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Ron Kind visits UWRF campus

February 7, 2008

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, held a roundtable discussion in the University Center Theater on Tuesday to discuss issues facing small businesses in River Falls and the surrounding areas.

For the last year Rep. Kind has been on the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee, a committee focused on writing tax legislation and bills affecting Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, according to the committee’s Web site.

While on the committee, Kind has been focusing on ways to help Wisconsin businesses invest in their companies, afford reasonable health insurance, modernize small business tax rules and offer retirement plans to employees, according to his small businesses agenda press release.

“We do see some bright spots, as far as economic activity, both at home and nationwide,” Kind said. “Small businesses, I think, are one of the bright spots.”

Kind invited small business leaders from around the area to attend the discussion and voice their input on his small business agenda. The discussion was meant to focus on the issues business owners are facing and to discuss possible reforms that could be made to help them grow their businesses.

“What I’m hoping to do is hear from you,” Kind said “your comments, thoughts and questions about your businesses.”

Affordable health insurance for small businesses is one of the primary goals of Kind’s business agenda. Business owners in attendance provided input on Kind’s proposal.

“Last year our health insurance went up 21 percent and I had the unhappy experience this afternoon to tell my employees that it went up another 27 percent this year,” Dale Jorgenson, a small business owner in River Falls, said. “Whatever you can do to push that legislation through would be greatly appreciated.”

Business owners in attendance also brought up issues with growing utility costs and the effect it has on small businesses, going green, problems with the Department of Motor Vehicles and finding ways to fund struggling new businesses.

“This was a very helpful listening session. [There are] a lot of diverse business interests here today and a lot of different issues were raised,” Kind said.

The roundtable discussion drew some criticism as well. In the back of the room, a person in a rabbit costume held a sign that read “I’m hopping mad about you funding the war.”

There were about 25 people in the audience for the discussion. Small business owners, city leaders and several students were among the audience members.

“I support Ron Kind on a heck of a lot of issues, but I think he needs to realize where the American people are standing on issues like the war and military spending.” Senior Tom Friant said.

Though the roundtable discussion focused on small businesses, students in attendance brought up broader issues affecting the economy.

“I think it’s impossible to ignore the 200-pound rabbit in the room,” student Benjamin Plunkett said. “The fact of the matter is that America has to make a choice, we cannot afford to borrow against our children’s future to fund war at the cost of our education, our health care and our business investments.”

Kind said that he is working on legislation to lower the interest rate burden on students and that he wants to increase money available for Federal Pell Grant Program. He said that the broader programs will have to be looked at, but that he fully supports higher education.

“We have one of the best universities in the country right here, I’m so proud of what’s been done with this campus and the impact it’s had economically,” Kind said. “We are in a 21st century global economy, and we need students to be well-equipped and well prepared to work in that global economy.”