Legislature Continues Focus on Reform, Workforce Development

The State Senate recently wrapped up its fall session, moving forward a number of reforms and measures that address important issues and streamline government regulations. One of the highlights of the fall session was a series of roundtables held around the state by the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Commerce to receive input directly from small businesses, employers, and those involved in economic development. I was pleased to be part of this effort and to secure a roundtable in Menomonie to provide an opportunity for western Wisconsin to provide input on economic development initiatives. As a result of those roundtable discussions, several ideas and suggestions are being developed into legislation that will be considered as the legislative session continues.


Another top priority that moved forward this fall was a second package of bills to address our state’s heroin epidemic. Following up on the progress made in the last legislative session, I have authored legislation with Representative John Nygren to improve oversight of highly addictive prescription drugs, which are frequently a gateway for young people into illegal drugs. Working with stakeholders to develop solutions that will save lives and prevent addiction, the HOPE 2.0 bills have all been unanimously approved by legislative committees this fall. Along with the heroin epidemic, the State Legislature has sought proposals in recent sessions to respond to the need for improved mental health services. This effort continued this fall with the passage of Senate Bill 293 (SB 293) that creates pilot projects on behavioral health care and psychiatric care. SB 293 was passed last month by the State Senate on a unanimous 30-0 vote.


The State Legislature has also been seeking ideas and solutions to reduce bureaucratic red tape and make it easier for Wisconsin residents to work with our state government. One of the ongoing points of focus is reducing barriers for those seeking to enter the workforce or start a business in Wisconsin. I was the author of one of these initiatives in the State Senate that seeks to adopt the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact in Wisconsin. Given the input I received from physicians and hospital administrators in our area, I brought forward this legislation to make it easier for physicians to obtain licensure to practice across state lines. This legislation seeks to increase the pool of physicians that hospitals and clinics can draw from, particularly in our border communities, while improving access to health care and specialists in rural areas.


The State Legislature also advanced several bills that I have authored based upon suggestions and ideas I have received from residents in our area. Senate Bill 153 was brought to my attention by a veterans’ organization in New Richmond and allows law enforcement to donate abandoned vehicles to charity. Senate Bill 160 updates state law relating to the use of oxygen tubing and was suggested by a nursing home resident in River Falls. Based upon concerns raised by ambulance providers in Pierce County, Senate Bill 210 eliminates hurdles for first responders from a neighboring state in responding to calls for mutual aid during emergencies in Wisconsin. All three of these bills received final approval and were signed into law this fall.


One of the bills that received much attention this fall related to reorganizing the Government Accountability Board (GAB). The legislation relating to the GAB will bring greater transparency and accountability to the administration of our elections and ethics laws and will help ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to prevent abuses. I worked with the bill’s authors to ensure that the ethics board will function and be a working board by including retired judges, similar to the role that retired election clerks will serve on the elections board. This legislation, as amended, is intended to preserve confidence in our elections and ethics laws.

State Senate Launches Jobs Initiative

(State Capitol, Madison)… The Wisconsin State Senate is continuing their focus on encouraging job creation and economic development by engaging entrepreneurs and employers in developing policy and innovative ideas for growth. As part of this initiative, the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Commerce has scheduled a number of economic development roundtables around the state, including a roundtable in western Wisconsin on October 12th in Menomonie.

“These roundtables are intended to provide an opportunity for us to hear directly from small businesses, employers, and those involved in local economic development,” said State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). “The feedback from those creating and working to grow jobs and local economies is vital in our efforts to continue making Wisconsin a great place to start or grow a business.”

As a result of the Legislature’s focus on jobs and the economy, Wisconsin’s business climate has improved dramatically under several national rankings, including an increase from 29th in 2010 to 15th in 2015 according to CNBC’s ranking of best places to start or grow a business. Additionally, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.5% from over 8% in 2010 and has been consistently below the national average. There have been over 38,000 new business filings made with the state since 2011.

“The improving jobs figures and economic conditions in Wisconsin are encouraging, but we need to continue to look at how we can do better as we compete with other states and countries for jobs and investments,” Harsdorf continued. “By working with small businesses and those that best know the economies of our local communities, I look forward to advancing legislative proposals and reforms that will provide for family supporting jobs.”

