Position Statements

Forward Janesville's official position on critical issues

Forward Janesville Endorses Milton School Referendums

Forward Janesville has endorsed the School District of Milton’s operating and capital referendums, which will appear on the November 2016 election ballot.

These referendums are designed to address the district’s instructional and facility needs.  The operational referendum, which would allow the district to exceed its state-imposed revenue caps by $2.5 million annually for five years, will ensure that existing quality educational programs for students will be able to continue without cuts.  The $87 million capital referendum, which includes construction of a new high school, will address safety, security and overcrowding in all buildings; will allow the district to achieve ADA compliance in all schools; and will address the district’s aging facilities.  

The estimated tax impact of the operational referendum is $124 for each $100,000 of property value, while the capital referendum will cost $177 per $100,000.  The tax impact of these referendums would be phased in slowly, which will allow taxpayers to adequately prepare for their impact.

One of Forward Janesville’s missions as an organization is to promote local education.  We seriously considered multiple options, including doing nothing, considering a modified referendum in the future, and supporting the referendums that will appear on the ballot on November 8, and we believe that now is the right time to proceed with these long overdue referendums. These initiatives will not only strengthen Rock County’s school infrastructure, but will provide solid footing to educate the workers that area businesses need to grow and prosper.  

While the school district’s enrollment has increased 22 percent over the last 15 years, Milton’s spending per pupil ranks last in the state (424th out of 424).  Every Milton school building with the exception of one (Northside Intermediate) was built in the 1950s or the 1960s.  Making this strategic investment now will save money in the long run, as deferred and delayed maintenance costs will continue to add up.  We encourage voters to boldly invest in the next 50 years of education in Milton—just as the residents of the prior era did. 

Forward Janesville supports these referendums because we support the growth of the entire region. All of the region’s great school districts make Rock County and southern Wisconsin more attractive place to live and work. Great schools are a complement to our organization’s economic development efforts, as quality educational infrastructure is often a key component in business site selection and/or expansion decisions. Upgrading Milton’s school infrastructure will be another arrow in Rock County’s economic development quiver. 

Choosing to raise taxes is never an easy decision, and not one we enter into lightly.  But Forward Janesville believes that these referendums strike a reasonable balance between the long term educational and facility needs of the district and the property tax impact to the community.  Better schools mean stronger communities, and we encourage voters to support both referendum questions on November 8.

Forward Janesville Supports Alliant Energy Riverside Energy Center Expansion

Here is a copy of a letter sent to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on August 31, 2015.

Forward Janesville is a private chamber of commerce and economic development organization representing nearly 500 member companies in Janesville, Rock County, and throughout south central Wisconsin. We are writing today in support of Alliant Energy’s Riverside Energy Center Expansion in the Town of Beloit.

As you know, the Riverside Energy Center Expansion will include a 650-Megawatt natural gas, combined cycle generating facility which will provide efficient, baseload, reliable power throughout south central Wisconsin, and will also include a two-megawatt solar generation facility.

This proposed natural gas-fired plant would inject millions of dollars of jobs and investment into our area, which will help bolster our recovery. This project will provide not only short-term jobs during the plant’s construction, but long-term, family-supporting jobs to run the plant when construction is complete. Local contractors and businesses will have an opportunity to participate in the construction process.

Janesville and Rock County was hit hard by the recession of the late 2010s. The biggest blow was the loss of Janesville’s General Motors Plant, which closed in late 2008 and cost our community 2,300 family-supporting jobs. Rock County’s economy is on the way back because of hard work and proactive economic development efforts, and Alliant Energy has been a vital partner in our recent success. The company was a founding partner of Rock County 5.0, the county’s economic development organization, and supports dozens of area nonprofit and community organizations annually. They are the definition of a great community partner and corporate citizen.

Forward Janesville enthusiastically supports Alliant Energy’s application to construct the Riverside Energy Center Expansion, and encourages the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to approve the project because of its long-term economic benefits for our area and the entire state.

Position Statement on I-39/90 Expansion Funding in the 2015-17 State Budget

Here is a copy of a letter sent to the Co-Chairs of the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on May 12, 2015.

Dear Co-Chairs Darling and Nygren:

We are writing to urge the Joint Finance Committee to fully fund the Interstate 39/90 expansion project in the 2015-17 state budget.

Rock County businesses, community organizations, and municipalities have spent years telling lawmakers and the public why this long overdue project is so important to Rock County and the state of Wisconsin. This project will impact every part of Wisconsin and the Midwest, as between $650-$800 million in commerce moves along the I-39/90 corridor each and every day. The Interstate 39/90 expansion will grow the economy, create jobs and put people to work.

This project is underway, and construction is continuing this spring. Governor Walker’s 2015-17 budget proposal keeps this vital project on schedule. However, WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb and others have warned that the Interstate 39/90 expansion project could be delayed by up to two years if the legislature cuts into the Governor’s transportation plan.

Rock County is on the economic comeback trail because of years of hard work and determination, and the completion of this project will prime our area for additional economic growth. Therefore, we urge the Joint Finance Committee to fully fund the state major highway program—and improvements to Interstate 39/90—in the 2015-17 state budget so that this vital project can stay on schedule.

Position Statement on Interstate 39/90 Construction Concerns

March 19, 2015 | The Interstate 39/90 reconstruction project is underway, and construction is expected to continue this year.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) has developed construction plans, some of which have raised concern among local business owners. Specifically, Forward Janesville members like Quaker Steak and Lube, the Janesville Travel Center, the Holiday Inn Express and others have united in opposition to WisDOT’s plan to close Exits 171B and 171C (and access Highway 14) to southbound travelers from November 2017 until September 2018.

