Barrett focuses on jobs, state spending cuts
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joined local supporters who walked in Waupaca’s July 4 parade.
He spoke to the County Post prior to the parade about his plans for Wisconsin if elected governor.
Barrett has released detailed proposals on how he would grow Wisconsin’s economy and cut state spending.
In his 67-page “Plan for Getting Wisconsin Working,” Barrett lays out a comprehensive vision of how he would create new jobs.
“My job is to focus on job creation,” Barrett said. “Even in these difficult times, I have been able to retain and create jobs in Milwaukee.”
He pointed to the most recent example of how he worked with the private and public sector to save local jobs.
Bucyrus International, a Milwaukee manufacturer, had made a deal to sell $600 million of equipment for a power plant project in India. Then the Export-Import Bank of the United States announced that it would not finance the project due to environmental concerns. That would have meant the loss of 300 jobs in the Milwaukee area.
Barrett, along with other politicians, contacted bank and administration officials and the loan was approved.
Barrett also pointed to the efforts of Milwaukee 7, a regional economic development group that he helped establish and co-chairs, to encourage Republic Airways to open a call center to Milwaukee and create 800 new jobs.
“I worked with M7 to provide tax credits for job creation and helped site the operation,” Barrett said.
Barrett also worked with M7 to persuade Ingeteam, a Spanish supplier of wind and solar energy systems, to open a plant in the Milwaukee area. The plant represents a $15 million investment and nearly 300 new jobs.
In his economic plan, Barrett supports tax cuts that are linked directly to job creation and targeted to stimulate private-sector economic activity.
Barrett said he would cut regulatory red tape so construction projects can start more quickly. He would also consolidate the state’s many economic development programs and create a Jobs Office that would oversee all job creation, retention and training efforts.
He also plans to establish a state entrepreneur’s fund with $100 million, raising an additional $500 million in private funding for venture capital.
Barrett would target construction spending to strengthen the economic infrastructure. He also plans to provide more funds for research and development to encourage new technology.
Among his proposals are a total elimination of taxes on new patent and software royalties.
Barrett also recognizes that Wisconsin’s economy will remain hampered if state government does not control its spending.
His 26-page report, “Putting Madison on a Diet,” explains how he plans to save $1.27 billion by changing the way state government works.
Barrett recommends eliminating the offices of Wisconsin’s secretary of state and secretary of treasurer. He believes the work done by these two elected offices can be consolidated with other state departments at a lower cost. However, it would require a constitutional amendment to eliminate elected offices.
A key component to his plan to cut state spending involves combining government workers statewide into a single health insurance pool. All employees of state, county and municipal governments, as well as other institutions such as technical colleges, would be combined to leverage lower cost premiums from Health Maintenance Organizations. According to the 2009-10 Wisconsin Bluebook, there are 103,000 state employees and 287,000 local government employees in Wisconsin. They represent 15 percent of the state’s work force.
Barrett points to Dane County, where the combined health insurance purchasing power of state employees has resulted in the lowest premiums among Wisconsin’s 72 counties. In Dane County in 2009, annual HMO premiums were nearly $1,200 less for individuals and $3,000 less for families. Barrett believes using that same kind of purchasing power to lower health insurance costs for all government employees could save taxpayers over $330 million a year.
He also wants to give BadgerCare Plus clients an incentive to select low-cost plans by requiring them to pay higher monthly premiums for more expensive plans. He estimates that could save the state an additional $200 million.
Barrett notes that Wisconsin spent 6.7 percent of its general fund on prisons last year, while Minnesota spent just 2.7 percent.
In 1987, Wisconsin spent 20 cents on prisons for every $1 spent on higher education. By 2007, the state spent 73 cents on prisons for every $1 it spent on higher education. State spending on prisons has grown from $130 million in the mid-1980s to $1.1 billion in 2009.
Barrett believes that Texas and Arizona offer models of inmate risk-assessment and community supervision programs that can be used in Wisconsin to save the state up to $58.2 million. He also wants to reduce medical spending on inmates by eliminating elective procedures and reducing the number of health care contracts used by the prisons.
Barrett points to his own experience as mayor to balance the city of Milwaukee’s budget. In 2009, Milwaukee ended the year with a $23 million surplus.
Since he was first elected mayor in 2004, Barrett has reduced the city’s work force by 400 employees and cut more than 100 pieces of equipment from the Public Works vehicle fleet.
When asked if he raised taxes in 2009, Barrett said the levy went up slightly last year.
“The city had to make a $49 million payment to the pension system. That was nearly was 20 percent of Milwaukee’s total tax levy of $247 million. I cut spending by more than $30 million and our pension system is now fully funded and has zero debt,” Barrett said.
He then compared how the city of Milwaukee and the county of Milwaukee handled their pension obligations.
“Milwaukee County borrowed $400 million to deal with its pension liabilities. We dealt with it head on and paid for it,” Barrett said. “People are angry about politicians kicking the can down the road and not making the tough decision. I didn’t do that. I solved the problem.”