Kooyenga, Darling present plan to boost economy in low-income neighborhoods

By Emily Topczewski - Special to The Freeman

Jan. 29, 2015

MILWAUKEE - Two Republican state lawmakers announced a plan Wednesday to reduce barriers to economic success in Milwaukee.

State Representative Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, and state Senator Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, unveiled “New Opportunities for Milwaukee,” a strategy to boost economic success in zip codes with more than 10 percent unemployment. The plan outlines approaches that could improve the community with no cost to taxpayers.

The plan acknowledges certain parts of the city are flourishing, but cites a statistic from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute in 2013: two-thirds of incarcerated black men come from six zip codes in the city. These six zip codes also have the highest unemployment rates in the state, and the greatest density of schools failing to meet statewide expectations.

Kooyenga and Darling presented this plan as a conversation starter to change the trajectory of low-income neighborhoods within Milwaukee.

Overhauling the education system within the city is one goal put forth in the plan. The state Department of Public Instruction reports that in 2013, 47 Milwaukee Public School District schools failed to meet expectations - and only 60.6 percent of seniors received their diplomas.

The plan intends to change the trajectory by increasing opportunities to create and replicate high-performing charter schools; enact dual-enrollment programs for professional development; provide opportunities to waive state mandates; introduce students to highly-desired fields like computer programming; and eliminate state mandates for intradistrict aid so funds could be used as needed within individual schools.

Kooyenga and Darling seek to attract businesses to Milwaukee with right-to-work zones and a zero percent sales tax. The plan stipulates these benefits will only be given to incoming businesses that do not directly compete with an existing Wisconsin business. The lawmakers also call to repeal the Minimum Mark-Up Law, which ensures businesses are always selling products at a profit.

The plan seeks to eliminate licensure requirements for occupations like interior designers and African hair braiding stylists, and loosening the restrictions for individuals operating businesses out of their homes, to encourage entrepreneurship.

The lawmakers suggest social impact bonds and the introduction of benefit corporations and low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs) as opportunities to encourage a balance of capitalism and philanthropy within the city. Benefit corporations and L3Cs bridge the gap between nonprofit and for-profit operations.

Darling said the “New Opportunities for Milwaukee” plan sets the groundwork to ensure children will attend great schools and adults will have the opportunities to work great jobs.