As the first in a series of appearances by gubernatorial candidates in Mike Gousha’s “On the Issues” series, Milwaukee mayor and Democratic candidate Tom Barrett participated in a wide-ranging conversation at Sensenbrenner Hall Thursday afternoon.
Barrett emphasized the importance of cooperation between the private sector and the government in job creation. Other topics Barrett and Gousha – a distinguished fellow in law and public policy – discussed included education, health care, transportation and tax policy, but Barrett said the importance of all those issues boils down to job creation for Wisconsin’s citizens.
“The state has to be aggressive and proactive in creating jobs,” he said.
Attracting Republic Airways to locate in Milwaukee was a real world application of this theory, Barrett said. Milwaukee was in direct competition with Indianapolis and Denver for the Republic expansion, but through government efforts in providing Republic with a location and tax credits, the city beat out its competition, he said.
Recent commitments from Talgo and Ingeteam to operate in the Menomonee Valley also speak to the city’s ability to attract jobs, Barrett said. The mayor compared development in the Valley to the lack of development in the county-controlled Park East area.
Keith Gilkes, campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, said in an e-mail that Walker has also overseen job creation. Walker’s work has led to construction of a GE Healthcare facility in Wauwatosa, expansion at General Mitchell International Airport and expansion of Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, Gilkes said.
Barrett also discussed potential construction of a rail line between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis, a project Walker has been against because of the nine-digit price tag.
The mayor defended the $823 million plan and said if Wisconsin turns down the money, the federal government will find another state to accept it. That state will then reap the benefits of rail construction, Barrett said.
These benefits include economic growth in smaller towns with stops on the line, jobs in operating and constructing the line, and the ripple effect of those workers spending the money they make in Wisconsin, Barrett said.
Kirsten Jones, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences who attended the event, said the rail debate frustrates her because there isn’t enough communication or willingness to compromise between the two sides.
Jones, who is also the chairperson of Marquette’s College Democrats, said she thinks the way each executive prepares his budget is the most important difference between the two candidates.
During the forum, Barrett compared his budgeting practices with those of Walker. Barrett said the $45 million city property tax levy increase since he began his tenure as mayor is only $6 million more than Walker’s $39 million increase in the county since he took over as county executive.
The mayor also criticized Walker for borrowing $400 million to pay into the county’s pension fund. Barrett said he made difficult concessions in his budget to avoid borrowing money for the city’s pension fund.
Gilkes said Barrett’s claims of fiscal responsibility are misleading.
He claimed the mayor skipped out on his obligation to pay into the city’s pension fund when times were good. Gilkes said Barrett took money out of the pension’s “rainy day fund” in order to keep increasing spending while raising taxes.
Educating young people is another major part of Barrett’s platform because of the dwindling number of jobs available to those with low education levels.
“The future of the state is dependent on the future of public education,” Barrett said.
Barrett also said his experience as Milwaukee’s mayor will help him if he is elected governor. He said regardless of politics, getting things done is most important.
“People don’t care if their garbage is picked up by a Republican or Democrat. They just want their garbage picked up,” he said.
Walker will speak with Gousha at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in Sensenbrenner Hall. “On the Issues” organizers are still trying to arrange a date for Republican candidate Mark Neumann to speak at Marquette. They are hoping to host him sometime in late March or early April.