Democrats say tech college bill needs clarity

Wisconsin State Capitol
Wisconsin State Capitol (file photo)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Democrats critical of Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to spend $35 million on worker training programs said Thursday it should specify who will receive the money instead of leaving it to the discretion of his administration.

The bill is moving quickly through the Assembly, where a committee approved it Thursday morning, setting the stage for the full Assembly to take it up Tuesday. Walker’s $504 million tax cut plan was also scheduled for a committee vote Thursday so it could pass the Assembly next week.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald was critical of the Assembly moving forward with the bills rather than waiting for the normal process of having the budget committee take them up. Senate Republicans are discussing possible changes to the bills among themselves and with Walker.

The worker training plan has garnered bipartisan support, but Democrats on the Assembly’s Workforce Development Committee said the bill should specify exactly where the money will be spent.

As it stands, money given to Walker’s Department of Workforce Development is to be spent on eliminating technical college waiting lists for high-demand fields, helping high school students get trained for high-demand jobs through dual enrollment programs and supporting programs that help people with disabilities find work.

“I wish there was more accountability about what was going to happen to this money and when,” said Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, during the committee’s discussion. Wachs also said the money, which is to be spent on grants, does nothing to address needs of technical colleges to expand and improve their buildings.

But Republican supporters said DWD was working closely with the technical colleges and disability rights community on where and how the money will be spent. Reggie Newson, DWD secretary, sent a letter Tuesday to disability rights groups outlining grants.

Still, the bill does not specify how much money will go to the technical colleges or toward programs to help people with disabilities get trained and find work.

“If we’re going to make sure this works, it needs to be spelled out,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.

Republicans defended the approach, saying the Legislature shouldn’t micromanage the allocation of funds. The technical college system will work closely with DWD to identify areas of need and put the money to good use, said committee chairwoman Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton.

The committee passed the bill 11-3, with three Democrats joining all eight Republicans in support.

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