League of Women Voters distribute questionnaire for senate candidates
The League of Women Voters of the Stevens Point Area recently distributed a questionnaire of four questions to Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, and Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point. The two candidates are competing for the Wisconsin Senate District 24 seat up for election Tuesday, Nov. 8.
The questions and candidates’ answers, in alphabetical order by last name, are as follows:
What in your background prepares you to serve in the Wisconsin Senate?
Lassa: As your state senator, I’ve consistently gotten real results on issues that the people of this district care about. I’ve been effective because I am able to work with members from both parties to get things done. Just this past session, I was able to get 15 proposals passed into law despite the hyper-partisanship in Madison.
As the former executive director for the Plover Area Business Association, I’ve worked in the Senate to promote entrepreneurship and small business growth. I wrote the Wisconsin First Act to make sure that Wisconsin companies get first crack at state contracts. I also led the fight to keep companies that receive state grants from shipping jobs out of Wisconsin and to make sure our tax dollars create good-paying jobs here at home.
I am also a passionate advocate for our military veterans. I’ve supported legislation to provide more educational options for veterans to help ease their transition to civilian life. I’ve also been working to shed a light on problems at the State Veterans Home at King, so that veterans can get the quality care they deserve.
As an advocate for fiscal reform, I authored the law establishing the Fraud, Waste and Mismanagement Hotline to identify and eliminate wasteful spending. I’ve also promoted the safety and health of children, through laws like the BPA-Free Kids Act and by strengthening penalties for child sex predators. This past session, I worked with a bipartisan group of legislators to create the first Wisconsin Legislative Children’s Caucus to improve the quality of life for all our kids.
Testin: Building relationships, listening to people, and helping to solve their problems is part of my job every day. As a sales representative whose territory covers much of the 24th Senate District, I have traveled to large and small communities and have met many small business owners working hard to get ahead. They protect their bottom line to make payroll and provide for their families.
For the hard-working taxpayers across the district, their bottom line is the same: They want the chance to succeed and to provide an even better future for their spouses and children. They want someone who hears what’s going on in their lives and advocates for them in Madison, not someone who plays tired partisan games.
Meeting these folks has shown me firsthand that hard work and determination aren’t values that belong to members of any one party; they’re Wisconsin values. Great representation starts with listening and hearing what people have to say, then showing up every day to be their voice, and that’s an approach I’ll take as your state senator.
As a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) graduate who is balancing home ownership with the financial demands of paying off student loans and starting a family, I’m in the same boat as many recent and future college graduates. They will need a tireless, vocal advocate who has shared their experiences. I will be that advocate.
2. State funding for public schools has decreased in recent years and taxes have gone to students to attend private schools with vouchers. What will you do to support public education going forward?
Lassa: With three daughters in public school, I see the direct impact of the historic budget cuts made to public education by this governor and the Republican-controlled legislature. A memo by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that general state aid funding for most of our public schools is well below the levels it was when Republicans took control of state government back in 2011.
These deep funding cuts, coupled with more taxpayer money being shifted away to private voucher schools, have done real damage to our public schools. The result has been teacher shortages, cancellation of educational programs, deteriorating facilities and school districts being forced to resort to referendums just to fund basic needs.
Wisconsin needs to return to its historic commitment to excellent public schools. One way the state can do this is to revisit the half billion dollars in wasteful corporate tax giveaways passed by Republicans in the budget. In their zeal to give away your hard-earned tax dollars, the Republicans didn’t even require these corporations to create or keep even one job in Wisconsin. This money would be better invested in the education of our public school children who are the state’s future workforce.
Given our state’s workforce shortage, we need to understand that investing in public education, which educates the vast majority of children, is vital to economic growth and the wellbeing of our communities. I will continue to oppose funding cuts to our public schools and work to restore the funding necessary to provide our children with the quality education they deserve.
Testin: Giving families the ability to decide what’s best for their child’s education should not preclude building and supporting excellent public schools. This starts with ensuring local control over curriculum and standards, with only the absolute necessary oversight from the state. What’s working in southeastern Wisconsin might not be a good fit for students in Central Wisconsin. This approach ensures dollars are spent carefully and diligently by administrators in their own communities and enables students to thrive instead of spending for the sake of compliance to standards that don’t make sense for that district.