This latest jobs initiative builds on the prior efforts and ongoing work of the State Legislature to encourage job growth and investment in Wisconsin. In response to feedback from small business owners and entrepreneurs, legislation has been enacted to address the skills gap and improve worker training opportunities, reduce regulatory red tape, and encourage private capital investment.

“I look forward to collaborating with the diverse group of main street businesses, manufacturers, and employers that will be participating in this effort,” stated Harsdorf. “I encourage those with thoughts or ideas on growing our economy to contact my office by phone at 608-266-7745 or 1-800-862-1092 or by e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.”

Help Prevent Drug Abuse through Prescription Disposal

Drug addiction and abuse continues to plague communities across our state. Here in western Wisconsin, we have seen meth and heroin ravage our communities and destroy far too many promising lives. While there remains much work to be done, I am pleased that the State Legislature continues to work with stakeholders in an effort to come up with solutions that seek to save lives and prevent addiction.

In speaking with law enforcement, public health officials, and medical professionals, one of key areas they reference in combatting addiction is the role of prescription drugs. Easily accessible prescription drugs can be dangerous in their own right, but they also are frequently a gateway for young people into illegal drugs. Finding ways to keep highly addictive prescription drugs out of the hands of our youth and those that are susceptible to addiction is a priority of those working to fight drug abuse.

One of the most effective ways to remove the potential of misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is through proper disposal. The Wisconsin Department of Justice has worked together with local law enforcement agencies for several years to conduct Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. These events, which are usually held once in the spring and once in the fall, provide the opportunity for families and households to dispose of unused prescription medications in a secure and environmentally-friendly manner. It is important to never flush or pour unused prescription drugs down the drain, as the pharmaceuticals can enter our drinking water supply or affect our lakes and streams.

The next Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is scheduled for Saturday, October 17th. In addition to the Department of Justice’s efforts, a number of local law enforcement agencies sponsor drug take-back programs year-round or provide permanent prescription drug drop boxes at their offices. I encourage those interested in getting rid of old prescription drugs to contact their local police or sheriff’s departments to find out about local drop-off sites for Prescription Drug Take-Back Day or to find out if there is a permanent prescription drug disposal program in your community.

As a follow-up to a number of bills the State Legislature passed last session in our fight against drug abuse and addiction, I am working with Representative John Nygren on legislation seeking to improve prescription drug dispensing in Wisconsin to prevent highly addictive and powerful medications from being abuses. The two bills I will be authoring in the State Senate propose changes to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), a tool used by physicians and pharmacists to prevent the overprescribing of medications and to keep individuals from “doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions. One of the bills changes the requirement that the PDMP be updated within 24 hours of the dispensing of a monitored prescription drug, rather than seven days under current law, to ensure doctors have the most up-to-date information. The second bill would improve communication between law enforcement, health care providers, and the PDMP when a prescription medication is found at a crime scene or drug overdose.

Two additional bills on prescription drug medication will also be brought forward that would improve oversight of pain clinics to prevent “pill mills” and that would provide tools to better assess the effectiveness of methadone clinics. Methadone is a drug assisted treatment option for those addicted to heroin. These four bills are an extension of the HOPE package passed by the State Legislature last session that began addressing the heroin epidemic, which included enacting a Good Samaritan law and authorizing emergency responders to administer medication that counteracts heroin overdoses. It is expected that these new bills will be taken up by the State Legislature in the coming weeks as the fall legislative session begins.

Delivering on Property Tax Relief

Property taxes remain one of the top issues for Wisconsin homeowners and small businesses, as the annual property tax bill represents a significant expenditure on household checkbooks and entrepreneurs’ balance sheets. While many pay property taxes through an escrow account or monthly savings, unexpected changes in property tax bills often prove challenging for homeowners and small business owners in these times of tight budgets. In response to the concerns I have heard from many area residents over the years, providing property tax relief continues to be one of my top priorities.

Prior to the change in control of state government in 2011, the trend of property tax increases was at an unsustainable level for many Wisconsin residents as property taxes had increased by 27% over the prior decade. Particularly for working families, seniors, and others on fixed incomes, property taxes were accounting for greater portions of family budgets and tax increases meant cuts and belt-tightening at home. The impact of continually rising property tax bills meant less money for groceries and clothes, reduced savings, and delayed repairs or improvements.

