MADISON, Wis. — A package of bills meant to tackle Wisconsin’s workforce struggles received a public hearing Wednesday from the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Technical Colleges.
The move comes after legislative leaders didn’t act on them last month during a special session called by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
The governor had previously called on lawmakers to pass a nearly $1 billion workforce development package that included more funding for child care, higher education and paid family leave.
The Republican chair of the Senate committee kept his promise Wednesday to, at the very least, hold a public hearing on those proposals.
Republicans, who have vowed to develop a plan of their own, gave the public a chance to weigh in on the governor’s ideas after taking no action during the special session he called last month, which remains open.
“We are facing a labor market quantity challenge, and this is being driven by decade-long trends in the making,” Dept. of Workforce Development Secretary Amy Pechacek told lawmakers. “And in a tight workforce like this, we need to bring along everyone that we can, and keep everyone that we can working, to keep our communities, and our families, and our businesses moving forward.”
Pechacek echoed the need for many of the governor’s priorities, including funding a child care subsidy program that is set to end early next year, which was met with some skepticism.
“I don’t doubt that some of these facilities [that] are serving low-income families might need this money, but some of the ones I went to had not raised their rates in significant years, and they had a three- or four-year waiting list of people who were prepaid to take the open slots they had,” State Sen. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, said in response.
Meanwhile, when it comes to attracting and retaining talent in the Badger State, funding for a new College of Engineering building on the UW-Madison campus came up again.
Earlier this year, Republicans rejected a $197 million capital budget request from the governor, which was the university’s top priority.
“One of the most depressing conversations I have with companies is they never used to recruit anywhere else except UW-Madison, and they’re telling me, now, that because of their needs, they are now recruiting at Purdue,” Grainger Dean of the College of Engineering Ian Robertson said.
“While I appreciate your testimony, I was hoping you didn’t have to do this testimony today,” State Sen. Brad Pfaff, D-Onalaska, responded. “Quite frankly, this thing should have been funded, and it’s disappointing that we did not fund it.”