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Rep. John Nygren: Let’s keep Wisconsin the land of opportunity

February 5, 2019

One year ago, the Chicago Tribune wrote in an editorial: “Take a short drive from Chicago and you’ve reached the land of job opportunity. Too bad it means crossing the state line into Wisconsin.”

While we should be flattered to read these words, we should also take them seriously -- because serious efforts will be made to take us backward toward policies that put states such as Illinois in financial ruin.

The contrast between Wisconsin and our neighbor to the south couldn’t be clearer.

Due to Republicans’ sound financial management, Wisconsin’s finances are the strongest in a generation. State debt continues to decline and, after over $8 billion in tax cuts, state revenues have grown over 24 percent. In case of an emergency, our state’s rainy day fund is 190 times larger than it was in 2010, at $320 million. We rolled over a budget surplus of $588.5 million at the end of 2018 that was larger than previously estimated.

Meanwhile, Illinois has a more than $130 billion shortfall in future pension commitments. Wisconsin’s remains not only fully funded, but the best funded retirement system in all 50 states.

Wisconsin’s strength, however, isn’t measured solely by surpluses and revenue growth. Since beginning our common-sense reforms in 2011, Wisconsin has come roaring back. Unemployment has been at or below 3 percent for 11 straight months. Wages are growing and more Wisconsinites than ever are participating in the workforce. Last year, Wisconsin led the Midwest in manufacturing job growth and was second nationally only to Texas.

Funding for our public schools is at the highest level in our state’s history and we are a stone’s throw away from returning to the state funding two-thirds of public education - a level we haven’t achieved since Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, removed the state’s commitment to do so in 2003.

We have also invested in our transportation priorities around the state while at the same time keeping the taxpayer in mind. The 2017 state budget had the lowest amount of new road borrowing since the 2001-03 budget.

This all begs the question, why turn our back on the policies and reforms that, even a state like Illinois acknowledges, are working?

The nonpartisan Fiscal Bureau estimates the Governor and Legislature will have $2.4 billion in new revenues with which to build the next budget. By comparison, we had $1.9 billion in new revenues for the last state budget. If you recall, in that budget, an additional $640 million was put into public school classrooms around the state. We invested millions to curb addiction and protect our communities from the deadly flow of drugs. And we eliminated four different taxes. We also have the best funded state retirement system in the nation. Illinois on the other hand, has roughly $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

It’s exceedingly clear, there is no need to raise taxes or rely on the federal government to balance our budget.

I am proud of the work that we, together as a state, have accomplished. It is evident that the Wisconsin way is winning. While states like Illinois are looking around asking what happened, in Wisconsin we are looking forward, asking ourselves, what can we do next?

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