A setback for anyone who has to stay here

Steve Hiniker

Op-ed, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

To get an idea of where the future lies, talk to young people. Listen to them and their dreams and their ideas for the next generation. Let them tell you how they want to shape the world. You’ll be fascinated by what you hear.

They dream of new technologies and new medicines that will redefine our lives – and prolong them. They have ideas for information technology that makes today’s iPads and smartphones seem like yesterday’s typewriters.

Then see how their ideas and plans to create those products fit in with Wisconsin’s priorities as defined by this year’s state budget.

The next generation of leaders will be masters of ideas. They will bring an intellectual capacity to the table that will create new products, new trends and new jobs. Most of the jobs of tomorrow’s economy don’t even exist today. They will be invented by today’s college students.

The next economy will be knowledge-based. Those assembling, shipping, selling and using new products will still have a place in the workforce, but those jobs will be entirely dependent on the ideas of our next generation of college students. The highest-paying jobs will go to those with the best education.

Gov. Scott Walker is right when he says that government doesn’t create jobs, that government merely forges an environment in which jobs can be created. It follows that the government should do what it is meant to do: Develop the infrastructure and the environment in which job growth can take place. And that means a whole lot more than low taxes.

To get those new leaders, we will need great universities. To keep those new leaders, we will need great places to live and work. Ideas can be assembled anywhere. The transformation of ideas into commerce needs cities. Cities are where ideas can be exchanged and capital can be raised. Great cities incubate ideas and turn them into jobs. Cities always have been and always will be the most fertile ground of ideas and jobs creation.

At one time, the location of a city defined the kinds of jobs that would be created. Minneapolis and St. Paul relied on grains from the west and became the home of food processing companies. Pittsburgh took iron ore off ships and became a steel city. New York is a port city and the world center of commerce. However, tomorrow’s ideas can be cultivated in cities located almost anywhere.

To keep tomorrow’s leaders and tomorrow’s jobs in Wisconsin, we will need to invest in our cities.

So why has Walker and this Legislature declared war on our cities?

Rather than investing in cities, this administration has done everything it can to divest in cities. Virtually every program that benefits cities and the people that live there is cut.

State aids for local roads have been dramatically reduced. State aids for transit have been cut and tools that cities can use to grow transit such as regional transit authorities have been eliminated. Revenue sharing for communities has been cut. Aid for schools – arguably the most important asset of a community – has been slashed. The ability for cities to raise their own revenues to replace what the state has cut has been taken away.

Even programs that cities rely on to control blight are under attack. Programs to clean up dangerous contaminated areas have been pared back. Programs that make Wisconsin a desirable place to live, such as water pollution controls, have been rolled back. Basic health programs such as clean drinking water have been trimmed. It’s almost as though cities were the source of evil rather than centers of commerce and job creation.

The only real new spending coming out of this budget is for expanding highways. That is this governor’s idea of a job creation program: invest hundreds of millions of dollars to widen highways so that trucks traveling through Wisconsin don’t even have to slow down. At best, we’ll get some new gas stations and a distribution center or two.

That’s like investing in rotary dial phones while the next version of the iPhone is about to be released.

Explain this budget to a young leader of tomorrow and don’t be surprised if he shakes his head in disbelief and says, “That’s why I am headed to Denver or Seattle.” They get it.

Unfortunately for Wisconsinites, we’ll have to live with this budget and the mess it has created. And we’ll watch our young leaders leave this once-beautiful state.


Steve Hiniker is executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.