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COMMENTARY: A rare survivor in state budget feud

The unrelenting feud between Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-controlled state Legislature was in full bloom this month as lawmakers scrapped nearly 400 proposals from Evers’ draft budget and decided to start from scratch using the current budget as square one.

Were there any survivors? Why, yes, there was at least one notable exception to the budget carnage: a $100 million state venture capital fund.

In a rare case of agreement, Evers’ proposal for a “fund of funds” to bring in outside investment to the state to support local businesses.

Evers’ proposal had the endorsement of eight former secretaries of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. — five who had been appointed by Republican governors and three by Democratic governors.

It even got some qualified support from assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R- Rochester, who said he “supported legislation in previous sessions that invested state dollars to increase venture capital available to Wisconsin companies. But before more public funding is put in I’d like to see some concrete results from past investments.”

The state already promotes venture capital with its Badger Fund, a $61 million fund that has distributed $20 million to five different funds to invest in companies. About $7.5 million of that has been paired with $24.5 million in private money to support 24 businesses, according to USA Today reports.

The new fund of funds would follow that model. WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes said the fund “would allow Wisconsin entrepreneurs to secure needed next-step financing from in-state course so they don’t have to look to, or move to, the coasts for capital.”

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, said other close-by states have such programs – including Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. “When these companies do land, they produce a lot of revenue, a lot of jobs, a lot of salary and a lot of tax revenue.”

That, of course, would be good for the entire State of Wisconsin. Evers and Vos apparently see eye to eye on that.

Now, if only such agreement could spread to other parts of the budget.

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