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GOP Lawmakers' Plan to Reduce Poverty in Milwaukee Includes Creating Right-to-Work Zones

Legislative Technology Services Bureau

Republicans released a plan to boost economic opportunities in certain Milwaukee zip code areas, where unemployment exceeds ten percent.

Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga call it their ‘New Opportunities for Milwaukee’ plan.

Kooyenga of Brookfield says the plan would encourage businesses to locate in zip codes with high unemployment, by exempting those firms from corporate income tax – but only, if the employer is the only one of its type in the zone –say a carmaker.

Kooyenga says those areas would also become right-to-work zones - private sector workers would not have to pay union dues.

“It doesn’t affect a single union member or union organization in the state right now. That’s a separate issue. I’m looking at, this is a stand-alone tool to hopefully get someone in the 30th Street corridor to start making cars again,” Kooyenga says.

Kooyenga says another key to improving residents’ economic success is a good education. So another part of the GOP plan would make it easier for successful charter schools to expand. Currently, they need permission from their authorizing institutions - which includes MPS, UW-Milwaukee and the City of Milwaukee.

“I think it’s a no-brainer. If you have a school that’s significantly outperforming a local public school, why would they be required to go back to that public school and ask for authority to replicate? We should be begging high performing schools to replicate themselves, right?” Kooyenga asks.

The proposals have the support of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Spokesman Steve Baas says it particularly favors the expansion of charter schools.

“The key to creating more high-performing educational seats in Milwaukee is growing what’s working,” Baas says.

Yet, the package faces stiff opposition from Democrats, including state Rep. Mandela Barnes of Milwaukee. He thinks creation of right-to-work zones would open the door for Wisconsin to become a right-to-work state.

"Some business owners may be attracted to this proposal and may feel it’s working in their favor and give reason for GOP legislators to say, let’s expand this across the entire state. All it takes is for someone to say, this is working here and everyone who hears it just happens to believe it,” Barnes says.

Barnes admits, the unveiling of the GOP Milwaukee plan took him and other central city lawmakers by surprise.

“I know of no Milwaukee legislators who were consulted in bringing up this proposal to provide opportunity for Milwaukee, which leads me to question the sincerity of the proposal,” Barnes says.

The authors of the plan say they expect the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass its contents in the coming months.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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