By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Much of the heat from the debate on mining regulation reform last session sparked from environmental standards and a permitting timeline. But a provision for a cool million dollars for jobs training in two economically depressed Wisconsin regions failed to generate much support — at least in public.
Now, as lawmakers go back to the drawing board to resurrect last session’s dead mining bill, at least one Senate Democrat is eying jobs training as part of a bill that might gain broader support.
Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, a vocal critic of the failed Assembly Bill 426, this week stood alongside GOP legislators as Gov. Scott Walker campaigned for mining reform at Phoenix Products in Milwaukee days before the new session.
Taylor clarified her appearance with Republicans, saying she would not support the same bill she blasted last year but that she could get behind something that protects water standards, gives a realistic timeline for the state Department of Natural Resources to come to a permitting decision and includes jobs training.
“The second thing is that we really deal with the training piece,” Taylor said. “I hear many companies talk about that they (their employees) are not trained at the level they need … If we’re not going to do something in the bill, then we’re not going to be able to address that issue.”
A compromise bill from the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee included up to $500,000 annually to workforce development agencies in the Milwaukee region and up to $500,000 annually for jobs training in the Northwoods region, where Gogebic Taconite, LLC proposed a $1.5 billion iron ore mine, which could create thousands of jobs between the mine and ancillary industries.
In that bill, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. would administer the money to “Cooperative Educational Service Agency Number 1 or to an organization operating an economic and workforce development center” to develop curriculum or hands-on jobs training for manufacturing jobs related to mining.
CESA 12, or “an organization operating a skills improvement apprenticeship program that is authorized to administer the operating engineers certification program and to provide training in the operation of heavy equipment,” would receive up to $500,000 for jobs training.
The state’s 12 CESAs are governmental agencies that serve as a link between the state Department of Public Instruction and local school districts. For example, a CESA in the Northwoods might provide a school psychologist for three school districts that may not have been able to recruit one. CESAs also provide professional development for school staff and administration and offer guidance to high school students planning their future.
CESAs receive about $250,000 in state aid, cumulatively, and receive other state and federal grants.
Statewide CESA Commissioner Jesse Harness said he couldn’t speak to the programs in individual CESAs, but that they typically wouldn’t provide jobs training themselves.
“Typically, one of the fiscal agents would manage the grant, run the books, and make sure expenditures are aligned with activities,” he said.
Taylor could not be reached for comment on whether the jobs training provisions would be sufficient to gain her support on a mining regulation reform bill, but the governor’s office seems amenable to jobs training being included in a proposal.
“The most important thing is that a bill is passed that creates mining jobs in Wisconsin while continuing to protecting (sic) the environment,” Cullen Werwie, Walker’s spokesman, said in an email. “The extent to which any other piece can be included depends on if it furthers this goal.”
The mining issue is making for strange political bedfellows.
Last spring, hundreds of trade unionists, many of whom are no friends of Walker and his Act 10 public-sector union reforms, turned out at the Capitol to sway Democrats in the Legislature to pass the mining legislation.
“For the Senate Democrats to vote against this bill is a sign that they’re not with us. They’re certainly not job creators, and in fact they’re job killers. And I’m sick and tired of the partisan politics in the State of Wisconsin,” said Lyle Balistreri, president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, a member of the AFL-CIO, after Democrats turned away mining legislation.
“The working people … are taking a beating. Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s throats, and this sort of thing has to stop,” he added.
Balistreri could not be reached for comment Friday.
Phoenix Products is a union shop. Its manufacturing employees are members of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers/Communications Workers of America, according to the company’s website.
Contact Ryan Ekvall at [email protected]