Kitty Rhoades says her experience is a big asset in legislature
Kitty Rhoades said that re-electing her to the 30th District Assembly seat will ensure voters of having an experienced representative with a history of getting things done.
"I've taken on big challenges that are beneficial to our district, but required bi-partisan support," Rhoades said. "I've built those relationships."
Rhoades, who was first elected in 1999, serves on numerous Assembly committees and is co-chair of the Joint (Assembly and Senate) Committee on Finance -- considered among the most powerful in the state structure.
Rhoades gave her thoughts on several questions during a recent interview:
"We need to get the state to live within its checkbook," Rhoades said. "People's incomes are down -- we can't have tax increases when the economy is in a slump. The bottom line is decreased spending."
She said the state can get involved in assisting the economy by keeping jobs in the state and attracting new jobs.
"That will be my mission in the next session -- control spending, keep jobs and attract new jobs," Rhoades said.
"That is the number one issue when we go door to door," Rhoades said. "But keep in mind that people want reform -- not government-run health care."
She said she will work for a simpler system.
"People want affordable premiums and they want to be able to take health care with them (from job to job)," Rhoades said. "They also want a system that is easier to understand -- they don't want government to run it."
She said she has accomplished a number of things related to health care, including work on a package known as IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct).
The Medical Assistance program benefits the elderly, adults with physical disabilities and adults with developmental disabilities.
Rhoades said the same model could be used in other areas of health care.
Rhoades said the cap came after rapid increases in home values.
"Before the cap, people saw huge increases in property taxes and nothing else had really changed." Rhoades said. "The cap was an effort to keep taxes in line with the ability to pay."
She noted that there is a safety valve.
"Municipalities can use the referendum process to go over the cap.
"The problem is not that we are taxing too little -- it's that we are spending too much.
"The cost of everything is going up. This is not the time to increase taxes on people or businesses -- more business taxes will force them to go elsewhere."
On the other hand, she said tax incentives can be a good tool to get businesses to come to Wisconsin and create jobs. She has been on the battlefront to add those sorts of programs to the state arsenal. The programs include the Innovation Tax Credits, Technology Development Zone Program, Angel Investment Expansion, Capital Gains Reinvestment and Education Tax Credits -- all designed to assist, attract and keep businesses in Wisconsin.
"If we were to remove the 3.8 percent caps (Qualified Economic Offer -- known as QEO), it would have a direct impact on property tax," Rhoades said. "As far as funding education, nearly 50 cents of every dollar the state collects goes into education."
Like municipal budgets, the QEO can be raised via referendum.
Regarding the state aid dilemma facing smaller districts, or districts with decreasing enrollment, Rhoades said, "No matter what formula you have, it will always be tied to the number of students.
"We have helped districts with declining enrollments by extending aid, etc. No one has proposed a different system that is affordable.
"Everyone is willing to look at new ideas -- so far, nothing has been brought forward. In 10 years, no Democrat has introduced a bill to get rid of the QEO."
Rhoades said there are some funding problems, one of which involves the funding of Milwaukee area schools.
"We're spending $80 million a year in Milwaukee for all the wrong reasons -- it's known as the Chapter 220 funding program."
"Government preserves and protects our natural resources," Rhoades said. "In efforts to protect the ground water, I authored the 'pharmaceutical recycling program' currently being implemented in many counties including Pierce County.
Traditionally many people have flushed unused prescriptions and medicines down the toilet in efforts to keep them from misuse. Although well-intended, many of the drugs are now showing up in groundwater.
"For the past couple of years, I have chaired a national task force that addresses this same issue," Rhoades said. "We also provided funding for invasive species grants. With boat launches here in the district, we know how serious this issue has become."
Rhoades said everyone is concerned with the price of gas, and she helped provide funding for renewable energy grants to help find a better, long-term solution to energy issues.
"In Wisconsin we have developed a significant stewardship program, which preserves pristine land for future generations," Rhoades said. "Most recently, we have encouraged the DNR to purchase the development rights of owners wishing to sell, but keep the land in private ownership.
"Experience and a track record of getting things done," Rhoades said. "I've taken on big challenges that are beneficial to our district, but required bi-partisan support. I've built those relationships."
In addition, she believes she has played a major role in getting western Wisconsin recognized in Madison.
"I've been able to get the voices of western Wisconsin heard in the Legislature -- we're able to get things done because people are finding out where we are."
She also said she has built strong bi-partisan relationships in Madison.
"I have a long-term understanding of history and where we want to go," Rhoades said.
Rhoades said the next session will have priorities focused on budget, economic development and jobs.
"Fortunately, this district is in the best position to recover quickly from a slow economy," Rhoades said. "We're close to the Twin Cities and we have colleges and universities which will give us a boost."
Among other things, she said she will focus on increasing the number of jobs and keeping college graduates in the area.
She also would like to reform the Department of Commerce and Forward Wisconsin. She said the Department of Commerce is being unfair in the distribution of funds and that Forward Wisconsin needs to work on recruiting business to western Wisconsin.