Fifty Three to Fifty Six: Oshkosh Northwestern interview with Gordon Hintz (54)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Oshkosh Northwestern interview with Gordon Hintz (54)

Does Oshkosh, as a city and Assembly district with about 65,000 people, have a big enough voice and influence in the state legislature? Explain why you think that?

The State Assembly has not recognized the major role that midsized cities such as Oshkosh play in the economy of Wisconsin. This should not be a surprise since the Assembly is controlled by Republicans from rural and suburban districts who have been indifferent and often hostile to cities such as Oshkosh. In Oshkosh, UW-Oshkosh and Fox Valley Technical College are critical institutions for preparing an educated, skilled workforce. Most jobs are created in urban centers and most state revenues come from cities. We need to have an Oshkosh representative and a legislature that understands the role of cities in economic development and are committed to working with our cities. Too many of this legislature’s policies put cities like Oshkosh at a disadvantage. It is important that we elect someone who understands the relationship between state and local government. I have worked at the state and local level and I understand the absolute necessity for cooperation and coordination. I will be an effective advocate for Oshkosh and other midsized cities by working with their leaders to support legislation that benefit our communities and all of Wisconsin.

How would you propose the state reduce its reliance on structural budget deficits?

As a result of 16 years of Republican Governors, Wisconsin began the 2003-2004 biennial budget with a $3.2 billion deficit, the largest per capita deficit in the United States at the time. While Governor Doyle has made progress reducing the structural deficit, it will have to be dealt with over several budgeting cycles. We need to establish a reasonable plan during the next budget cycles to use our money more wisely, to control our expenditures, and to determine the role of government in the short and long term. The legislature needs to confront the root causes of expenditure increases, not simply move money from one source to another. For example, skyrocketing state and local government health care costs need to be dealt with by systematic insurance changes. Corrections costs are linked to unresolved to sentencing guidelines and the lack of alternative sentencing options. Efficiencies for local government spending could be realized by providing some incentives for consolidation between communities to deal with government fragmentation and duplication.

In the future, it is critical for the legislature to evaluate new programs or tax exemptions for both their short and long term impact. For example, exempting taxes on pensions of retirees, as one of my opponents has proposed, is very appealing politically, but would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that could be made up only through tax increases on working people.

If the statewide referendum on same-sex marriage and civil unions fails, would you favor and/or support new legislative efforts to put a second, future referendum back before voters?

I would not support a second referendum. The state Constitution was designed to define the nature of government in Wisconsin, not to contain amendments on specific fiscal or social policies. The Constitution is simply not the place for such a policy. Republicans in the legislature have been too focused on divisive social issues rather than important priorities like affordable and accessible health care plans and on creating better jobs.

Should the state increase its support of the University of Wisconsin system to limit increases in tuition? Why or why not?

The University of Wisconsin System is an incredible investment for the state. It is a revenue enhancer as it produces educated and trained employees and entrepreneurs to drive our economy. It generates cutting edge research such as stem cell research which can be the basis of life-giving breakthroughs and high technology economic growth. Yet only 28 percent of Wisconsin residents have a bachelor's degree, which weakens the state's economy. According to Chancellor Wells’ testimony against the Republican proposed TPA amendment, only 18.8% of Northeast Wisconsin residents hold bachelor degrees, a percentage that is lower than that of any state except for one.The current legislature has gone out of its way to attack the University any chance it gets, instead of moving forward with a long term plan outlining the direction and goals linking education and employment in the 21st Century. Tough budgets do not mean that the legislature should no longer have a vision for the University system. The University is a partner, but it needs a legislature with a vision for higher education. The University will always receive its income from tuition, grants, contracts, gifts, and state appropriations. My primary objective is that university financial assistance be sufficient to insure that all qualified students can afford to attend a UW institution. Wisconsin's investment in need-based financial aid is very low compared with top-performing states, something that needs to be addressed if we want to increase our skilled workforce.

What can Wisconsin do to better-police election and legislative misconduct like that involved in the state caucus scandal?

The foundation of good government is electing representatives who are committed to ethical behavior and the public good, rather than to the benefit of their political party. But in an imperfect world we need to have binding rules for elected officials. I support Senate Bill 1, proposed by Senator Mike Ellis, that would provide stricter ethics enforcement and be a first step in addressing the current problems with our campaign system. SB 1 passed the Senate overwhelmingly and had enough votes to pass in the Assembly, but the vote was blocked by the Assembly Republican leadership. I also support Senate Bill 46, which would prohibit fundraising during the budget process. I would consider absolute limits on how much candidates could spend on their campaigns. Until the legislature passes meaningful campaign and ethics reform, confidence in our political system will continue to erode.

Does the state legislature need to end or lengthen beyond its 2007 sunset the property tax levy freeze currently imposed on local governments? Why?

