On Wednesday, Feb. 11, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) once again sponsored the Business Day in Wisconsin Conference in Madison.
Business leaders from across the state converged upon the capitol to listen to economic forecasts and meet with their elected representatives. The all-day event had one consistent theme amongst both the economists and politicians: our economy is in a deep recession.
The similarities stopped there. Our elected representatives displayed little in the way of leadership or poise to the business community. The vast majority of elected officials in attendance continually described the economy as an "unprecedented crisis that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression."
News to our state officials: while in the immediate future the economic picture certainly isn’t looking promising, the state’s unemployment rate is still only 5.8 percent. If 5.8 percent unemployment is a crisis of unprecedented proportions, what would a double-digit rate mean to the state?
Gov. Jim Doyle, the Senate and the Assembly better start working on their contingency plan to the crisis, because the legislation being run through our state right now is sure to have a damaging effect on businesses, both large and small, that will only exacerbate the current crisis.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the following bills, with a high probability of passing, are being proposed:
- Mandatory minimum wage increase from $6.50 to $7.60.
- LRB 1993 which urges the U.S. Senate to approve the Employee Free Choice Act which eliminates the secret ballot for unionization.
- The Employee Wage Protection Act which puts lenders in a secondary position and will dramatically impact lenders working with struggling businesses
As if these mandates weren’t enough, the attendees were notified during the Legislative Leadership Panel session hosted by Senators Mark Miller and Scott Fitzgerald and Representatives Mike Sheridan and Jeff Fitzgerald that our current budget deficit of $5.8 billion will be solved by one-time federal stimulus money and the following tax hikes: combined reporting, hospital tax, reinstating the custom software tax, and a streamlined sales tax. The total increases are estimated to an amount that is north of $500 million, all implemented at a time of "unprecedented crisis."
If the above mandates and tax increases have yet to capture your attention, I have one more story associated with this event that may be an indicator of things to come for the business community. Sen. Mark Miller, chairman of the Joint Finance Committee, gave the group of business leaders a bizarre 10-minute lecture that began with the promise of bipartisanship and hand-in-hand cooperation with the business community and ended with a scolding to the attendees that the WMC is responsible for the poisoned partisanship ways of our state. He justified the tax raises as fair and equitable, all but blamed the capitalist system for our current economic woes and ended his inspiring address to business by pontificating to members of the crowd that the WMC is bad for the state.
Senator Miller’s diatribe, coupled with the early actions by the new legislature, are clear signs that the new leadership in the state has business in its crosshairs, and the likelihood of further anti-business measures that will be implemented as the economy recovers appears to be a likely outcome.
In these trying times as a business owner, please remember that paying attention to the issues that affect your business and voicing your opinion is a necessity in maintaining a properly functioning democracy that promotes prosperity.
The Independent Business Association (IBA) has been aggressively lobbying against such measures that damage our business community, and while we are certainly fighting an uphill battle in the current climate, we have been successful in influencing and educating several of our representatives about the ramifications of faulty anti-business legislation.
While I don’t believe Senator Miller will be sympathetic to your businesses concerns, there are still many elected officials that understand that a thriving business community that is not handcuffed by uncompetitive restrictions is the key driver to a prosperous state that can keep taxes low, grow communities and provide the excellent services that Wisconsin residents have come to expect.
Jeff Hoffman, vice president of Judson & Associates S.C. in Pewaukee, is the president of the Independent Business Association (IBA) of Wisconsin.