Democratic legislators began circulating a bill Wednesday to increase the funding for technical colleges in Wisconsin through an income tax raise on millionaire Wisconsinites.
The bill, called the Wisconsin Jobs Initiative, could increase funding to the Wisconsin Technical College System by $70 million, which would offset the $34.2 million cut it received in the biennial budget, Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said.
“Technical colleges are the bridge between the unemployed and jobs,” Larson, one of the co-authors of the bill said. “Employees use technical colleges to get the skills they need. We do not want to knock down that bridge.”
The other $35.8 million left after offsetting the cuts would be awarded in grants to technical colleges, which would use them to provide more classes and increase the number of students who could enroll in programs, Larson said in a statement. Technical colleges in areas with the highest unemployment rates would receive more money.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said the bill would aid middle-class families throughout the state.
“Middle-class families and workers have been asked to make tremendous sacrifices in recent months,” Mason said in a statement. “This bill asks Wisconsin’s wealthiest individuals to share a small amount of that sacrifice in order to train and educate at least 35,000 Wisconsin workers.”
The bill would raise the money by a 1 percent income tax increase on the 2,900 Wisconsinites who make more than $1 million a year, Mason, one of the bill’s co-authors, said.
The biennial budget cut about 30 percent of the state’s budget for WTCS, which means that technical colleges have offered fewer classes that give workers the skills employers need them to have, Mason said.
During a Wednesday press conference, Mason said one nursing student who addressed the group spent a year waiting to get into the courses she needed at one of the state’s technical colleges. Another student had to wait three years to get the courses she needed.
“These are high demand jobs, and employers need people to get the training they need,” Mason said. “We had a businessman from Port Washington who said he wanted to hire four new employees but could not because they did not have the training.”
In an email to The Badger Herald, Andrew Welhouse, spokesperson for Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the bill proposed by Larson and Mason does not have have all the necessary tools to improve the state’s economic situation.
“There is much more to improving the economy than the government just spending more and more money,” Welhouse said.
Welhouse said raising taxes has not helped create jobs or improve the economy in the past and would prove no different with the implementation of this bill.
The bill already has the support of the WTCS, the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO.
“The Wisconsin Jobs Initiative would provide the shot in the arm that our technical college system needs to get workers out of the unemployment line and into the workplace,” said AFT-Wisconsin President Bryan Kennedy in a statement.
While the bill is only beginning to circulate among legislators, Larson said he hopes it will receive bipartisan support. Mason and Larson will know how many legislators support the bill and whether they are Republican or Democrat by next week.
If the bill receives enough co-sponsors, it will be included in the special jobs session held in two weeks, Mason said.
“Education is not just a short-term fix, but also helps people in the long term find good jobs with family-sustaining wages,” Larson said.