Walker's $50 million rural grant program passes panel

Associated Press
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach,  (D - Middleton) spoke at Legislative hearing on Foxconn incentives package.

MADISON -  The Legislature's budget committee has unanimously passed Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to invest $50 million a year in rural economic development projects. The Joint Finance Committee voted 16-0 on Tuesday, Feb. 13, to pass the bill.

The money would only be available to the 56 most rural counties in the state. Counties or groups of counties could come together to apply for grants for revolving loans under the programs.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation would be in charge of distributing the money. The bill calls for it to give priority to underserved communities in rural Wisconsin.

In a statement, State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) pointed to the economic crisis facing rural communities while Walker gave billions of dollars to Foxconn.

“Our rural communities are in economic crisis. By defunding the Historic Tax Credit in every budget and then giving $4.5 billion to a Taiwanese company Governor Walker and Legislative Republicans have created a scenario where just 18% of our economic development money is targeted to rural communities under their leadership," said Erpenbach. "Foxconn gets hundreds of millions for roads, but poor funding for rural roads has made it hard to attract businesses. Foxconn gets a high power transmission line to meet their technology needs, while rural communities cannot even get a company to run broadband for their schools or businesses.”

“We have no choice but to vote yes - $50 million for 56 counties is better than nothing, but it is certainly not as good as $4.5 BILLION for a foreign company,” Erpenbach added. 

The full Legislature could approve it as soon as next week.

Carol Spaeth-Bauer, Wisconsin State Farmer, contributed to this story.