Tag Archives: job growth

Wisconsin fails small businesses and startups

 

Last year the U.S. economy soared, thanks to a strong dollar, increased job growth, lower gas prices, higher consumer spending, and improvements in the housing sector. But Wisconsin saw scant benefits, and the state’s GOP leaders are largely to blame.

A critical problem with the GOP’s approach to governing jumped out at us a year ago from the pages of a Pew Research Center report. The data is clear: Wisconsin is now home to the fastest-shrinking middle class in the nation.

Middle-class purchasing is the nation’s largest single economic generator. That means that when middle-class dollars shrink, so does economic activity. Our Republican leaders have failed to focus on policies that benefit the middle class, and the economic result was predictable.

In fact, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers have initiated few, if any, policies in general to help the state’s economy. Instead, they’ve focused on making government less transparent and elections less fair. They’ve taken the state backward socially by attacking women’s health, transgender rights and immigrants.

What economic policies the GOP has enacted are counterproductive in at least three ways. First, they’ve extended tax breaks and incentives to large corporations and the wealthiest individuals.

This tactic has never worked. It’s based on the disproven premise that economic benefits showered on people at the top will “trickle down” to the middle class. More than 30 years of history have shown this simply doesn’t happen.

Wealthy people use their money for investments, luxury goods, vacation properties and other expenditures that do not put dollars into Wisconsinites’ pockets the way that middle-class spending does.

It is small businesses and startups, not corporate titans, that form the backbone of the nation’s economy. Small businesses create most of the nation’s jobs and led the post-recession economic recovery. Nearly 54 million Americans now work for themselves in small businesses that they created.

But in a second failure, the state’s Republican leaders have ignored the economic potential of small business growth. Wallet Hub recently ranked Wisconsin 46th in the nation for business start-up activity, 30th for “innovation potential,” and 38th in economic activity. States where those measures rank high, such as Utah, Washington and California, have the nation’s most successful economies.

Third, the GOP embraces right-wing ideology over reality. They’ve shifted money away from higher education, even though that’s necessary for a healthy economy. They’ve eliminated regulations, such as restrictions on pollution, that make doing business in the state less burdensome for companies, but at the cost of public health and safety. They’ve misguidedly “invested” taxpayer dollars into businesses through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Walker’s disgraced job-creation agency.

With policies like these, it’s no wonder the state is an economic basket case.

So what can Wisconsin lawmakers do? For one, they can stop doling out tax credits to politically connected companies that, in return, either ship jobs out of the state or create ridiculously few of them. They can stop cutting and rather restore funding to K-12 and higher education. They can offer meaningful tax relief — more than a few dollars per month — to poor and middle-class earners instead of the one-percenters.

To rebuild our middle class, GOP leaders must start investing in venture capital and assistance for small business startups. Successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists — not self-interested politicians — should be involved in making decisions that involve investing our tax dollars.

Republican leaders must also invest in infrastructure improvements. Just ask a middle-class person — if you can find one — the cost of our disintegrating roads.

The bottom line is this: So long as Republican leaders continue to put their political interests and those of their corporate donors above the good of the state’s economy, Wisconsin’s middle class will continue to suffer and its economy will fail to launch into the 21st century. Walker and crew must take note of the remarkable economic successes achieved by states such as Utah and Minnesota, where start-up businesses proliferate. They must emulate the policies of those states rather than continue to legislate in ways that only serve their personal interests and political ideology.

 

Open letter to Scott Walker: Look at Minnesota’s success to rebuild Wisconsin’s lagging economy

Dear Governor Walker,

I’ve read that you’re touring the state to hear from constituents as a way to get caught up after spending so much time out of state during your presidential campaign last year, and since I live over 250 miles north of Madison, I thought I’d address you on Blogging Blue rather than expect you to travel all the way up here.

