Jobs, the budget and campaign finance reform were the subjects of two state assembly debates Tuesday night at the Beloit City Hall Forum.
The debates were sponsored by the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce and the Beloit League of Women Voters, and featured candidates for the 31st and the 45th Assembly Districts in Wisconsin.
State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Delavan City Council member Ryan Schroeder, candidates for the 31st Assembly District, were the first to make presentations, followed by Orfordville Board member Beth Schmidt and State Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, who are running for the 45th Assembly District.
Randall Upton, president of the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, served as moderator.
Upton asked which two issues would be the candidates’ main priority if elected to the State Assembly.
All four candidates said jobs would be one of their main priorities.
“We have to have a healthy jobs environment to support our economy,” Loudenbeck said. “We also need to have a balanced budget so the taxpayer can have some stability, and for people looking to locate their home or business in this state.”
Loudenbeck said developing the workforce is also key. She said federal funding should be used to provide for “incumbent worker training,” and allow businesses to train existing workers to allow them to move up in the company.
“It might make more sense to train someone from the inside,” she said. “It allows people to move up in the workplace and advance their income potential, and it also creates opportunities for those coming in at the entry level positions.”
Schroeder said his other priority is funding education. He noted Loudenbeck voted to cut funding for technical colleges, which play an important role in maintaining a good workforce in the state.
“I don’t agree with cutting funding for technical schools,” Schroeder said. “It’s important to educate our future leaders.”
During the second debate, Schmidt said she believed small businesses were being over-regulated.
“It’s important to look at what we are legislating and why we are legislating it,” she said.
Ringhand said the “skills gap,” where businesses can’t find workers who have the necessary training for open jobs, is a major issue in the state and in Rock County.
It starts at the high school level, Ringhand said, and providing students with the opportunity to learn trade skill jobs and go on to technical colleges in order to bridge the gap.
Upton asked the candidates what they believe are the prospects of maintaining a balanced budget for the next two years.
Loudenbeck said the cuts made in the previous budget should help with the process this year. She said she believed the state is in good shape. However, the rising medical costs could prove to be difficult for next year.
Schroeder said the state needs to close the so-called “Vegas tax loophole,” which allowed some businesses to avoid paying income tax.
“Those are ways to bring in additional revenues and put those resources into education,” he said.
Ringhand said the state doesn’t have the same tax revenue that it had in the past because of the unemployment rate.
“Getting people back to work so they are paying income tax and spending and paying sales tax is important,” she said. “You’re not going to solve the problem by cutting taxes. You can’t do more with less.”
Schmidt said she would be against raising property taxes and sales taxes because it could prevent people from living in Wisconsin and buying products in the state.
“We sit right on the border, and as soon as we raise our sales tax that makes people not want to come here and spend their money,” she said.
The candidates also were asked if they would support campaign finance reform on the state level.
Schroeder said a public financing grant, which was eliminated a few years ago, should be available to help “even the playing field” for candidates that need the help to raise money.
Loudenbeck said the money for the financing grant was diverted to help train and pay for the voter ID law, which has been stalled in the courts on constitutional grounds.
Ringhand said she believes both sides are reluctant to move on the issue because both benefit the system the way it is now. She said she doesn’t believe that elections should be sponsored with public grants, but limiting the amount of time candidates could have on TV or the amount of ads they can buy might help eliminate some of the cost.
Schmidt said she would support reform change, but did not believe it would happen.
The debates will air multiple times on Beloit Cable Access until the November election. For a full list of times visit the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce website at www.greaterbeloitchamber.org.