On June 5, voters in the Chippewa Valley will see a rematch race between Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, and Eau Claire Democrat Kristen Dexter for the 23rd Senate District.
Voters in the 68th Assembly district will remember the two from their first matchup in 2008, when Dexter narrowly edged incumbent Moulton for the Assembly seat.
Each candidate met recently with the Herald to talk about their campaign platform, important issues facing the state, and their plans to benefit 23rd Senate district residents.
The sweeping changes made to collective bargaining rights for public employee unions sparked the divisive political climate in the state and led to more than a dozen recalls. Moulton admits the situation could have been handled differently.
“I think one of the things we could have done was gotten more information out about how it could help the state,” he said of the collective bargaining changes.
However, he does not disagree with the changes made by Republicans. Those changes helped get the state into a better fiscal situation while avoiding massive layoffs of public employees and massive tax increases on citizens.
Dexter rejects this argument, saying that while not mandated by law, many public unions were already contributing to health care coverage at levels similar to the new state law. Thus, the increased contributions did not amount to as much savings as Gov. Scott Walker has touted.
To her, collective bargaining rights are a matter of fairness to employees. If elected, she would vote to restore collective bargaining.
Moulton defended the budget approaches taken by Walker and his party, saying cuts needed to be made after former Gov. Jim Doyle left the state with a $3.6 billion deficit.
“I’m proud to say I was part of a team that balanced the budget without raising property taxes,” Moulton said.
He added that it isn’t just Republicans saying the state is in better shape economically. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released budget projections showing a surplus at the end of the 2011-13 biennium budget.
Dexter argued that Walker and Republicans did nothing extraordinary in balancing the state’s budget. By state law, the budget must always balance — having any deficit is illegal.
She said the budget made steep cuts to some areas, such as education and BadgerCare, while other areas went untouched. Dexter said Doyle also faced a tough budget situation and opted for “shared sacrifice,” spreading the cuts out across government programs.
Economic growth and jobs
Dexter would rather see the state focus on growing its small businesses and rural economies. To her, poaching out-of-state businesses does not seem worthwhile.
“You spend more trying to get them in, with tax credits, incentives and all that, than each of those jobs could ever possibly produce (in revenue),” she said.
Moulton highlighted the importance of having an attractive business climate in Wisconsin, and said Republicans have been working toward that goal.
Among the measures he cited was tort reform, which caps the amount of punitive and compensatory damages plaintiffs can receive in lawsuits. Tort reform creates a more welcoming business climate, which Moulton said will encourage more companies to relocate or expand in Wisconsin.
Republicans also helped businesses by offering targeted tax relief and incentives, he added.
“I think we’ve set the stage, and we can keep moving forward,” Moulton said.
As for the recent job numbers, Moulton points to the state Department of Workforce Development’s recent report about the state’s net gain of 23,321 jobs in 2011.
This report, however, differs from numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the federal agency, the state lost 23,900 jobs between March 2012 and March 2011. Those figures put Wisconsin worst in the nation for jobs lost.
Neither candidate is opposed to sand mining outright, though Dexter has some reservations.
“It bothers me aesthetically,” she said of the mines’ effect on the local landscape. “But I understand there’s also a family getting a good wage from that sand mine. Who am I to deny that family?”
She thinks there can be good compromise on any kind of mining in the state, provided the environment is not adversely affected.
Moulton highlighted how mining is a part of the state’s heritage, given its nickname as the Badger State. He trusts the Department of Natural Resources to monitor regulations and potential hazards.
He also thinks decisions about zoning and regulations should largely be left to local governments, saying that Chippewa County has actually become a model for its zoning and reclamation agreements.
Dexter criticized the steep cuts made to K-12 state aid revenues. A former Altoona School Board member, she said state aid cuts put districts in a difficult position to maintain quality education.
Public school funding comes as a tandem between state aid dollars and property tax revenue. This means if state aids decrease, districts either rely on property taxes to recoup the difference or must make budget cuts.
She also knocked Republicans for the cuts made to the technical college system, saying the state cannot grow a skilled labor force if technical colleges aren’t properly funded.
This is one of the rare stances shared by Moulton. He was a vocal opponent of the technical college funding cuts, but the measure had enough support to pass.
“Education is a No. 1 priority,” he said. “I did not like cuts we made to technical colleges.”
He also agreed that the K-12 public school funding formula should be fixed, and has repeatedly said that he is open to any ideas on the topic.