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WisBusiness: Milwaukee sick pay holding firms at bay, MMAC's Sheehy says

By David A. Wise

Businesses are already reconsidering decisions to expand in or move to Milwaukee in light of a paid sick day requirement scheduled to take effect in February, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy says.

On Monday morning alone, Sheehy said he received two calls from business owners who said they decided to abandon efforts to seek space in Milwaukee due to the sick pay requirement.

"I haven't seen a single issue in the last 20 years that has had such a chilling impact on decisions to expand in Milwaukee or decisions to move to Milwaukee," Sheehy says new WisBusiness interview.

Although he declined to name the companies, Sheehy said one was ready to secure 40,000 square feet of space in Milwaukee, but decided to look elsewhere due to the pending requirement.

"That's the unseen impact of this," Sheehy said.

A referendum enacting the requirement passed with 68 percent of the vote Nov. 4. Under the ordinance, businesses would have to provide their employees with one hour of sick pay per 30 hours worked in Milwaukee. Businesses with 10 or more employees would have to provide up to nine days of leave, and smaller businesses would have to provide up to five days.

The MMAC announced last week it is filing a legal challenge to the ordinance. Sheehy says the suit is based on the grounds that the city doesn't have the jurisdiction to impose the requirement.

The sick day requirement is just one change that could affect the business climate in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee-area legislators didnít win any top leadership positions in the state Legislature for the new session, which could make Milwaukee-friendly policies a tough sell, especially if they involve funneling money to the region.

But Sheehy said he hopes all legislators recognize that Southeast Wisconsin represents 1 million jobs, a $78 billion gross metropolitan product, 50,000 business establishments and more than a third of the state's revenue production when they craft policy that could affect economic development in the region.

"Whether or not we have clearly delineated leadership in the Legislature should have less of an impact than the entire Legislature understanding that if the engine's going to run well here, we don't need any sand thrown in it by the state Legislature," Sheehy said.

In the roughly 30-minute interview, Sheehy discusses the need for the state to rein in spending and taxation as it looks to fill a $5.4 billion budget gap and for policy makers to realize businesses have other places to go if the climate becomes unfavorable.

Sheehy also discusses the MMAC's conditional support of a proposed 0.5 percent regional sales tax to fund transit and provide property tax relief, the importance of continued support for the school choice program in Milwaukee, and his concerns about the Milwaukee Public Schools District's lackluster performance and financial difficulties.

Listen to the interview here: http://blogs.wispolitics.com/multimedia/audio/2008/11/081124Sheehy.mp3

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