Southbound drivers will be able to access Highway 14 via Exit 171A during the construction period, but without prior knowledge of the construction zone and where to exit, business owners fear that most drivers will pass them by. WisDOT has encouraged concerned business owners to participate in their “In This Together” signage initiative to direct traffic to their businesses during construction. However, these business owners fear that increased signage will not be good enough to prevent a significant, long term drop in traffic—and business.

Therefore, these businesses have proposed a plan to construct a temporary exit allowing southbound drivers to access Highway 14 during the reconstruction of Interstate 39/90. Forward Janesville supports their efforts, and urges the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to seriously consider this proposal. 

Janesville Street Funding Referendum Deserves Support

On November 4, 2014, Janesville voters were asked whether or not to allow the City of Janesville to raise property taxes by $1.2 million per year to fund a five year expansion of the city’s street rehabilitation program. While the proposal was defeated, Forward Janesville endorsed the referendum. Here are our reasons why:

The state has very strict limits on how much property taxes can go up annually, which gave the city two ways to pay for the proposed program: asking citizens to contribute more or borrowing the money. Forward Janesville thinks the city was wise to choose the referendum path, and we urge the citizens of Janesville to vote yes on November 4, 2014. Here’s why:

Wisconsin’s harsh winters take a heavy toll on our streets. The city maintains about 330 miles of streets. The average lifespan of a street is 25-30 years. To stay ahead of this deterioration cycle, the city should really be restoring 10 to 13 miles of streets every year. The city is doing half that much currently and it shows. Nearly ten percent of Janesville’s streets are rated as “poor” or “failed,” and that number is projected to reach 22.8 percent by 2016. It is in all of our best interests to fix a street before it gets this bad, as rehabilitating a “poor” or “failed” street costs twice as much as resurfacing a street in better condition.

According to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers’ Alliance, Janesville is ranked second to last among peer cities in street maintenance spending per citizen: $50.53 in 2012. We trail only Kenosha, who spends $42.24 per person on street maintenance. Contrast this with the highest spending city (Manitowoc), who devotes over $150 per capita to their streets. It’s interesting to note that the midpoint on street maintenance among our peer communities is $97, meaning Janesville’s spending on this item is extremely low. In fact, the city ranked just ahead of us (New Berlin) spends $74.02 per capita on street repairs.

Some argue that the city council should just borrow the money for an expanded street repair program, and this point warrants some discussion. The Taxpayers’ Alliance figures cited above also show that Janesville has borrowed frugally and responsibly throughout its history. Our debt per capita is significantly smaller than other Rock County communities, and trails only Appleton among the state’s largest cities. Janesville has the capacity to borrow money for street repairs, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

Borrowing for street maintenance is a bad investment because it creates added cost (interest payments) with very little return on the investment. This is because we are borrowing to improve an existing asset. As the interest payments grow over time while other revenue sources decline (e.g., state and federal aid, gas tax revenues as people drive less, etc.), you are left with less money overall. As a result, the street maintenance program gets squeezed. When we borrow to cover these expenditures, the city is forced to do more with less year after year. Without a more permanent solution to this problem, Janesville’s street maintenance program will continue to fall behind.

The choice on November 4 really comes down to whether we’d like to pay for this now or later. Deciding to pay now will get us a first class street maintenance program that our city can be proud of. Choosing to pay later will get us a less robust and more expensive program, because we’ll be paying for it with borrowed money.

Forward Janesville Weighs in on Tax Credit Transferability Legislation

Testimony of Forward Janesville Vice President Dan Cunningham before the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Economic Development and Local Government on December 18, 2013

Good morning Mr. Chairman and committee members. My name is Dan Cunningham, and I am the Vice President of Forward Janesville, a 500-member chamber of commerce and economic development organization representing businesses of all sizes in Janesville, Rock County and throughout south central Wisconsin.

Our story in Rock County has been well told. The 2008 closing of Janesville’s General Motors Plant hit our economy hard. And while we’re not all the way back yet, we are proud of our progress over the last five years. When the plant closure was announced, a group of community leaders developed a proactive agenda that contained steps that the legislature could take to help Rock County and the state of Wisconsin. Tax credit transferability was at the top of that list. Therefore, I am here to speak enthusiastically in support of Senate Bill 449.

Tax credits are one of the primary tools in Wisconsin’s economic development toolbox, and are frequently the primary state incentive offered to relocating and expanding businesses. Often, these tax credits are offered to (A.) start-up companies that have yet to generate a profit, or (B.) distribution center-type facilities that do not actually sell anything. Operations of this nature often not have any state income tax liability, making the granting of tax credits largely ineffective. Offering tax credits to companies who (1) do not currently need them, or (2) can’t utilize them over does not provide the desired economic incentive.

Senate Bill 449 would allow for the limited re-assignment/transfer of tax credits between entities involved in a WEDC-approved economic development project. It is important to note that the tax credit exchange would occur between the qualified applicant and another business connected with the project for goods or services with a defined value. The bill allows the transfer of up to $15 million in economic development tax credits over three years. If this concept works as well as we hope it will, the program may be extended for an additional three years.

Senate Bill 449 also contains important taxpayer protections, and protects the integrity and intent of the economic development tax credit program. Under the bill, if WEDC revokes a person’s certification for economic development tax credits and that person has already transferred the tax credits, that person is liable for the full amount of the tax credits. The bill does not allow for the exchange of tax credits for cash, it does not create a refundable tax credit, nor does it provide an additional tax credit allocation. It provides is a limited, common-sense approach to an issue that has vexed Wisconsin’s economic development community for years. I urge you to support this reasonable bipartisan bill. Thank you.