Jill Billings, Democratic candidate in the 95th Assembly District 2011 special election
Is Wisconsin on the right track? If not, what needs to change?
As I've been knocking on doors throughout the 95th district I've heard people say that they want open, accessible government that represents the people. We need good government in Wisconsin where representatives have healthy debate, everyone is included in the process, and elected officials have the best interests of the voters in mind.
What are the top three concerns you've heard from voters in the 95th district? How do you propose to address them?
- Family supporting jobs - Government has a part to play in public-private partnerships where we can help grow small business and retain jobs but aid must be tied to results of family supporting jobs.
- High Taxes - In La Crosse County we've keep taxes the 5th lowest of 72 counties while maintaining services. We've done this by working innovatively and collaboratively for cost savings. We should be doing the same in Madison.
- Partisan gridlock and concern that representatives do not have the best interests of citizens in mind - I have a history of working with people of varied political beliefs and backgrounds. I will continue to build bridges in Madison in order to get things done for my district.
What qualifies you as the best candidate in this race to represent the people of the 95th district?
I have a broad base of knowledge gained through my 8 years on the La Crosse County Board. Counties can be considered as the "service arm" of the state so the issues that are considered in Madison are often the same as those considered by counties. I have experience working in a variety of areas such as land use, health and human services and economic development. And I will listen to the people in my district and vote for them.
Are Wisconsin's K-12 schools, universities and technical colleges adequately funded under the current budget? If not, would you support raising taxes to restore previous spending levels?
No, our schools are currently not adequately funded. And the system of funding for our schools must be overhauled. There needs to be a comprehensive look at school funding and this has to be improved. We must have an educated electorate - democracy is based on this premise. We must have a well-trained work force. The middle class and those on fixed incomes are already paying their fair share in taxes. We must improve our rate of collecting tax dollars which are currently due. We can find other sources of funding such as taxing internet purchases. This would also level the playing field for our local brick and mortar stores.
Gov. Scott Walker has asked the Legislature to focus "like a laser beam" on job creation. Of the 26 bills on his proposed special session agenda, which do you support? What alternative job legislation would you offer?
I will support the proposals which provide incentives and tools to help businesses expand and create more jobs. They include LRB 1875 WHEDA Business Loans, LRB 2861 Bioscience Loans, AB20 Angel Investments, AB-90 Entrepreneurial Tax Credits, AB-211 Community Development Financial Institution, AB-277 Employer-Paid Medical Care, SB-40 & AB-97 Manufacturing Skills Grant.
I have reached out to members of the business community in our area to ask how government could partner with them in efforts to create jobs. If elected, I will continue this dialog. Government can partner with entrepreneurial, start-up companies through the early, challenging years of business creation. These small start-up businesses are an important factor in future job growth.
How would you envision your role, if elected, as a member of the minority party?
I will do what I have done on the La Crosse County Board. I will work hard to research legislation and make good votes for the people I represent. I will work hard to build bridges to collaborate with others in the legislature on behalf of the people I represent. I will work hard to stay in touch with the people I represent. On the county board I have risen to leadership because my colleagues know I work hard to make informed decisions. I speak strongly as an advocate for what I believe is right, and I am respectful of process and my colleagues.
This seat is open, in part, because of voter frustration over a GOP vote to curtail collective bargaining rights. Now that the law is in effect, is it working to help state and local governments balance their budgets? Would you seek to restore some of those rights?
In my 8 years on the La Crosse County Board we have produced balanced budgets every year. Our bond rating is excellent. We have saved reserves for difficult budget times. We have been able to sit respectfully across the table with our employees and negotiate contracts with collective bargaining. We did not ask for the GOP vote to curtail collective bargaining rights in order to balance our budget and it did not prove as helpful as was suggested by the GOP. Collective bargaining has worked for us and workers should have the right to bargain collectively.
Silica mining has become a boom industry in western Wisconsin. Does the state need new regulations to ensure the safety of residents and the integrity of the landscape or should permitting be left to local government?
As this new industry has moved into western Wisconsin there are concerns of costs to local government in infrastructure, safeguarding the environment and maintaining good water quality. We must balance the benefit of jobs with safeguarding our finite natural resources and beautiful environment that draws tourist revenue into our area. In La Crosse County, we have good zoning and permitting processes in place. Not all counties are as fortunate and the state may need to be involved in regulation.
An estimated $44 million was spent on this summer's Senate recall election campaigns - three quarters of it by largely unregulated interest groups other than the candidates. Is this healthy for democracy? If not, what - if anything - can Wisconsin lawmakers do to change it?
A ridiculous amount of money has been spent by outside interests in several campaigns in recent years. Outside interests poured $3 million into Congressman Kind's race alone; most of it in negative, misleading advertisements. This is not healthy for democracy. The decision by the Supreme Court referred to as Citizens United makes change problematic. In the very least, Wisconsin lawmakers should make it mandatory that these groups disclose their donors. We need transparency so it is clear who is funding these unregulated interest groups.