In 2010, after several years of tax increases, the median property tax bill in Wisconsin was $2,963. Had that trend of tax increases continued, the median property tax bill would have risen to over $3,300 in 2016. These increases were unacceptable to me and that is why I have supported reforms that have provided tax relief to property owners. The outcome of these reforms are that property taxes will be reduced each of the six years since 2011 due to legislation enacted by the State Legislature.

As a result of our efforts to pass property tax relief, the median property tax bill in 2016 is projected to be $2,828. This figure is $135 less than what the median property tax bill was in 2010 and represents real savings for seniors and families that keeps more of your hard-earned money in your pocketbook. Overall, property taxes have fallen by 4.4% for a typical Wisconsin homeowner since 2010.

Compared to the trendline under the prior administration, property taxes will be approximately $500 less in 2016 than if the expected increases had taken effect, with the cumulative savings over the past six years estimated to be over $1,700. Using another measure, a recent analysis by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found that property taxes as a share of personal income has now dropped to 3.6%, the lowest level seen since 1946.

It is important to note that the effect of local referenda and property improvements also have impacts on actual property tax bills. As the figures above relate to a property taxpayer in the state with a median valued home, individual property owners will see variations depending on local factors and property values.

While our work to control spending has been successful in holding down property tax increases, it is important that we continue to promote growth and economic development as a means to broaden the property tax base. Increasing the value of property through a growth and prosperity agenda will not only help increase job opportunities, but will also help in distributing the property tax burden and holding down property taxes. I look forward to continuing to advance this agenda as the legislative session continues.

Please feel free to contact me by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

Budget Bill Prioritizes Western Wisconsin Projects

While much of the attention during the budget process focuses on the largest portions of the state budget, such as K-12 education, medical assistance, and transportation, the budget bill includes a number of provisions that seek to address specific state priorities around the state. I am pleased that I was able to work with legislative colleagues in our region to advance critical projects in western Wisconsin.

One of the most significant projects in western Wisconsin is the construction of the new bridge crossing over the St. Croix River. As those of us that live in our area know, replacing the Stillwater Bridge is critical to meeting our infrastructure needs, addressing emergency services and safety concerns, and reducing congestion. The Stillwater Bridge, which has been in use for over 80 years, is consistently rated poorly during bridge inspections and is frequently closed for repairs, diverting traffic through other communities.

It has been exciting to watch the new St. Croix Crossing rise from the river, revealing the vision of the designers of a bridge that will meet the needs of the region as well as complement the river’s beauty. As approach work on both sides of the river advances and precast bridge decking is now being installed, this vital link is rapidly becoming a reality after decades of legal battles. I was pleased that the budget bill includes the final $20 million commitment for Wisconsin’s costs of construction, which will address the final paving of the Wisconsin approach and creation of the pedestrian and bicycle loop trail that will be constructed along the new St. Croix Crossing and old Stillwater Bridge.

The state budget also includes funding for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to repair or replace the Little Falls Dam in Willow River State Park. Given its scenic beauty and convenient location for residents of western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities, Willow River State Park is one of our region’s many natural assets that generates tourism activity and supports local jobs. Additionally, Willow River is one of the top performing state parks in Wisconsin, generating nearly twice as much in revenue as is spent on the park’s operations.

One of the top attractions at the park is Little Falls Lake, which is created by the Little Falls Dam. Unfortunately, inspections of the dam in recent years have indicated that significant repairs are necessary, including the potential for removal and replacement of the dam. Working with Representative Dean Knudson, we were able to provide $5 million for the DNR to repair or replace the dam, along with over $3 million in funds previously approved by the State Building Commission for the project.

Another provision included in the budget provides a $250,000 matching grant for the St. Croix Valley Business Incubator. This project is a collaboration that includes UW-River Falls, City of River Falls, and River Falls Economic Development Corporation that seeks to create jobs and foster an entrepreneurial culture by leveraging the commercialization of University research and capitalizing on business partnership opportunities. Recognizing the value of small businesses to growing jobs and economic development, business incubators are a powerful tool to provide support to entrepreneurs as they seek to launch their ideas into successful business ventures.

