, the state cut nearly every program that helped family farmers compete, while pumping millions of dollars into loans, grants and tax cuts for large producers. The economic impact of these giant 'farms' (they milk from 300 to 3,000 cows in confinement conditions and create low-wage employment for a mostly Hispanic workforce) pales in comparison to that of the smaller, family-operated farms they are replacing.
Just as bad, we have experienced an epidemic of manure spills and other environmental calamities caused by these industrial-scale livestock facilities. Support for this approach to farming is not good public policy and has continued unabated during Gov. Doyle's first term.
To help mitigate the damage, the governor should promote a similar tax credit for producers making the arduous three-year transition to certified organic production ' a true agricultural growth market.
Tax credits could also be offered for livestock producers establishing intensive rotational grazing systems on existing farms. This progressive proposal would pay dividends in terms of rural economic development and safeguard our state's environment.
Mark Kastel is co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, in Cornucopia, Wis., which promotes economic justice for family farmers.
Develop a strong energy policy
For decades, Wisconsin enjoyed progressive utility regulation, reliable energy supplies and affordable rates. But that's in the past. Now, Wisconsin's electricity prices for residential and industrial customers are the highest in our eight-state region. This should be a wake-up call for Gov. Doyle to develop a strong energy policy. Among the elements:
Affordability: Wisconsin should mandate a comprehensive energy-planning process that combines least-cost options for generation, transmission, renewables, conservation and energy efficiency. We must also restore 100% of the state budget's Public Benefits Fund to promote sensible measures.
Responsibility: Doyle should declare that Wisconsin will not deregulate its energy marketplace and risk repeating the California fiasco of market-induced shortages.
Reform: Citizen trust in the Public Service Commission must be restored. Commissioners should be selected on a bipartisan basis and be prohibited from taking utility jobs within two years of leaving the utility oversight agency. And the PSC should be fully staffed to counterbalance the utility lawyers and lobbyists paid to promote new energy facilities and rate increases.
Nino Amato served on the governor's Task Force on Energy Efficiency and Renewables.
Protect the Great Lakes
Jodi Habush Sinykin
Gov. Doyle knows that the Great Lakes remain a world-class asset of our state's economy and quality of life. We need to take steps now to protect this incredible natural resource.
As chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, Doyle is superbly positioned to push for legislative approval of the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact, a historic regional agreement that seeks to protect the Great Lakes. The compact can only go into effect after it is adopted by all eight Great Lake states and ratified by Congress.
If Doyle helps enact strong compact legislation in Wisconsin, he will leave an environmental legacy that will last for generations.
Jodi Habush Sinykin is a lawyer with Midwest Environmental Advocates.
Confront emerging energy crisis
This year, in a rare bipartisan display, Gov. Doyle and the Legislature crafted a new law that substantially strengthens Wisconsin's commitment to energy conservation and renewable resources over the next 10 years.
In his second term, Gov. Doyle needs to employ more radical measures to scale back Wisconsin's dependence on natural gas. He should:
Stiffen energy-efficiency requirements on new buildings and retrofits.
Institute a progressive electric-rate structure, which would reward customers who conserve and penalize those who don't.
Redesign utility tariffs to encourage customer generation of renewable electricity.
Use the bully pulpit to challenge citizens to take more responsibility for their energy footprint.
Michael Vickerman is executive director of RENEW Wisconsin.