Scott Walker was elected governor on the promise that he’d create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin by 2015.
But Walker’s impact on job growth in Wisconsin has been disastrous. Under his tenure, Wisconsin has lagged consistently behind the rest of the region. The state has lost 31,027 jobs since Walker and GOP majorities came into office – the second worse job creation record in the nation (behind New Jersey).
As we reach Walker’s mid-term, let’s review how he brought us to this point. Walker began his gubernatorial tenure by turning down $800 million in federal stimulus money to bring high-speed rail to Wisconsin. That action cost jobs and infrastructure improvements that would have contributed to long-term growth.
In turning down the money, Walker appeased his tea party base, which opposes all government spending. His excuse to everyone else was that eventually the state would have to pick up a portion of the rail’s operating costs. He failed to consider, however, the jobs and economic activity it would have generated, including contributions to the tax base.
In response to Walker’s action, the Spanish train-manufacturing company Talgo abandoned a facility in the Milwaukee area that was projected to add up to 600 jobs. Talgo is now suing the state for breach of contract and the company refuses to turn over new trains that have already cost the state $42 million.
Walker’s economic management has only gone downhill from there. Huge cuts to public sector employment have significantly reduced state and local governments’ budget shortfalls as intended, but they’ve also had a crippling ripple effect throughout the state’s economy, lowering the tax base and causing tremendous suffering.
In a move that was praised by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and corporate-right groups, Walker dismantled the Department of Commerce and created the Wisconsin Economic Development Council, a public-private sector partnership that was supposed to give loans to promising businesses in Wisconsin to help them grow. Walker staffed the council with unqualified cronies with no background in the field.
WEDC’s mismanagement and complete lack of public oversight has so far resulted in $9 million in defaulted loans and the unexplained disappearance of $56 million. That money came from gas taxes, the federal mortgage settlement that was paid to the state and other public funding sources. WEDC has also been charged with bid-rigging schemes to give no-strings handouts to Walker’s political supporters and cronies. He’s fine with spending public money as long as it’s given to his friends without any accountability.
Corporate right donations have successfully propagandized the public to believe Walker’s policies have been an economic success, even as Wisconsin recorded a net job loss from January to November 2012. Republicans, who now once again have total control over state government, are currently focusing their efforts on devising strategies to make it more difficult for traditional Democratic voters to cast ballots and for women to have access to reproductive medical care.
With gerrymandered legislative districts that ensure Republicans control of the state for the next decade, progressives are going to have to work on educating the public in order to minimize further deterioration of the state’s economy.