Senate approves worker training bill

March 6, 2013

From “Senate shrugs off snow, approves worker training” — Madison — The Senate plowed forward Tuesday, unanimously passing a $15 million worker training bill in spite of a snowstorm swirling around the statehouse.

The bill, which passed the Assembly 94-4 last week, aims to help Wisconsin’s labor force overcome challenges from overseas competition and its own advancing age. It now goes to Gov. Scott Walker, who proposed the legislation and will sign it.

The legislation aims to launch by 2014 a faster system to track jobs data and guide workers into in-demand professions. It would also provide state grants to groups that would help train workers for those jobs at a cost of $15 million over two years.

“This bill really does care for the working people in the state of Wisconsin,” the proposal’s lead sponsor, Sen. Rick Gudex (R-Fond du Lac), said.

The proposal from Walker is part of his administration’s larger platform for improving the skills of the state’s aging labor force and boosting the state’s economy in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The governor’s agenda on worker training draws on reports by Competitive Wisconsin and former Bucyrus International executive Tim Sullivan.

Democrats, however, have pointed out that Walker has proposed far less new money for training workers than the hundreds of millions of dollars that he and GOP lawmakers cut two years ago from the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System to help balance the state budget.

Democratic senators didn’t dwell on that, though, making no criticisms of the bill on the floor and leading with a statement from Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson of Milwaukee.

“While this bill only provides a small Band-Aid to an enormous gash in the budgets of our technical schools, there’s no doubt it’s a step in the right direction,” Larson said.

Walker made the UW System cuts – as well as ones to local governments and school districts – just after approving a measure that all but eliminated collective bargaining for public workers and required them to pay more for their pensions and health care. He has argued that those savings and the added flexibility offset the cuts, and that his proposed spending, including the bill that passed the Assembly on Thursday, amounts to new money.

The governor’s separate budget bill also provides additional money for state universities and technical colleges, though it is still less than the full amount of the 2011 cuts.

The competitive grants available under the bill would go to technical colleges, local workforce boards and regional economic development organizations working in partnership with state businesses, which could provide matching funds.

Last week in the Assembly, Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) offered an amendment to have the workforce programs run by the state’s technical colleges rather than the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Mason said giving the grant programs to the labor department amounted to duplicating work already done by technical colleges. Assembly Republicans voted to set aside that amendment 58-40, largely along party lines. They also tabled several other amendments that Democrats said would add accountability to the programs and make them less redundant as well as reduce the number of state jobs that would have to be created to do the work.

Also Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill to reduce certain routine state audits in order to allow state auditors to focus on problem areas. Lawmakers have been seeking more audits of programs such as one in which a private foster care agency allegedly defrauded taxpayers of millions of dollars.


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