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Tony Evers on issues facing the construction industry



State schools superintendent Tony Evers is one of the eight Democrats who’s seeking to beat Gov. Scott Walker in this fall’s governor’s race.

He stands out in at least one way: He’s the only one of the candidates to have won a statewide election.

Evers was elected to his third term as superintendent of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in 2017. Before that, he worked for decades in Wisconsin schools, as a principal in Tomah, an administrator in Oshkosh and as deputy state superintendent.

Here are his responses to The Daily Reporter’s questionnaire:

1. If elected, how would you manage the state’s existing deal with Foxconn and development expected to follow the company to southeast Wisconsin?

To begin with, I think any one of us could have negotiated a better deal for Wisconsin than Scott Walker did.  That being said, the contract has been signed, state law has been amended and dirt is being moved.  We have to have a Plan B.  For the money we are giving Foxconn, we must compel them to be the best corporate citizen possible and this includes renegotiating the deal. For $4.5 billion in taxpayer dollars, we can compel them to provide living wages and good benefits to Wisconsin workers. For $4.5 billion, we can compel the to provide transportation for workers from Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha Counties. For $4.5 billion, we can compel them to give preference to women and minority-owned businesses and apprentices. These are reasonable asks for any partner receiving billions of dollars from the state. We cannot sustain a Wisconsin economy if every business that wants to locate here uses Foxconn as the model.

2. If you plan to back out of the state’s deal with Foxconn, how would you change plans for supplemental road projects along Interstate 94 and elsewhere to support the manufacturing campus?

Governor Walker’s failure to find a long-term solution for how we pave and fix our roads could not be clearer than what we’ve seen with Foxconn.  DOT Secretary Ross openly talked about how funds were taken from road projects out-state to pay for the expansion in Southeast Wisconsin.  We shouldn’t be pitting communities against each other for these critical funds.  Rural communities are stripping the asphalt off their roads and going back to gravel because they can’t afford to pave them.  This is not ok.

Expansion of both Interstate 94 and 90 corridors are critical to the growth of our economy — regardless of what happens with Foxconn. That said, if Foxconn does not come to fruition, there may be road project work that is no longer necessary. Those dollars could be better utilized elsewhere and would allow current landowners who are facing eminent domain orders to stay in their homes.

At the end of the day, we must find a way to fund our roads. Governor Walker has drawn a line in the sand and that is not leadership.  One of my top priorities as Governor is to find a bipartisan solution.  I’m focused on solving problems, not picking political fights.

3. Does the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. effectively shepherd economic development in Wisconsin? Why or why not?

For over seven years, the WEDC has been a constant source of controversy, inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Millions of dollars have been lost or unaccounted for, taxpayer-funded loans have been used to buy luxury cars, and we still haven’t met the 250,000 jobs promise Scott Walker made in 2010. Despite over a billion dollars in tax breaks for big corporations with the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit, manufacturing jobs have decreased, manufacturing wages have gone down, and western Wisconsin led the nation in farm bankruptcies in 2017. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work, and neither do $4.5 billion Hail Mary passes to foreign corporations like Foxconn. We’ve tried, but it’s clear WEDC, and its tactics of throwing money at businesses did not work. We need to disband WEDC and return the majority of economic development dollars to local communities and regional organizations. We shouldn’t make companies come to Madison to beg for help – we should work within our communities and local chambers of commerce to rebuild our main streets and grow our existing businesses.

4. What role to private sector unions play in Wisconsin’s economy? What policies would you enact or support to further this view of them?

Unions, both public and private, play a crucial role in society and our economy. For the past seven years, we have stacked the deck against them, actively finding ways to reduce their voice, membership and benefits for their members. I support rolling back Right to Work, repealing Walker’s Prevailing Wage reforms, and will support any policies that give workers the ability to negotiate with management.  Investing in our roads is an investment in Wisconsin’s middle class.  These are good paying, family supporting jobs that will also help bring new jobs, businesses and industries to Wisconsin with a safe and reliable infrastructure system.

5. Would you seek to repeal Act 10? If so, how would the state pay for the higher costs associated with a stronger bargaining position for public sector unions?

Yes, I would begin repeal of pieces of Act 10 right away. Having the right to bargain, in and of itself, is a cost-neutral policy. That is the part of Act 10 that I support returning.  I believe that undoing the health care and retirement contributions of all public employees is not feasible right now given the other pressing needs our state faces. But restoring bargaining rights opens the door for a change should Wisconsin’s finances improve, and it gives employees a voice in the decision-making process making for a more productive and effective form of government.

6. Do you support reinstating prevailing wage on state construction project? Why or why not?

Yes, I do. Prevailing Wage allowed Wisconsin-based companies to stay competitive on taxpayer-funded projects while also ensuring that workers on those jobs stay safe, have increased opportunities for apprenticeship training, and receive family-supporting wages and benefits. Without those protections, out-of-state companies have underbid Wisconsin employers and brought in underpaid labor hurting Wisconsin’s workers and resulting in a lower quality of work.

7. Does Wisconsin need new or higher taxes to pay for infrastructure projects? If so, what taxes would you enact or raise to pay for these projects? If you would not add or raise taxes, what parts of the state budget could be cut to pay for new infrastructure?

To find a right-sized solution for our infrastructure woes, we need to keep all options on the table. There are bipartisan, long-term solutions for Wisconsin’s transportation system. However, Scott Walker hasn’t shown the political will to get it done.  Drawing a line in the sand is not leadership. Not only do we need to improve Wisconsin’s roads, but we need to make substantial investments in Wisconsin’s ports, airports, and railways. Reliable infrastructure is more than just patching potholes. And it is vital for successful economic development – for both drawing new businesses to Wisconsin, expanding existing businesses in Wisconsin and creating good-paying Wisconsin jobs.

8. What is the solution to Wisconsin’s shortage of workers?

I do not believe there is one solution to our worker shortage, but what I can tell you is that we’re currently doing isn’t working. Wisconsin has powerful resources in our K-12 schools and post-secondary options for kids. As state superintendent, I’ve focused on helping kids understand the connections between the courses they take and their future careers. I believe this is an important idea that can help reduce student debt and give employers the option to recruit talent from their regions. But we need to come to terms with the fact that Wisconsin is a state that is losing working-age people, and brain drain is a real issue. We must get back to basics – good schools, affordable healthcare, safe roads and increased investments in public transportation are all great starting points.

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