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Group takes area's agenda to Madison

About 40 local people traveled to Madison last week in hopes of fostering legislative support for projects and programs that would benefit Western Wisconsin.

Representatives of business, industry, education and local government from St. Croix, Pierce and Polk counties took part in the third annual United St. Croix Valley Legislative Days held Wednesday and Thursday.

Michael Morgan, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration, spoke to the group at a breakfast meeting Thursday. Mickey Judkins, administrator of the Department of Commerce's Division of Investment and Export, addressed the group during its lunch meeting Wednesday.

Legislative Day participants spent most of the first day and the morning of the second day meeting in teams of three or four with state senators and representatives or their aides to lobby for United St. Croix Valley's five 2008 agenda items.

These are:

--Consolidation of income tax credits from the state's five development zones into a single category and expanding eligible activities to include job creation, capital investment and employee training. St. Croix, Pierce and Polk counties are part of the I-94 Corridor Technology Zone whose pool of tax credits is nearly exhausted.

--A state tax exemption for health savings accounts. HSA contributions and earnings are exempt from federal taxes and Wisconsin's four bordering states allow state tax exemptions for those contributions and earnings.

--Long-term funding for improvements for I-94 between Hudson and Eau Claire, Hwy. 8 and Hwys. 35, 65, 128, 25, 53 and 10. Also continuing support for a new bridge crossing the St. Croix River to Stillwater, Minn.

--Support for Assembly Bill 604 and Senate Bill 343 (Fair Access to Networks legislation) that would set up a dispute resolution process to resolve programming differences of cable companies and programming networks.

--State funding assistance to help create a public-private research and scientific park in the St. Croix Valley.

'State's cheerleader'

"I call myself the state's cheerleader," said Judkins, who was among those leaving later in the week for a trade mission to Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Along with serving as administrator for Division of Investment and Export, Judkins supervises the work of Forward Wisconsin.

Her division's focus is to bring investment to Wisconsin and to encourage the state's companies to export to international markets, she said.

While Wisconsin's exports are up, not enough of the state's companies export, said Judkins, who offered her division's assistance.

Supporting development

Support for K-12, technical college and university education is part of the governor's economic development package for the state, said Morgan, who worked in the Department of Revenue before taking his current post in the Department of Administration.

He said educating more young people in the areas of math, science and engineering makes Wisconsin "fertile ground for business."

The state graduates a larger share of its children from high school than nearly any other state and its students do well on college entrance exams because, "We've been able to find the dollars to invest in education, particularly K-12 education," said Morgan.

Legislation to extend BadgerCare insurance to cover nearly every child whose parents can't afford other types of insurance is another accomplishment of the administration, said Morgan.

"This is a great thing for kids," he said. But, he said, it's also good for the economy because it results in children who are ready to learn in school without forcing their parents to "sacrifice everything for health care."

Economic development depends on the state's ability to develop risk capital, said Morgan, referring to Wisconsin Act 255, which encourages angel investors and venture capitalists to invest in the state's high tech companies and helps those companies secure federal and third party funding.

"We want to make it as easy as possible to invest in Wisconsin," said Morgan.