Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Department of Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler were at Beloit College Monday for a closed-door roundtable discussion on tax reform with business leaders.
Business leaders were invited to express their views on what they’d like government to do to improve the business climate, including providing tax incentives to employers and job training skills for employees.
A Beloit Daily News reporter tried to attend the meeting when it started around 1 p.m., but was asked to leave by Kleefisch’s staff. The reporter was allowed into the meeting about 2 p.m. for the last portion of the event.
Later, when asked why the discussion was held in secret, Kleefisch said she believes business leaders won’t be as candid if the media is allowed in the room.
“People aren’t as candid when there are cameras and reporters in the room,” she said, even though she acknowledged no one but she and her staff objected to a reporter being in the meeting. “This is our policy all across the state. I do this for all of my small business roundtables, and part of it is because I used to be a reporter and I see the difference of how people react and what they are willing to say.”
However, there was a video camera recording comments of local attendees and it was operated by a staff member from Kleefisch’s office. Kleefisch said the video won’t be made public, and is recorded to look over for internal purposes.
The Daily News reporter did not have a video camera.
Larry Bergen, chairman of the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, said he respected Kleefisch’s decision on the policy, but added he had no objections to the meeting being open during the discussions.
“I don’t think anything that was said was particularly personal, or potentially scandalous in nature,” he said. “I am very glad she has decided to visit Beloit three times this year, but I personally have no objections (to the media sitting in.)”
Kleefisch said this was the first roundtable held on tax reform, and she planned to hold several more in other areas of the state.
“What I’m more excited to do is go to our next roundtable, and see if this is a bellwether or if this is going to be something different that we see across the state,” she said.
Kory Stoehr, with the accounting firm McGladrey LLP, brought up the skills gap issue, and said the issue is very prevalent in Wisconsin because it is known for its manufacturing businesses.
“We have a labor shortage,” Stoehr said. “There is nothing wrong with going to a trade school. With the Baby Boom getting a little bit older we have a real issue here.”
Kleefisch said the state is investing millions of dollars in job training programs to attempt to bridge the gap.
“We have a dozen programs that address this issue,” she said. “It is that important to this governor (Scott Walker).”
Scott Bianchini, tax director for ABC Supply Co., said the state should start seeking out new companies along with offering incentives.
“It’s not enough to just offer an incentive,” he said. “You need an equal investment in seeking out new companies.”
Bianchini said the state should call up chief financial officers for companies and let them know what the state has to offer the business.
“You will get, in my opinion, 50 percent of new businesses in Wisconsin that way,” he said.
Kleefisch said the governor’s office is sending out letters to businesses that could have the potential to grow in Wisconsin. She said she personally will be calling those businesses.
“We’ve seen that, despite the fact that we live in the social media age, personal relationship building is irreplaceable,” she said.
Kleefisch said it’s important to hold these meetings in order to find out what businesses leaders need in order to improve the tax climate in the state.
“We know that our tax climate in Wisconsin is not where we want it to be,” she said. “There are some taxes where we are the top 10 in America. That’s not really good if we are trying to create jobs. We’re committed to lowering taxes, but what we need from the folks in Beloit, and other communities in the state, is how they would like to see that done because everyone has really different ideas.”