By Tom Still

MADISON, Wis. – It’s more than tempting for the average Wisconsin citizen to believe the state Capitol is a place where the daily agenda is limited to threats of recall elections, fights over gerrymandered political maps and other partisan divisiveness.

All of that happens, of course, fed by a mix of honest policy disagreements, misplaced passion and old-fashioned political theater made even more dramatic by the advent of an election year.

Even so, the latest floor period in Madison also saw the emergence of legislation to help improve Wisconsin’s business climate, to bolster higher education and to foster a stronger physical infrastructure. Here are examples of bills passed by the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.

  • Hopes for a building to expand enrollment and enhance research-to-industry connections in the UW-Madison College of Engineering seemed dim earlier this year, when disputes over “diversity, equity and inclusion” staffing throughout the Universities of Wisconsin emerged as a stumbling block. A compromise emerged and the building is on a path to reality, with $197 million coming from the state and $150 million to be secured from private donors. Absent an end to the Capitol stalemate, there was no chance of raising those private dollars; now, the process is well underway.
  • The same DEI debate held up another $32 million in state support for other UW buildings statewide, including a few that would have paid for themselves over time (such as dormitories) but that was eventually resolved, too.
  • Wisconsin has been building a healthier early stage investment foundation since the early 2000s, when the bipartisan passage of the “Qualified New Business Venture” tax credits made it possible for angel and venture capital investors in young, tech-based companies to recover $1 for every $4 invested. A bill making it easier for out-of-state investors to put their money in Wisconsin companies passed, as did improvements to the 2013 law that created the “Badger Fund of Funds.” It’s far from full-throated support of tech-based entrepreneurism in Wisconsin, something other states have done, but it’s progress.
  • The state is in the running for a $75-million federal award to create a medical “tech hub” that would lever private and public health-tech resources, primarily in Madison and Milwaukee. The Legislature passed a $7.5 million matching grant to meet federal requirements and did so quickly, thus enhancing Wisconsin’s chances against other big medical technology regions. Maybe lawmakers will now consider doing the same for competitive state efforts to win federal dollars for tech plays in agriculture and the nexus of water, energy and manufacturing.
  • Electric vehicles of all types are here to stay – especially if there is an infrastructure to support them. One bill was passed to allow private businesses to sell electricity via EV charging stations by the kilowatt hour instead of by the hour, without being regulated as utilities. It also created a 3 cents per kWh excise tax to help make up for lost gas tax revenue and codified how state and local governments can operate charging stations. A second bill was passed to set up a state Department of Transportation mechanism to set up a program to handle federal dollars that will come with it.
  • Other bills that passed muster were tied to the continued phaseout of personal property taxes, improved business development credits and updates to the Minnesota-Wisconsin tuition reciprocity agreement.

These bills and more in other categories were passed because there were enough Republicans and Democrats in both houses to rally around them. That was true even with large GOP majorities in place.

Will the creation of 99 new Assembly districts and 32 new Senate districts bring closer political margins and even more cooperation? The start of the 2025 legislative session will hold the answer to that question.

Expect more political positioning in the Capitol between now and November, but don’t forget most lawmakers show up to work on policy, too. It’s just often less noisy.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at