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Steffen faces Lee in the 4th

By Press Times Staff

The 4th Assembly District race Nov. 6, features incumbent David Steffen vs. newcomer Terry Lee.

Steffen was elected to the State Assembly in 2014 and is running for his third term. Prior to that he served on the Howard village board and the Brown County Board of Supervisors.

Lee helped start Citizens Action Northeast Wisconsin, a nonpartisan, advocacy group committed to achieving social, economic and environmental justice.

The 4th Assembly District includes parts of Howard, Ashwaubenon, Allouez and Green Bay.

The Press Times emailed each candidate the same questions and gave them 400 words to respond to each answer.

Name: David Steffen

Party: Republican

Hometown: Born and raised in Ashwaubenon, now residing in Howard

Immediate family: Married to Jennifer and we have one son, Steele

Occupation: State Representative and small business owner

Why should people vote for you?

My record of delivering results for my constituents and the communities I represent is a core reason why I believe I have earned the confidence and vote of the 4th Assembly District voters. I have worked closely with individuals, businesses and community leaders to address challenges facing our area and state.

Most notably, I developed Wisconsin’s first Premiere Economic Development District. This new economic development zone has unique regulatory efficiencies for very large entertainment and visitor-based projects. This law change was critical to Ashwaubenon in order to continue its long-term plans for Titletown District.

I also authored legislation that returned $17.7 million in excess Lambeau Field sales tax to our communities for tax relief, debt reduction and economic development. This was the largest return of tax dollars in state history and has been a tremendous benefit to our communities.

I am also leading the effort to decommission and relocate Allouez’s maximum-security prison to a new, safer facility elsewhere in the area. This initiative will save taxpayers $150 million and create over $100 million in community development opportunities for the village of Allouez.

I also succeeded in securing $12 million in new funding specifically for the Ashwaubenon, Howard-Suamico and Green Bay school districts. This new funding is on top of the record $630 million increase in school funding that was part of the current state budget.

While many of us feel that Washington DC has failed to deliver for us, I believe am delivering results and benefits to the people of the Green Bay area.

What is the single biggest issue facing Wisconsin?

One of the great benefits of speaking with residents at community events and at their homes while going door-to-door is that I’m able to get a good sense of what residents want addressed.

Based on the feedback I’ve received, education and road funding are important issues. However, the top issue I’ve heard from folks is affordable health insurance and coverage for pre-existing conditions.

What are your views on what’s known as the dark store loophole? If it’s not a problem, why? If it is, what will you do to close it?

The dark store loophole is a real issue and if not corrected, will dramatically effect residential property taxpayers, especially in Ashwaubenon and Howard where there is a lot of commercial property.

Last season, I co-authored two pieces of legislation to close this loophole. Additionally, I worked with the Village of Ashwaubenon to organize the state’s first Dark Store Day to bring attention to this problem. Eliminating this tax-shifting scheme will remain a top priority for me next session.

Now that the legislature has spent a couple of years researching and understanding the issue, I am optimistic about change occurring on this issue next year.

What should Wisconsin do to ensure funding on the state level is available to repair roads?

To continue the growth of our booming state economy, we need to maintain our roads. The gas tax has always been an efficient, effective and user-based method of funding needed repairs.

Even a very modest increase in the gas tax can provide a tremendous impact on maintaining our state’s infrastructure. This option should be seriously explored immediately after the state implements the efficiency and waste reduction recommendations outlines in the recent DOT audit.

How would you like to see K-12 education funded in Wisconsin?

The funding mechanism for our local schools should be significantly adjusted. Right now, there is little control, authority or options for locally elected school boards to address their district-specific needs.

Since every school board already has taxing authority and each school board member is elected by the people, they should be afforded more control over their operations and checkbook.

Our outdated funding formula takes too much control away from our school boards – this should change. Having our local schools rely so heavily on the state also creates a lower return of tax dollars to our area schools.

Right now, every dollar that is dedicated to education at the state level is not equally shared by the schools. The only way to appropriately and finally address this is to give more control back to our local school boards.

Name: Terry Lee

Party: Democratic

Hometown: Maplewood, Minnesota, now Green Bay

Immediate family: Jenn, step-son Jakk (10), twin daughters Evelyn and Kennedy (5)

Occupation: Transportation/customer service

Why should people vote for you?

I’m not a politician and I believe the community needs fresh thinking, new leadership and more ideas at the state capital.

People tell me I have a good heart, I am honest, ambitious, and don’t waiver on my principles. Like many, I don’t like the direction of the state or nation as we dive further into the abyss of politics, divisiveness and bad government. We need to rise up and do better for our kids and our future.

Bipartisanship is fleeting as the value of compromise is lost. We need leaders who want to work together and fix problems.

Democracy goes beyond the ballot, and that’s one of the reasons why I am running for Assembly. I have been volunteering with the group Citizen Action Northeast Wisconsin where we have advocated and educated people on issues like non-partisan redistricting reform and healthcare.

