Republicans such as Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) call it an effort that might look good on campaign literature but doesn’t address the magnitude of the state’s problems.

The two sides are clashing in Madison about the proposed legislation.

The Wisconsin C.O.R.E. Jobs bill – for Connecting Opportunity, Research and Entrepreneurship – was introduced in the state Senate last month by Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) and Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls).

It would expand the state’s angel and venture investment tax credits and provide funding for initiatives such as an ombudsman at the Commerce Department who would be a one-stop shop for businesses. It also would include grants for companies that seek to bring overseas jobs back to rural Wisconsin.

The biggest item is a $3 million expansion of investment tax credits in 2010. The bill also would allocate $2 million each to WiSys Technology Foundation to forge partnerships between companies and academic research; incentives to re-open shuttered factories for “green” energy manufacturing; and an education tax credit for businesses that pay post-secondary tuition for low-income employees.

“People can nitpick all they want, but in end, this package will do what we need it to do, which is create jobs in the state and expand existing companies as well as create new small businesses,” Lassa said.

Wisconsin’s real Gross Domestic Product is projected to decline 2.5% in 2009, according to a report released in November by the state Department of Revenue. It’s the first such decline in decades, said Sen. Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield).

Meanwhile the state ranks near the bottom in a range of surveys that assess economic vitality and business climate. The Pew Center on the States in November ranked Wisconsin among the 10 worst states for fiscal condition and said state legislators often shift money around to pay for day-to-day expenses.

Wisconsin ranked near the bottom – 48th – in Forbes magazine’s survey published in September of the best states for business.

A Kauffman Foundation report released in April said Wisconsin was among the six states with the lowest level of entrepreneurial activity.

“Fiddling while Rome burns” was how Kanavas portrayed the legislation at the hearing.

“It’s so small compared to the damage we’ve done in the budget that it’s almost not worth doing,” said Kanavas, who says he will still vote for the package.

He and other Republicans said the legislation doesn’t begin to address the burden foisted on business from recent moves such as the expansion of the state’s top tax bracket, increases in property taxes and government borrowing, and legislation that requires companies to pay taxes on profits of out-of-state subsidiaries.

The state’s tax burden, regulatory practices, and mandates for businesses are all forcing companies to locate jobs elsewhere, Sen. Joseph Leibham (R-Sheboygan) said at a hearing in Madison last week.

“The budget correction bill and the recently passed state budget were two of the most anti-jobs packages and documents ever passed by the Legislature,” Leibham said.

Lassa called the Republicans “disingenuous” for criticizing her party’s spending while pushing for tax breaks and other things that would cost the state more.

The state’s revenues have dropped because of the global recession, and the jobs package is a responsible way to bolster economic development and jobs programs that have already proven successful and fund new ones that have potential, Lassa said.

“Politics is the art of the possible, and what is possible soon in this session of the Legislature is really what I think this bill is aiming at. I think it works well as a down payment on a much larger discussion,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which would get $100,000 a year if the legislation is passed to fund a position that would help state companies write applications for federal innovation grants.

Lassa said the Senate Committee on Economic Development she chairs will vote on the bill Tuesday and she hopes to have the legislation on the Senate floor on the first day it is back in session in January.

Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.