State Legislature approves venture capital bill

In a rare moment of bipartisan support, the Wisconsin Legislature approved a bill today to create a $25 million state venture capital fund for startup companies in the state.

The Senate approved the bill today by a 29-3 vote, and the Assembly followed by concurring with the Senate’s changes to a bill that was approved earlier this month by the Assembly with a 91-2 vote.

The venture capital legislation will use $25 million in taxpayer money and matching private funds to help boost lagging investment in Wisconsin startup companies.

The bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker, who has said he will sign it.

“It might not be a perfect bill, but it’s a bill we can all go forward with,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), one of the bill’s authors. “I do not want to lose these entrepreneurs. I do not want to lose these smart kids with all their great ideas.”

Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said, “Today Democrats and Republicans were able to come together to create jobs for the people of Wisconsin and send an important message that here in the legislature, job creation is a top priority.  Investment in a venture capital program will help bring new jobs and new opportunities to the people of this state as well as means to support and encourage new entrepreneurship and expansions of existing companies. This is a great starting point and a means to retain good ideas that will continue to make Wisconsin a pro-jobs and pro-business opportunity state.”

Rep. Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) said, “After months of compromise, both houses were able to come together on a bipartisan proposal that will assist the needs of our struggling entrepreneurial communities. I believe this legislation is huge step in the right direction and it is sure to be a major help to a number of entrepreneurs that are looking for capital to turn their ideas into companies. I look forward to our venture capital bill being signed by Gov. Walker. As a whole, we have put politics beside us and passed a piece of legislation that will generate many new companies and jobs in the upcoming years.”

Sens. John Lehman (D-Racine), Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) voted against the bill.

Lehman said it was not the proper role for government to “become venture capitalists. We’re stepping in as a government… in a way I argue we should not. I wish we had stayed today with a bill that follows our best bets. Our best bets are strong funding for university research, strong funding for technical colleges.”

The Senate rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay, who wanted the venture capital investments to be directly tied to the jobs that are created by the funding.

“It is a sham that the venture capital bill has been touted as a job creation initiative without any language in the actual bill directing that investments be made for that purpose,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “As the troubled history of WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) shows, it is highly irresponsible to spend precious job creation dollars without real accountability for creating a tangible expansion of economic opportunity for Wisconsin’s hard pressed working families.”

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