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Wisconsin Lawmakers’ Economic Development Proposal Seems To Be From ALEC’s Playbook

Nina Liss-Schultz

The “New Opportunities for Milwaukee” plan, proposed by suburban legislators Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), details what the lawmakers say will be solutions for the city’s chronically impoverished economy.

In late January, two Republican Wisconsin lawmakers representing Milwaukee’s suburbs released an economic development plan for the city’s poorest neighborhoods that seems to draw straight from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) playbook.

The “New Opportunities for Milwaukee” plan, proposed by Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), details what the lawmakers say will be solutions for the city’s chronically impoverished economy.

“We know the current expensive, overly complicated web of government programs are not working,” wrote Kooyenga and Darling, who represent two of the wealthiest districts in the state. “The initiatives in this paper will not cost any taxpayer, at any level of government, a single cent.”

The proposals outlined include “right-to-work” legislation, zero percent corporate tax laws, the repeal of minimum wage laws, and the creation of for-profit charter schools instead of public schools.

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Though Kooyenga and Darling write as if their plan will dramatically change the economic landscape and development policies of Milwaukee, it will likely do nothing more than expand current conservative policies from the state to the local level. As Brendan Fischer wrote for PR Watch:

The proposals come against the backdrop of four years of failed economic policies. The harsh prescription of tax breaks for the rich and cuts in services for the poor that Governor Walker promised would revitalize Wisconsin’s economy and balance the budget have failed to do either. Wisconsin remains 32nd in the nation in new job growth and the state faces a $2.2 billion dollar deficit. In January 2014, Rep. Kooyenga promised the Wisconsin State Journal that Wisconsin’s structural deficit would be gone by 2015.

These [statewide] policies have contributed to record inequality in the state, according to the Wisconsin Budget Project. As members of the Joint Finance Committee, Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga have been key architects of this agenda.

Anti-union legislation in particular is not a new idea for Wisconsin, whose governor, Scott Walker, became infamous in 2011 after he introduced a budget obliterating most public employees’ collective bargaining abilities. Soon after, he faced—and won—a recall election.

Around the country, so-called right-to-work legislation, which also regulates and restrict labor unions, has gained momentum at the local level following a push by several conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation, the model legislation group ALEC, and its offshoot, the American City County Exchange (ACCE). Darling is a member of ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Task force.

In September, ACCE Director Jon Russell told the Washington Examiner that his group was working on a right-to-work legislative template, often used verbatim by state legislatures, for local governments as well.

“In working with local officials across the country,” Russell said, “I have come to realize that many of them don’t fully understand how much leeway they actually have in decision-making such as [right-to-work legislation].”

Kooyenga and Darling reportedly wrote and published their proposal without consulting the politicians of Milwaukee, a strategy that left a bad taste in the mouths of the lawmakers actually elected to represent the city.

“I don’t understand how two suburban legislators can tell Milwaukee what they need without talking to Milwaukee legislators,” Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, a Democrat, told PR Watch. “It’s really hurtful.”

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