The state Assembly voted almost unanimously Thursday for $15 million to go to a new workforce training grant program, but not before Democrats criticized the bill for not going far enough.
The Assembly passed the bill with a 94-4 vote, giving funding for the grants as well as $5 million to the Department of Workforce Development to administer the program. The bill also calls for creating a new online system to better track what jobs are available.
Democrats said the funding does not make up cuts from two years ago and that the program could be more accountable and efficient.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, was part of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals for more job training in the state and now heads to the Senate for approval.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Bernier said. “We are proposing to educate and train new unemployed and underemployed Wisconsinites.”
Despite most Democrats voting for the bill, Democratic leaders criticized the bill for not making up the $72 million cut the technical colleges took two years ago.
A number of their amendments to the bill failed. Their amendments included shifting the administration from DWD to the technical college system, requiring a legislative audit. Democrats also wanted to change the number of administration jobs from four to two, which could change if a DWD request for more jobs gets approved.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, who voted for the bill, said the bill was not accountable and reminded him of loan accountability problems at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
“I would hope we would learn the lessons of the past and don’t just create slush funds and shovel money in agencies and say, ‘do whatever you want to do,’” Barca said. “That is not a prudent use of our taxpayer money.”
But Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, pointed out most of the loans WEDC lost track of were given under former Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder pushed back against criticisms that Republicans were “belittling the minority” by not accepting their amendments. He pointed to the unanimous support for the bill in its committee hearings, as well as the fact that Democrats supported the bill last session.
“I’m expecting a great bipartisan vote because we’ve cooperated, we’ve worked together… and we’re going to continue to do that,” Suder said. “But I would ask that the rhetoric actually matches the facts.”
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, also a finance committee member, called the bill a “half-measure” that does not make up the last budget’s cuts in technical colleges.
The technical colleges already manage these sorts of grants and are prepared to manage the new ones, Mason said. He said it was unnecessary and more expensive to have DWD running the program and that would only increase the bureaucracy in the grants.