I look forward to continuing to advocate for western Wisconsin in the State Senate and appreciate your suggestions on local initiatives. Please feel free to contact me by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

Taxpayers Score with New Bucks Deal

One of the proposals that received significant attention in the Governor’s budget was a $220 million plan to help construct a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. This initiative has garnered much discussion and debate, as legislators have sought a better deal for the state by bringing all the stakeholders to the table to negotiate.

While the initial level of bonding was not something that I could support, I also felt strongly that the proposal should be removed from the state budget bill and considered separately by the State Legislature. Given the complexity of reaching agreement on a plan that included private financial support, city and county governments, and the state, I was pleased when this plan was pulled from the budget and introduced as a separate bill.

As with most debates relating to sports venues, this issue arises from the interest in replacing the aging Bradley Center, which is one of the oldest facilities currently in use by a National Basketball Association (NBA) team. When former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl sold the Bucks to their current owners, the NBA required a provision in the contract that set a deadline for a new arena. If that deadline is not met, the NBA would repurchase the team from the current owners and would look at moving the franchise to another city, such as Seattle or Las Vegas.

In response to the NBA’s condition included in the Bucks’ sale, Senator Kohl committed $100 million and the current owners committed $150 million towards the cost of a new arena, covering $250 million of the estimated arena cost of $500 million. While the Governor’s initial proposal sought to address the state’s portion with borrowing, there have been significant negotiations and revisions resulting in a much improved plan for building a new arena, including significant contributions from Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee, as well as a $2 surcharge on tickets for events at the new arena. The updated plan calls for a $4 million annual contribution from the state over the next twenty years for a total of $80 million, which will be partially offset by $500,000 the state will receive annually from its portion of the ticket surcharge.

Given the fact that professional athletes pay income taxes based on where they play, rather than where they live, and that the state collected $6.5 million in players’ income tax revenue in 2013, if the Bucks were to move the state would experience a $6.5 million loss in tax revenue. The potential loss of that income tax revenue would exceed the state’s commitment of $4 million towards a new arena. Additionally, the amount of income tax revenue the state collects due to the Bucks is expected to increase in upcoming years, as new television contracts are reached and players’ salaries go up. The $6.5 million figure does not include the economic impact of the team on other businesses or the revenue generated through sales or other taxes.

In addition to the state’s financial interest in ensuring the Bucks remain in our state, those of us in western Wisconsin recognize the value of a vibrant metropolitan area to a state’s economy, as seen in the impact of the Twin Cities on Minnesota. The new arena is envisioned to be part of a larger entertainment district, which is expected to spur additional investment in an underutilized area of Milwaukee and hundreds of millions are anticipated to be invested in new commercial and residential development. Due to the compelling combination of protecting state taxpayers from a loss of revenue and the potential for revitalizing part of Wisconsin’s largest city, I supported the new arena plan as it was passed by the State Senate on a bipartisan vote of 21-10. The bill is now pending before the State Assembly.

Please feel free to contact me to share your views on the Bucks arena plan by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

Legislature Improves Budget and Protects Taxpayers

The state budget process came to an end last week as the State Legislature passed the amended budget bill, which was signed into law by the Governor over the weekend. Beginning with the introduction of the Governor’s budget bill earlier this year, the budget debate has proven challenging as we worked to invest in our state’s priorities while living within the means of taxpayers. Throughout the process, public input helped bring attention to a number of provisions in need of review and the final package approved by legislators was improved as a result.

I appreciate the input provided by area residents on the budget, expressing support or concerns with various provisions proposed in the budget. Thanks to the testimony at the public hearings and many comments from citizens on the budget bill, significant revisions were made, including removing changes to the Family Care and IRIS long-term care programs, maintaining Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), restoring funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, and preserving the SeniorCare prescription drug program. The State Legislature also prioritized available resources for education by providing nearly $200 million in additional funding above the Governor’s proposal.

In addition to restoring funding for the Stewardship Program, the budget makes a number of important changes affecting conservation. I worked to restore funding for conservation programs and positions that are helping to improve water quality and preserve our resources in western Wisconsin and throughout the state. These positions include local county conservation and UW Extension staff that work with agricultural producers and landowners to implement best practices in conservation. A proposal to provide resources for farmer-led water quality initiatives was approved. The revised budget also preserves a role for citizens in developing agriculture and natural resources policies through the DATCP and Natural Resources Boards.