I know that two of your biggest problems since you took office in 2011 seem to be job creation and overall business climate. Wisconsin has kind of been circling the drain on both counts for many years now, but I have some good news for you. Minnesota, right next door, is leading the nation on both counts! Last June CNBC rated Minnesota #1 in the nation for business, and over the weekend a new report shows that the Gopher state is #1 in job creation as well.m

This is great news, because not only is Minnesota very similar to Wisconsin in a number of ways, but Mark Dayton took over as Governor there the same year you did here, and with an even bigger budget deficit than you inherited!. In spite of all that, they’re now leading the nation in a pair of top economic indicators, and have a budget surplus of 2 billion dollars. That’s a lot of scratch, man!

I’m no scholar, and I can’t make an in-depth argument about how all this happened, but I can lay out some general points that I think can help you turn Wisconsin around pronto.

1. The CNBC report cites Minnesota as a ” union friendly ” state, so you might want to consider repealing Act 10 and that god-awful Right to Work bill since neither could, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered union friendly.

2. I know you went out of your way to repeal Wisconsin’s living wage law, but you should restore it immediately. Minnesota raised their minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, which isn’t nearly enough, but it’s better than the meager $7.25 workers are making over here.

3. Governor Dayton campaigned in 2010 on raising taxes on the wealthy, (something that seems to have escaped the attention of Wisconsin Democrats), and that’s just what he did, though none of the scare mongering about how everyone would leave actually came to pass. And Minnesota is #1 in business climate, job creation, AND they have a 2 billion dollar surplus! Woo Hoo!

4. Minnesota took the federal bucks to expand their Medicaid program, (Minnesota Care), since it was tax money Minnesotans had already sent to Washington DC, and they also created their own state exchange to maximize the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for their residents. I think they probably embraced the wildly experimental notion that a healthier population is happier and, as such, better able to get up and go to work in the morning. I don’t know for sure, I’m just taking a stab in the dark.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to all this than I’ve listed, and I know you have a ton of staff who could dig into it and sort it all out, but I just wanted to fill you in on some of the basics. I know how much you love Wisconsin and all of its people, but I also know what a busy guy you’ve been , what with all that presidential nonsense and the Koch brothers retreats and so forth.

So I just wanted to give you a hand. You’re welcome.

For more Blogging Blue commentary, go to bloggingblue.com

Democrats say Scott Walker cherry-picked data for State of the State address

Wisconsin’s Democratic leaders issued a flurry of statements, analyses and rebuttals in response to Gov. Scott Walker’s annual State of the State address. Many questioned his cherry-picking of economic data, blasted Walker-backed policies promoting secrecy and cronyism, and illuminated gaps in the speech’s coverage.

State of the State video responses from Sen. Shilling and other Democratic caucus members can be viewed and downloaded here. Below is a written compilation of several Democratic reactions, beginning with the Democratic Party’s televised official response from Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca:

From Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha

During his speech tonight, Governor Walker offered nothing more than Band-Aid proposals that are anemic and weak compared to the significant challenges we face.
 
The numbers are staggering.
 
In 2015, roughly 10,000 hardworking Wisconsinites received layoff notices, the highest single-year total since the governor took office. Wisconsin still ranks in the bottom third for job growth and worst in the Midwest, and our middle class is shrinking faster than any other state. We rank third-worst for student loan debt and our roads are also third-worst in the nation. And Republicans have cut $1 billion from public K-12 schools since 2010.
 
Wisconsin should be a leader; however, under Republicans we are falling behind. When I travel the state I hear people say we should invest in our public schools, level the playing field for the middle class, promote good-paying jobs and invest in our roads and bridges.
 
The truth is the State of our State is being neglected by Republicans putting their own needs above the needs of everyday Wisconsinites.
 
Last year, legislative Republicans turned their backs on Wisconsin’s interests in order to help Governor Walker in his failed run for president.
 
