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Governor Walker announced his new Rural Agenda this week at the Governor’s Northern Economic & Community Development Summit in Trego. The agenda addresses the concerns mentioned by Wisconsin’s rural communities during the Governor’s 2020 Vision Project tour of all 72 Wisconsin counties.

“We’ve listened to rural communities across the state and we’re tackling their top priorities, like increasing investments in education, expanding broadband access, improving rural healthcare, and making state resources more easily available.” – Governor Walker

Challenges Faced by Wisconsin’s Rural Communities

Governor Walker visited all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties in 2016. The following are issues repeatedly mentioned during his rural community visits:

  • Rural Schools face unique challenges as a result of demographics and geography. Transportation and internet access pose issues for students. Rural school districts suffer competitive disadvantages in teacher recruitment due to location and lack of amenities, often forcing them to eliminate programs.
  • Broadband access came up at nearly every listening session. Access to high speed internet connections is important for business, education, health care, quality of life and even tourism.
    • As Governor Walker often says, “Generations ago, electricity changed the way my grandparents farmed. Today, access to high speed internet connections will have a similar positive impact on rural Wisconsin.”
  • Wisconsin faces a physician and nurse shortage in rural and underserved areas.
  • Rural firefighter and EMT services are struggling to find new volunteers and their workforce is aging.
  • Federal funding for the Veteran Outreach and Recovery Program will end in December 2017 and without a separate source of funding, the program will end.

Governor Walker’s Rural Agenda

Governor Walker’s Rural agenda addresses these challenges using a multipoint approach.

Step One: Improving Education

  • Increasing Sparsity Aid
    We support legislation that reintroduces language from our proposed budget, calling for an increase in Sparsity Aid which would provide $9.7 million more for rural schools next school year. This will be in addition to our historic $11.5 billion state investment in education in the 2017-19 budget.
  • Recruiting & Retaining Teachers
    Our budget creates a new teacher development training program, providing a tool for rural districts to address teacher shortages.

Step Two: Expanding Broadband Access

  • Increasing Broadband Expansion
    We allocate a historic $35.5 million in additional spending for broadband access across Wisconsin. Specifically, our budget allocates an additional $13 million for Broadband Expansion Grants over the 2017-19 biennium. This is the largest amount of funding ever for the Broadband Expansion Grant Program.
  • Providing Broadband Access to Students
    We also increase funding for Wisconsin’s Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH) grants by $22.5 million to provide students with high-speed internet, access to mobile hot spots, and access to laptop computers.

Step Three: Encouraging Economic Development

  • Lowering Property Taxes
    We continue to reduce property taxes for Wisconsin’s hardworking families. One way we do this is by eliminating the state portion of Wisconsin’s property tax bill. Property taxes on a median-valued home will be lower in 2018 than they were in 2010.
  • Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax
    We fully implement the manufacturing and agriculture production tax credit.
  • Streamlining Regulations
    We will work with the legislature and EPA to transfer regulatory authority over farms from the DNR to DATCP to encourage the best use of technical expertise and create program efficiencies.
  • Advertising Out State Attractions
    We invest $1.13 million annually in the Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) Grant Program which provides funding to local groups for advertising initiatives to promote the special attractions a community has to offer. These visitors help bolster the local economy and create jobs for local residents.
  • Expanding Trade
    In 2016, Wisconsin ranked 12th overall for agricultural exports, climbing five spots from 2010. This same year, Wisconsin exported more than $3.4 billion worth of agricultural products. This is an increase of 41% from 2010 exports of $2.4 billion.

Step Four: Developing Wisconsin’s Rural Workforce

  • Investing in Rural Development
    Wisconsin’s READI program provides funds to assist rural communities in economic development, workforce housing, and workforce training.
    • Economic Development loans of up to $500,000 are available for proposals to create or expand a business resulting in the creation of low- and moderate-income jobs.
    • Workforce Housing loans of up to $300,000 are available for proposals to attract new workers to rural areas by rehabilitating or creating workforce housing near the economic development project.
    • Workforce Training grants of up to $200,000 are available to train new workers at the economic development project.

Step Five: Improving Rural Health Care

  • Training Rural Doctors
    Our budget provides $200,000 over the 2017-19 biennium to expand the UW System’s Wisconsin Rural Physician Residency Assistance program, which will advance the development of rural rotations and rural training tracks in the state.
  • Increasing Opportunities for Nurses
    We support legislation to include Wisconsin in the Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC), which provides nurses with a license that allows them to work in multiple states and provide telehealth nursing services.

Step Six: Investing in Public Safety

  • Encouraging High School Volunteer Firefighters & EMTs
    We will support legislation that will reward high schools and students that participate in EMT or Firefighter basic training.
  • Prolonging the License Renewal Period
    We will support legislation to change the certification renewal period from every two years to four years for a first responder, licensed EMT, or paramedic.

Step Seven: Caring for Wisconsin Veterans

  • Providing Resources to Wisconsin Veterans
    We support legislation to provide state GPR to continue the Veteran Outreach and Recovery Program. The program provides outreach, treatment, and recovery support programs to veterans who are homeless.
  • Continuing to Support Wisconsin’s GI Bill
    We continue to support the state’s GI Bill, which is one of the most generous in the country, remitting full tuition and segregated fees for veterans and their dependents for up to eight full-time semesters or 128 credits, whichever is greater, at and UW or WTCS school.

Step Eight: Moving State Resources Out of Madison

  • Transitioning Forestry HQ North
    We will move the Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry headquarters to Rhinelander, Wisconsin by the first of next year to better include and work with the forestry industry and northern forestry officials.
  • Dispersing State Resources Throughout Wisconsin
    We will disperse state resources throughout Wisconsin to improve communications and accountability between government organizations and the people they serve