Many years ago, the state made a bargain with its local governments. It would collect revenues from local areas on behalf of the cities and villages and then return it to local governments (state shared revenue). It was an efficient way to collect revenue. Over time, a formula was introduced to redistribute the money collected by the state to local governments partly on the basis of community wealth. Poorer communities received a greater per capita share than richer communities. In return, local governments removed items such as machinery and equipment from the local property tax.In 1995, the state legislature froze state shared revenues. In 2001, then Republican Governor Scott McCallum called local government officials “big spenders” and called for eliminating state shared revenues. Actually it was state government that was the big spender. In the meantime, local governments have had to face rising health care and energy costs and wage increases. The result was that as shared revenues dropped as a percentage of local government revenue, it had to be made up by increasing property taxes and fees. In 1995, state shared revenue was 27% of the City of Oshkosh’s budget; by 2005, it had dropped to 19%. The state had simply passed the buck to the City. In 1995, property taxes were about 35% of the budget, but by 2005 nearly 41%.

The 2006 state restriction of the property tax levy – the amount of money collected in property taxes – put cities in a double bind. First, the legislature reduced state shared revenues and kept more money for itself. And then, the legislature placed a limit on the only remaining major source of revenue for the city. We all are unhappy about the garbage fee, but the real villain is the state legislature.State and local governments need to work out a totally different fiscal relationship. If the state is serious about reducing government spending and pressure on the property tax, it needs to address Wisconsin’s high health care costs and provide some tools for consolidation.

Explain what you think the state legislature can do to help seniors and others find more affordable prescription drugs.

There are limits on what the state legislature can do with regard to affordable drug costs because Medicare and Medicaid policies are under the direction of the Federal Government, and the Republican controlled Congress and the Bush Administration have refused to negotiate drug prices with the drug companies. I believe Governor Doyle has worked hard to obtain federal waivers to allow the SeniorCare prescription drug program to continue and, earlier, to make it easier to purchase drugs from Canada. But when the US Congress passes misguided legislation to ban our government from negotiating bulk discounts from drug manufacturers, I have to wonder who the Congress really wants to help.

If you were elected to the Assembly, how do you see your role for promoting economic development in this district?

First, I would work to be knowledgeable about the changing business wants, needs and challenges to grow in our district. This is what we know about economic development and what businesses expect from government.1) An educated and skilled workforce. This requires good schools, good post-secondary education, and good job training and re-training programs and targeted assistance.2) Good transportation networks. This requires good roads, highways, bridges, and transit options that allow for regional mobility.3) Stable legal institutions for contract enforcement. This requires qualified judges and properly staffed courts.4) Reasonable operating costs. This means a competitive wage structure, reasonable taxes, and controllable health care costs.5) Effective and dependable fire and police services. This requires well trained and staffed fire and police departments.6) Good quality of life. Public libraries, parks, recreation programs, and healthy downtowns all contribute to the quality of life.

Government needs economic development, but businesses need the services of government in order to flourish in an extremely competitive economic environment. Initiatives like TABOR or TPA would kill economic development in Wisconsin. This is why major business organizations such as the Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Bay Chambers of Commerce opposed TPA legislation last spring. Locally, Chancellor Wells’ UWO Growth Agenda would not be possible if a TABOR/TPA-like initiative was passed.One of the biggest costs facing businesses and putting pressure on property taxes is health care costs. States such as California, Maine, and Massachusetts already are taking initiatives to provide universal health coverage at much lower costs for businesses and government. Wisconsin could make its businesses much more competitive if it established a single insurance pool and lowered business costs.

Second, in the legislature, I would work to maintain the public services necessary to create a strong business environment and to bring about changes in health insurance that would reduce business costs.Third, as the Assembly representative for Oshkosh, I would maintain regular contact with our business and economic development agencies.Finally, I would be a tireless advocate promoting Oshkosh as a city with excellent educational institutions, public services, and quality of life.

What should be the relationship between an assembly representative and the local governments in their district?

State and local government should be partners working together to provide responsive public services while being sensitive to the costs of these services. Government is a balance between what people want and what they are willing to pay. Probably the worst example of state local relations occurred when the Oshkosh Common Council hosted our State Senator and State Representative at a meeting to talk about the Oshkosh budget. The response of our state representative was “That’s your problem”. The state needs to acknowledge that the reduction in shared revenues is a major cause of increasing property taxes and fees. As residents and citizens, we pay both local and state taxes and we think about government in general, not as separate units. We are in this together. If the state freezes the levy or cuts K-12 funding by $400 million, the city, county, and school district will face service cuts or increased fees or taxes locally. As you state representative, I will work closely with local officials to work collectively on the challenges facing government, not just pass the tough decisions to the local level.

Would you support a statewide move to universal four-year-old kindergarten? Why or why not?

School Superintendent Ron Heilmann has pointed out that children starting kindergarten in Oshkosh range in preparation from being able to read at a fifth grade level to not knowing the colors and basic numbers. Most research has shown that while all students improve with education, the gap at the beginning of schools stays with them over the years. So for many children without pre-school or parental involvement, the opportunity to get ahead has already closed by the time they enter kindergarten. The research overwhelmingly shows that four-year old kindergarten can accomplish a great deal in providing poorly prepared children an opportunity to succeed. This is why other states are moving forward with investment in four-year old kindergarten and other preschool initiatives. I support universal four-year old kindergarten as a goal to work towards, but I recognize the limitations of our current state budget. But in the longer run, not implementing it will continue to add social and economic costs for the state to contend with.

This was taken from: -- the interview was from 10/19/06


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