The Republican agenda included:

  • Shifting $800 million from public schools to unaccountable private voucher schools over the next decade;
  • A quarter billion dollar cut to our world-class university system;
  • Driving down wages for hardworking families;
  • And rejecting federal funding that would have meant health care coverage for tens of thousands more of our citizens.

This past fall, Republicans opened Wisconsin for corruption with an agenda designed to consolidate their own power and enrich the special interest groups bankrolling their campaigns. Perhaps most egregious was their late-night, secretive effort to dismantle our open records laws so they could hide their actions from the public.
 
It is clear after that Republicans cannot be trusted to do the right thing for the people of Wisconsin.
 
The difference between Democrats and Republicans at this juncture could not be clearer. My Democratic colleagues and I have made growing our economy and rebuilding the middle class our top priorities.
 
Our “Economic Opportunity Agenda” would help create good-paying jobs, close the skills gap by connecting workers with available jobs, increase wages and make us more competitive in a global economy. Our “Bring Back the Middle Class” package would boost retirement security and provide relief from high child-care costs and student debt.
 
Today alone on the Assembly floor, Democrats voted for proposals that would ensure significant investments in our public schools and affordable health care coverage for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites that, incidentally, would save Wisconsin taxpayers more than $300 million over the next two years. Democrats also voted for much-needed relief for more than a million student loan borrowers and equal pay protections for women in the workplace.

Sadly, Republicans rejected every single one of these bills.
 
Yet even in the face of Republicans’ inaction on these important issues and their betrayal of your trust and your interests, I believe the State of the People of Wisconsin is resilient.
 
I am inspired every day by the hardworking men and women who make up the fabric of our state. Wisconsin is in need of bold action for our workers and middle-class families and Democrats are ready to lead.
 
As Republicans continue to stack the deck against ordinary Wisconsinites and obscure their harmful agenda with election-year distractions, Democrats are focused on leveling the playing field and rebuilding the middle class the Republican agenda has hurt so deeply.
 
You can trust Democrats to restore opportunity and grow wages for ordinary, hardworking people.
 
You can trust Democrats to work to rebuild a strong middle class.
 
You can trust Democrats to grow an economy that works for everyone, not just a privileged few.
 
While legislative Republicans pursue an agenda focused on helping special interests and their own self-interests, legislative Democrats will continue to advocate for the people’s agenda in 2016 and beyond – but we need your help.
 
One of the proudest moments of 2015 was when you rose up and demanded the Republicans end their assault on open records. Your hard work and advocacy forced Republicans to back down, and you can do it again.
 
I encourage you to talk to your neighbors, friends and families about the direction our state is headed. Become engaged and make your voice heard. Together, we can put Wisconsin back on the right track and make sure the State of our State is stronger for all our citizens.
 
Thank you for watching, and as always, my fellow Wisconsinites, Forward!

From Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-LaCrosse

Over the last five years, we’ve seen deep cuts that have limited economic growth, stifled innovation and denied thousands of families the opportunity to get ahead. Democrats continue to believe that the best way to move our state forward is by restoring investments in our schools, infrastructure and worker training programs. 

When it comes to the challenges facing our state, we need solutions, not sound bites. Placing more students in unpaid internships isn’t going to help the nearly one million Wisconsinites burdened by $19 billion in student loan debt. It’s time to follow the lead of other states like Minnesota and allow families to refinance their student debt at a lower interest rate just like you can with home and auto loans.

Democrats remain committed to creating a childcare tax credit for working families, supporting new jobs through infrastructure investments and expanding retirement security options for hardworking residents. With Gov. Walker’s presidential bid behind us, it’s time to look forward at ways we can improve our state and rebuild our middle class.

From Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh

1.     The truth behind Wisconsin’s workforce numbers

CLAIM: “We have at least according to two of the statistics from the federal government, the highest number of people last year working in the last 20 years.”

