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Budget Update: Business groups target new measures with eraser

Sean Ryan
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State economic-development groups are trying to cut measures they dislike from the state budget rather than insert new incentives to attract business.

Compared to other states, Wisconsin doesn’t offer much in terms of programs that provide cash incentives to lure companies to move to or expand within the state, said James Haney, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Furthermore, he said, businesses are not fighting for such incentives because the proposed state budget is littered with red flags. Among them: expanding prevailing wage provisions, opening the possibility of greater legal liability for companies and raising taxes on capital gains.

“They sound good,” Haney said of incentive grant programs, “and everybody says, ‘Well, that’s helping business.’

“But if you give one and take away five, most people don’t think you’ve got a pretty good deal.”

For example, the proposed state budget would cut $640,000 over the next two years for Forward Wisconsin Inc., an organization that encourages new businesses to move to and build in Wisconsin.

Patrick Drinan, president of the Wisconsin Economic Development Association Inc., called Forward Wisconsin a victim of tough budget times.

“Certainly it’s a challenging situation that the governor and the legislature are in, in terms of trying to craft a balanced budget, and certainly we would like to see additional investment in economic development programs to help expand or support our economic base here in the state of Wisconsin,” Drinan said.

But Drinan said rather than fighting for the money to be reinstated, WEDA is focusing on a push to rid the budget of some new measures, such as the prevailing wage changes.

He said WEDA will raise private money to support some of its programs and will have the Wisconsin Department of Commerce take over some of Forward Wisconsin’s duties.

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