As property tax relief continues to be an important issue for homeowners, working families, and seniors, I am pleased that the budget passed by the State Legislature continues our efforts to reduce the property tax burden. While the effect on individual taxpayers will depend on local factors, such as the approval of referendums or changes in property values, the property taxes on a median-valued home in Wisconsin will again go down over the next two years according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. This reduction builds upon our work to enact $500 million in property tax relief in the last legislative session, which included buying down the technical college levy by $400 million that resulted in about a 50% reduction in this line item on property tax bills.

The State Legislature also worked to reduce costs and improve taxpayer value through a number of budget initiatives. UW System students and their families will have certainty in their college costs as tuition will be frozen for an additional two years. A tax reform measure reduces the marriage penalty in the state income tax code. The budget bill will continue promoting lean initiatives and finding efficiencies in state government, while mandates on local governments that resulted in higher construction costs were repealed.

While there are inevitably provisions that I have concerns with in the state budget, I believe the budget bill passed by the Legislature represents significant improvement and reflects the feedback provided by citizens. I encourage your continued input by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

Transportation Fund Facing Critical Crossroads

As the State Legislature’s budget writing committee, the Joint Committee on Finance, approaches the end of its work in modifying the Governor’s budget proposal, the transportation fund is one of the few remaining issues pending before the Committee. There continues to be significant debate and discussion among transportation stakeholders, local elected officials, and legislators regarding how best to proceed with the state’s transportation budget.

The transportation fund is at a critical juncture as revenues to the fund are not sufficient to meet the demands on our transportation system. The cost of road construction and maintenance have increased in response to a number of factors, including the price of road materials such as asphalt and steel. While there are growing expenditure pressures on the transportation fund, revenues have not increased to meet our state’s infrastructure needs.

The primary sources of funding for the state’s transportation fund are vehicle registration fees and the gas tax, which account for around 90% of transportation fund revenues. Due to the improved fuel efficiency of motor vehicles, the number of gallons of gas sold has decreased by an average of 0.2% annually in Wisconsin over the last ten years. As a result, revenues from gas taxes have remained relatively flat since 2006. Additionally, the number of automobiles and light trucks registered with the state has increased by less than 1% annually over the same ten year time period.

As a result of this squeeze on the transportation budget, the State Legislature is now debating the best approach to addressing our long-term transportation needs. The Governor’s budget proposal, which relies heavily on bonding to pay for transportation projects, has drawn significant scrutiny and will not be approved in its current form. If the level of bonding proposed was to be approved, it is estimated that 22 cents of every dollar in the transportation fund would be committed to debt service by the 2016-17 fiscal year. By comparison, ten years ago less than ten cents of every dollar in the fund was committed to debt service.

I, along with many of my colleagues, believe that a sustainable solution to the transportation fund must be found and the level of bonding must be lowered. Even as legislators largely agree over the amount of bonding that should be removed from the budget, discussions are ongoing over how those reductions should be implemented. While reducing bonding will delay transportation projects and present difficult choices, it is critical that we pass a fiscally responsible transportation budget that does not burden future generations with an unsustainable level of borrowing.

What are your ideas for funding infrastructure in Wisconsin? Which options do you prefer in addressing the transportation fund challenges? Please feel free to share your thoughts by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

Harsdorf Votes to Save SeniorCare and Fund Schools

The State Legislature’s budget writing committee, the Joint Committee on Finance, continued its work this week in making modifications to the Governor’s budget proposal. Following several public hearings around the state on the budget in March, the Committee began voting on changes to the budget bill in April and is anticipated to finish its work on the budget in the coming days.

This week the Committee took up two significant portions of the budget, education funding and SeniorCare. The Committee received a significant amount of input at the public hearings on these two issues. In addition to the testimony provided at the public hearings, I have heard from many area residents who also expressed concern over these and other provisions in the Governor’s budget bill. As a member of the Committee, I am pleased that we were able to make positive changes and address concerns raised by the public.

SeniorCare is a valued program for many seniors in western Wisconsin and across the state and provides access to affordable prescription medications. This program, which was created prior to the federal Medicare Part D program, is a cost-effective and simpler alternative that saves dollars for both seniors and taxpayers. In action taken this week, the Committee voted to remove changes to SeniorCare that were proposed by the Governor that would have required seniors to apply for Medicare Part D in order to maintain enrollment in SeniorCare. I voted to eliminate this proposed requirement and to continue to fully fund SeniorCare.

