Wisconsin made historical progress in 2011

2011 will be remembered for many different things. Certainly the protests and the launch of recall upon recall will be among them. But now that the chants and screams have faded and the garbage left behind by protestors has been cleaned up – what 2011 will really be remembered for is change. 

On the day I was sworn in as Assembly Speaker, we inherited an incredible fiscal mess created by the past governor and the previous Democrat controlled legislature. Our state was saddled with an enormous $3.6 Billion deficit and one of the most unfriendly business climates in America. 

Change was needed, the kind of change that is difficult to make; the kind of change that past legislatures and governors had been unwilling or unable to do. It was change that we promised on the campaign trail and we delivered.

From day one of this session, we made it clear that getting Wisconsin back to work again was our top priority. The first task was tackling that $3.6 Billion deficit. Unlike the federal government, we can’t just print money.  Our constitution requires us to pass a balance budget. Something different had to be done.

We could have chosen the path taken by Illinois. They raised taxes on businesses and property owners. The ramifications from those tax hikes will be felt for years to come and their economic future is dim.

We took a different route, sending a clear message that we weren’t going to balance the budget on the backs of job creators or taxpayers. Our budget wiped out the deficit, stood up to runaway property taxes by instituting a permanent freeze and enacted collective bargaining reform that brought public sector pay and benefits more in line with the private sector. 

Our pro jobs agenda also included:

* Tax incentives aimed at helping the private sector create jobs including the manufacturer’s tax credit, a two-year tax holiday for businesses that relocate to Wisconsin, deductions hiring new employees, doubling the state’s Jobs Tax Credit and passed the Rural Jobs Act;
* Protecting businesses from frivolous lawsuits by passing much needed tort reform;
* Eliminating or drastically reducing the amount of red tape businesses face by instituting regulatory and rules reform;
* Reorganizing the Department of Commerce into a public-private hybrid which will be more effective in responding to business needs.

The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Nearly every study has shown that Wisconsin’s business climate has improved. We had the largest jump of any state in the history of Chief Executive Magazine’s annual poll of places to do business, going from 41st to 24th. Surveys conducted by Forbes, CNBC and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council’s Small Business Survival Rankings all show improvement.

As I have stated many times, government can’t create jobs but we can create an environment that encourages job growth. That is exactly what we have been able to accomplish this past year.

We still have an uphill climb. Due to a lack of leadership in Washington, the nation’s economy continues to struggle. However, I am confident Wisconsin will lead the recovery and serve as an example for other states to follow. 

Look for us to move quickly with more job-related bills in the coming year.  I expect the much anticipated mining bill to move forward and hope there is movement on a badly needed venture capital bill. 

Other accomplishments this past year include passage of concealed carry and the castle doctrine bill. After years of debate and vetoes from former Governor Doyle, the Voter I.D. law is finally law. 

Yes, 2011 ushered in change. I am excited for what lies ahead in 2012. I hope you have a happy and safe New Year and God bless in the coming year.

State Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) is the Assembly Speaker.

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