3. Maintenance and new roads are needs in our district and state. What are your priorities and how will you address the problem?
Lassa: The Legislature must commit to solving our transportation infrastructure problem. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Wisconsin’s roads are the third worst in the nation. Bad roads contribute to accidents and negatively impact businesses’ ability to get their products to market. Transportation infrastructure is also linked to economic development as it’s one of the top factors companies evaluate when making decisions about facility locations.
Our transportation system is vital and it is alarming to me to hear that some of the counties and municipalities in the 24th Senate District are on a road replacement schedule of 80 to 100 years. Some towns are even looking at turning paved roads back to gravel.
We can’t keep kicking the can down the same pothole-riddled road. It’s time for Gov. Walker and the Legislature to get serious about finding an effective long-term solution to our road crisis. One step we can take is to pull transportation-related items out of the full state budget for separate consideration. This would make it easier for lawmakers from both parties to hammer out an agreement that provides adequate funding for roads without continuing to rely on excessive borrowing.
It’s time to come up with a sustainable plan to fix Wisconsin’s roads. Investing in our infrastructure helps create good-paying, family supporting jobs; provides safer roads as well as assists in area economic development.
Testin: It’s time to stop diverting resources to southeastern Wisconsin when roads here at home continue to deteriorate. Town chairmen and town board members across the district know firsthand the struggle to maintain rural roads. These communities may only have 100 or 200 people, but 80 or more miles of roads to maintain. It’s impossible for such a small tax base to support new construction on their own, especially when some estimates put the cost of one mile of new road construction at nearly $200,000.
We cannot say we support industry in central and western Wisconsin, but then not provide them with the proper infrastructure to do their jobs. I will advocate for increased state funding for rural roads. It’s a necessary, long-term infrastructure investment for future economic growth in central and western Wisconsin.
Once the Department of Transportation’s audit is completed toward the end of the year, we will have a clearer picture of how much money will be needed to support the state’s roads and highways.
4. What role does the University System play in economic development in Wisconsin?
Lassa: The importance of the UW System to economic development can’t be overstated. Whether it’s providing educated professionals to supply our skilled workforce, conducting research that has led to the rise of new industries in Wisconsin, generating patents on new products and processes, or the more than $9 billion direct economic impact the university system brings to our economy, our UW campuses are the economic development engines of our state. Here at home, the UWSP contributes $420 million each year to our local economy and supports nearly 5,000 good-paying jobs.
That is why the historic cuts Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans have made to our university system have been so shortsighted. According to UWSP officials, if the current budgetary trends continue, the university will lose all state funding in nine years. Our campuses are losing valuable faculty and research grants and having to cut courses. With these cuts, students are waiting longer to get the courses they need to graduate, which drives up the cost of college and increases student debt. It also keeps employers waiting longer for much-needed workers especially in high-demand fields.
I’ve spoken to business leaders who told me that companies that were considering moving to Wisconsin had second thoughts when they saw our lack of commitment to education. If we don’t reinvest in our university system, Wisconsin’s economy will be paying the price for years to come.
Testin: Small business owners, managers and their hard-working employees across the 24th Senate District have told me over and over that their biggest challenge is finding the right people to fill in-demand jobs. That’s why I have made closing the skills gap and training a modern workforce two cornerstones of my campaign.
This approach starts in the classroom. By establishing apprenticeship programs and internship opportunities at high schools, students who wish to immediately enter the workforce will receive real-world training and skills to take to their employers and be successful.
Reforms to the UW System will enable students to more quickly enter the workforce with less debt. Earlier this year I released the Wisconsin Education Achievement Initiative to attack head-on the rising costs of higher education and the student loan crisis. This plan includes:
* The creation of fast-track programs that allow students to supplement general education requirements with courses specific to their degree.
* Cutting administrative staffs by 15 percent over the next five years and reallocating those salaries to educators who teach in-demand courses. This will alleviate bottlenecks associated with an insufficient number of classes.
* Index future tuition increases to changes in the Consumer Price Index so that universities operate within their means.
* Provide block grant funding and award grants to universities that create apprenticeship or internship programs in order to drive down prices and increase overall education quality.
* Develop a carefully-managed program to allow those who meet stringent requirements to refinance their student loans.
Through these reforms each student will be able to graduate on time with less debt and become an active and successful part of the workforce.