The Committee also took up the K-12 education portion of the budget bill this week. Given the concerns with the impact that the Governor’s budget proposal would have on our local schools I am pleased that we were able to eliminate the proposed reduction in aid in the first year of the budget and to provide an increase of $100 per pupil in the second year of the biennium. Despite the limited revenue available, we reaffirmed our commitment to schools by providing nearly $200 million in additional funding above the current budget proposal.

In addition to providing funding for per pupil aid, the Committee approved increases in assistance for rural school districts through increases in sparsity aid and high cost transportation aid. Also, a new program was established to provide schools with $5 million in high cost special education aid.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the budget bill by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

UW and Business are Powerful Partners for Growth

The Governor’s budget proposal for the University of Wisconsin System has sparked a debate on the role and mission of this world-class institution to our state. As policy makers discuss the implications of the current two-year budget on the UW System, the decisions made in the coming months will have a lasting effect on our universities and colleges for years to come. It is important that the discussion focus on how we can ensure that the UW System is nimble and responsive to an ever changing world as we work to maintain value and affordability.

A recent study found that 62% of all jobs in Wisconsin will require some postsecondary training by 2020. Currently, Wisconsin has a 39% postsecondary attainment rate among our working-age population. This not only presents a workforce development challenge in meeting the needs of our employers, but also impacts the prosperity of our families. As seen in our neighboring state of Minnesota, increased levels of postsecondary attainment can be directly linked to their higher per capita income, which is around $5000 higher than in Wisconsin.

Clearly, our state’s potential for economic and income growth is dependent upon our ability to develop our workforce in an increasingly technical and innovative economy. Our state’s citizens and employers will be depending on the UW System, as well as the Wisconsin Technical College System, to meet those needs. Campuses are thinking outside of the box to meet this challenge through initiatives such as the Flex Option, whereby individuals can get credit for what they know, and UW-River Falls’ Hudson Center, which provides mid-career and adult learners a convenient off-campus location to complete or seek additional advanced degrees. In order to ensure our future economic success, it is critical that the UW System reflect the needs of our students and goals of our state.

In many cases, our campuses are already answering this call and working with local businesses and industries to offer solutions to training a quality workforce. Several examples from campuses around the state help demonstrate the valuable private-public partnerships that foster growth and benefit Wisconsin’s students and employers. In La Crosse, Trane has joined with UW-La Crosse to establish an internship program to meet the company’s recruiting needs. The Manufacturing Outreach Center at UW-Stout works with manufacturers to help encourage growth and improve profitability. UW-Whitewater’s Incubation Program provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to successfully launch their start-ups with the support and resources of the University community.

Additionally, UW campuses are performing the kind of ground breaking research that aids innovative new industries and creates solutions to everyday problems to improve our quality of life. UW-Milwaukee is the only postsecondary institution in the nation with a center on freshwater science, which is an important issue to our agricultural and tourism industries, as well as a growing issue worldwide given the scarcity of freshwater. At Oshkosh, the university is working to improve energy independence by unlocking the energy potential of livestock material and biodigesters. Finding ways to efficiently use our resources and deriving value from waste materials is a topic of study at UW-Stevens Point.

These local and statewide initiatives show that bringing the needs and know-how of the private sector together with the University’s expertise and resources are powerful drivers of Wisconsin’s economy and communities. By meeting the workforce needs of our state, UW campuses provide a vital service in encouraging economic development and job growth. We know that a stable and qualified workforce is a top consideration of businesses as they seek places to expand or move their operations. Without a pipeline of talented graduates, businesses will choose to create jobs elsewhere.

While we more frequently hear of the challenges and missteps of the UW System, the initiatives described above show the value added that UW campuses provide to our state. Even as there have been disappointments relating to past administrative practices, the UW System under the current leadership has been working collaboratively with state leaders to rebuild relationships and address concerns. I believe that our state will not have a better opportunity than now to entrust the leadership of the UW System, the Board of Regents, and chancellors with greater ability to manage their operations. Providing greater flexibilities as we hold the University accountable will provide them with the ability to be nimble and responsive to our changing economy and encourage new initiatives and policies that improve student outcomes. Let’s use this opportunity to build on the UW System’s successes and position it to continue to be a world renowned institution.