As a former local radio news reporter, I covered the community and held government officials accountable. I have seen too much bad government and lawmakers serving the interests of big donors and the powerful instead of people. I will work to make our government more transparent, will actively seek public input, work to end corruption, and bring accountability.

What is the single biggest issue facing Wisconsin?

The Badger State economy, jobs and wages are the single biggest issue. We are all working hard and can’t seem to get ahead.

Right now, the data looks good for Wisconsin’s unemployment rate, which is the lowest ever in history. But that is not the whole story. In Brown County, according to the most recent data from the United Way, nearly 1 in 4 families struggle to afford basic needs like housing, child care, food, healthcare and transportation.

Despite worker productivity doubling over the last four decades, last year Wisconsinites earned a median wage was $18.34 an hour, when adjusted for inflation.

That’s just a $1 more than in 1979. Private sector job growth has lagged behind the national average every year since 2011 and Wisconsin ranks dead last in new business start-ups.

We need new investment and priorities in workforce development and job retraining programs. Our UW System needs more investment along with our technical colleges like Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

Wisconsinites are being crushed by $24 billion in student loan debt and they should be able to refinance for better rates so they can buy a home, a new vehicle or start a family.

Workers need to be empowered by making it easier to unionize, collectively bargain and make it illegal for employers to require mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment.

We need real healthcare reform, because the more we push it off the more we lose out on wage increases.

Wisconsin’s job creation agency needs to start following state law and held accountable for its use of our tax money.

We need to foster more small businesses development and provide access to capital instead of providing $4.5 billion in corporate welfare for companies like Foxconn.

What are your views on what’s known as the dark store loophole? If it’s not a problem, why? If it is, what will you do to close it?

This is a prime example of how big donors and well financed business focused lobby groups get their way.

I will fight against this type of influence and money in politics in Madison.

This problem came about years ago, but Republican lawmakers and leadership failed to even allow a vote on bipartisan legislation that would close the loophole. Homeowners will see increased property taxes because communities like Howard and Ashwaubenon will be forced to cut budgets for police and fire, sanitation, and other essential services.

Every year, dozens of big-box stores like Walgreens, Target, Walmart, Meijer, Home Depot, and Lowes are using this loophole to get their property assessed as a vacant building instead of a non-vacant building. Howard spent years in litigation with Menards who claimed their property should be valued at half of the over $12 million the village assessed it at. Homeowners don’t want to pay more property taxes, but they do want a fair and equitable system.

What should Wisconsin do to ensure funding on the state level is available to repair roads?

People are complaining about our roads, highways and infrastructure. The more we delay in solving the shortfall in transportation funding, the more we risk our safety on the road, diminish economic development and increase costs for taxpayers.

A majority of elected officials are afraid to address the real issue because it will require increasing revenue. Even a whisper about raising taxes or fees in some way is political suicide. But we can’t delay any further and need leadership in Madison that will work to get something done this legislative session.

WisDOT is doing less with less. The accounting tricks used to stay afloat have run out.

Recently, it was discovered that an estimated $45 million in federal funds marked for local road projects across the state ($3 million for Green Bay) was no longer available. Local officials that were counting on that funding and have yet to be given answers to where that money went.

Since 2014, transportation funding has been running short over a billion dollars a year. That’s forced the state to borrow more, costing taxpayers more.

More than a decade ago, lawmakers stopped indexing the gas tax to automatically rise with inflation, which has left us in the hole. We need to look at increasing vehicle registration fees for both commercial and personal vehicles and increasing the gas tax.

The gas tax is a major source of funding. If we brought back an automatic indexing of the gas tax, we could be paying about seven cents more per gallon according to one study. This is a user-based solution.

While I don’t want to pay more in taxes, we need to find a solution and achieve a compromise. I would like to see listening sessions across the state to hear from voters about possibly raising the gas tax.

How would you like to see K-12 education funded in Wisconsin?

My kids’ education, future and opportunities are top of mind for me and my family. Jakk is in fifth grade and my twin daughters Evelyn and Kennedy are in kindergarten.

Like many, I watched as Wisconsin’s education and teachers become a national story back in 2011.

Republican lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker cut education funding by nearly a billion dollars and ripped away the collective bargaining rights and reduced benefits of public workers.

It’s not all about money, but public education has been underfunded by an estimated $3.5 billion since Act 10. Instead of fully funding public schools, lawmakers have spent hundreds of millions to fund a second school system through private school vouchers.

Voucher schools get thousands more per student than public schools. We need to make a bold statement on education in Wisconsin and put kids first.

A Blue Ribbon Commission is studying how to change the way we pay for education because the per-pupil based funding formula that is in place now is not working.

We also need to provide more flexibility to school districts and communities restricted by levy limits, because currently they are based on state law enacted in 1993.

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