By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Economic development leaders across Wisconsin are hoping that a series of bills Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law on Monday will help to spur job growth and help companies locate and expand in the state.
But critics say the bills don’t do enough to address the state’s flagging economy and high joblessness rate which was at 8.8 percent in March. Republicans in the Legislature argued that Democrats who control both the state Assembly and Senate didn’t do enough to address the economy this year.
Republicans characterized the bills Doyle signed as too little to make up for tax increases passed last year.
“The waters of this recession are still treacherous and Wisconsin businesses need an emergency life raft,” said state Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, in a statement. “It’s too bad the Democrats are too busy patting themselves on the back to throw one.”
State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the tenets of the new law weren’t developed by legislators in Madison but by business and economic development leaders throughout the state.
“They certainly feel pleased with it,” Barca said. “… The important thing is to let businesses know we have new tools available to help them to grow and expand right here in Wisconsin.”
Despite the criticism, the measures Doyle signed easily passed the Legislature with broad, bipartisan support. Doyle signed them at Enzymatic Therapy, a Green Bay-based company that makes dietary supplements that used state incentives last year to consolidate operations in Green Bay.
The head of Republic Airways and others who work to recruit and retain companies in southeastern Wisconsin held a news conference in Milwaukee to also praise the new laws.
Bryan Bedford, Republic’s chief executive, said in the six months since the airline received economic development assistance it invested more than $2 million in the community and added 400 jobs.
“This is great example of a program that works,” he said.
Republic Airways, which owns Midwest and Frontier airlines, announced last year that it would remain in Milwaukee to take advantage of state tax credits tied to job creation and investment.
One of the bills Doyle signed expands those tax credits for major economic development projects, creating two new enterprise zones in Wisconsin. There are 10 enterprise zones in the state now.
Businesses in the zones that build a state supply chain also would qualify for tax credits for the first time under a bill Doyle signed.
Doyle has said tax breaks and other incentives allowed in the enterprise zones not only helped Republic Airways, it also was a powerful tool in persuading Mercury Marine to remain in Fond du Lac and it also benefited Oshkosh Corp., which has landed about $4 billion in military contracts to construct vehicles and supply parts over the past year.
Other bills Doyle signed will:
— extend loans to manufacturers that improve energy efficiency or implement renewable energy initiatives.
— create a tax credit for the cost of equipment used to turn woody biomass products into fuel, an incentive targeting the state’s forestry and paper industries.
— increase angel investor and venture capital tax credits designed to help emerging businesses get started or expand.
Associated Press Writer Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee contributed to this report.