State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
“We’re at war!”
“I’m in business. That doesn’t make me GM or AIG.”
“I’m not some faceless b**tard. I’m a capitalist.”
Thirty-three business leaders testified about their concerns with Wisconsin business policies at the WISCONSIN JOBS NOW Task Force’s latest meeting Monday at BioResearch Inc. in Brown Deer. The meeting that I attended gave businesspeople an opportunity share their valuable expertise about what is wrong with the state’s business climate and what must be done to rejuvenate our slumping economy.
The task force was developed by legislative Republicans after the Wisconsin budget adjustment bill was approved and signed into law in a span of 48 hours without adequate scrutiny from the public or news media. The bill made significant changes to the state’s business tax structure with the enactment of combined reporting, a streamlined sales tax, a sales tax on business software, and several other tax increases.
The input from businesspeople will be incorporated into a report of recommendations to the Legislature to create jobs and truly stimulate our economy.
As I expected, the businesspeople assembled all brought a wealth of invaluable expertise and I was extremely impressed with their contributions.
I was struck by the number of scathing remarks about state government’s hostile attitude toward and treatment of business. The most complimentary comment if you want to call it that came from one businessman who said there is a “misunderstanding” in Madison about small business. Other speakers were more direct.
Laurie Bucaro of Fun Things Toy Service in Muskego said, “I have never felt welcomed by state government.”
“We’re being demonized as businesspeople for making profits. That’s wrong. We’re making jobs,” said Al Schmitz of Schmitz Ready Mix in Milwaukee. “We invest our hearts and souls into business. Being a success is not a crime. We started with nothing. We’re scared because we’re seeing everything evaporate before our very eyes.”
“I encourage you to put a face on real businesspeople,” implored Sue Szymczak of Safeway Sling in Greendale. “We’re not out to cheat or oppress people.”
Racine businessman Gary Schlidt told the Task Force his business counterparts in Europe can’t believe how socialized America is becoming.
Rich Hacker, the General Manager of Engineered Pump Services in Mukwonago said, “Let me keep more of my money and I’ll invest it and hire people.”
David Kliber, the President/CEO of SF Analytical Laboratories Inc. in New Berlin echoed Hacker’s comments. “We must be more pro-business,” said Kliber. “We create jobs. We don’t need the public sector taking it away.”
Government intervention during these rough economic times is especially problematic for businesspeople, many of whom told the Task Force their sales are down, revenues are down, hours worked are down, however taxes, fees, insurance, inflation, health care, and advertising are all up.
Businesses have responded by reducing expenses and making cutbacks, yet the businesspeople wonder what government has done. They correctly see the state increasing taxing and spending at a time when businesses and working families are holding back.
State businesses, when faced with trying to compete in a hostile business climate, have few options. They can move their business to another, more favorable location. Or they can stay and work hard not to pass on additional taxes and fees to their consumers.
Some speakers said the Task Force members were probably not hearing anything new. I had to agree. Many of their concerns are issues I have been writing about for some time: Governor Doyle’s proposed state budget, high taxes and spending, the cost of doing business, the awful business climate, the need for more skilled workers, and the loss of our best, brightest, and wealthiest to other states.
There were suggestions that the state should have a “Jobs” Czar or Secretary of Manufacturing. After all, the state has a Secretary of Agriculture.
Dick Stangel of Weimer Bearing and Transmission in Menomonee Falls urged the Task Force not to dismiss or forget manufacturing. “If we don’t make it, mine it, or grow it, our standard of living will decrease,” said Stangel.
One of the questions businesspeople were asked to consider during the roundtable discussion was, “What does state government currently do right to help job growth?” None of the attendees was able to furnish an answer.
There was this bit of advice for state legislators from Kraig Sadnowikow of American Design and Build in West Bend that drew laughter from the audience:
“Pay your taxes. Love your spouse and only your spouse.”
Sadnowikow then changed to a serious tone saying that ethics would rule the day in the state Capitol and that those exercising punitive opposition to business are lacking the proper ethics.
Jonathan Pearl offered some encouragement. Pearl is a recent transfer to the Badger State. He left the orange trees in his Southern California backyard to start a speech technology business here. Pearl said Wisconsin has the potential to be the next Silicon Valley if it creates the right climate with the right incentives.
Many speakers referenced the quality of life in our state, the kind that allured Jonathan Pearl. One businessperson concluded his testimony saying, “Wisconsin is a great place to live if we can survive.”
Cindy Detiege of Watry Industries in Sheboygan posed the following:
“Business has always been good for Wisconsin. Is Wisconsin good for business?”
Judging from the sentiments at the Task Force meeting, the consensus would be a resounding no.
The Wisconsin Jobs NOW Task Force will hold its next roundtable discussion in Eau Claire on Monday, March 30, 2009 in the Community Room, RCU Corporate Center, 200 Riverfront Terrace, Eau Claire, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.