(http://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/local-news/state-of-the-state-preview) 1/17/16

In May of 2010, Wisconsin had 3,074,000 people in the labor force (BLS).  In May of 2015, Wisconsin had 3,076,000 people in the labor force. The labor force growth rate over the past 5 years is an anemic 0.01%. Compare that to the growth of Indiana (.41%), Iowa (.31%), and Minnesota (.61%) over the same time period.

CLAIM: “We’re one of the top 10 states in terms of the percentage of people in the work force.” (http://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/local-news/state-of-the-state-preview) 1/17/16

This is not significant or new in any meaningful way. Wisconsin has typically had a higher labor participation rate than the rest of the U.S. going back to 1990. And it was higher than it is now under Governor Jim Doyle. Regionally, it has been higher than all neighboring states except Iowa and Minnesota.  

What is significant is that Wisconsin’s labor participation rate has dropped nearly 6 percentage points since 1995, exceeding all but Indiana and Michigan. This reflects that Wisconsin’s labor force as a percentage of population appears to be shrinking faster than most of our neighboring states.

2.     Low unemployment + slow job growth ≠ successful economic measure

CLAIM: “A recent revised report from the federal government shows that the unemployment rate in Wisconsin is the lowest it has been since the spring of 2001.”

Wisconsin does have low unemployment by almost any measure, although not as low as 15 other states.

So how can our unemployment rate be so low if our job creation rate is so bad?

The answer is that Wisconsin is losing workers at nearly every age level over the prime working years, with more people moving out of the state than are moving in. And the people who are moving out are predominantly 20-to-50 year olds. Had Wisconsin’s population growth stayed at the level consistent with our neighboring states growth rates, we would have had an additional 46,000 state residents 16 and over.  Our low unemployment rate is in part the product of workers who are choosing to leave the state for work.  (http://www.uwosh.edu/faculty_staff/mcgee/Jobs_or_Unemployment.pdf)

3. Job numbers need context

CLAIM: “The 16,600 new jobs created in the month of October is the best monthly jobs gain since April of 1992 and the best October since at least 1990.” And the 45,100 new private sector jobs added October over October is statistically significant.”

It is interesting that the Governor chose to tout October jobs in December, after the newer November numbers had been released.  The 12-month growth in November was nearly 13,000 jobs less than October’s 32,400 and trailed neighboring states. A classic example of cherry-picking.

4. “New businesses” that don’t actually exist.

CLAIM: “There has also been a net increase of over 43,000 new businesses.”

Governor Walker is referencing the number of newly registered “business entities”. However, many of these entities have no employees at all, and never will.  According to Politifact, that is because the Governor’s numbers also include non-profits such as youth groups, recreational athletic leagues, and home associations. It also includes thousands of limited-liability companies only set up to function as holding companies, startups, and out-of-state companies that register as a placeholder in case they were to do business in Wisconsin in the future.

5.  Chief Executive Magazine

CLAIM: Chief Executive Magazine today ranked Wisconsin the “12th Best State for Business” in its annual survey of CEOs, an increase of two spots over the 2014 ranking, and a significant increase since 2010, when the state ranked 41st.”

Business leaders were asked to grade states with which they are familiar on a variety of competitive metrics that CEOs themselves regard as critical. These include: 1) taxation and regulation; 2) quality of workforce; and 3) living environment. The tax and regulatory grade includes a measure of how CEOs grade a state’s attitude toward business, a key indicator. “

One of the State Advocate CEOs for Chief Executive.Net Magazine is none other than Diane Hendricks, Chairman of Hendricks Holding, Beloit, WI.  Forbes Magazine estimated Hendricks’ March net worth at $2.8 billion. Hendricks and her husband, Kenneth, built ABC Supply. She became chairman of the company after her husband died in 2007. The company posts annual revenue of more than $4 billion.

She was also Scott Walker’s largest donor, and yet owed no state income tax in 2010.

In Summary, the rankings include “a measure of how CEOs grade a state’s attitude toward business, a key indicator.” In this case, how Diane Hendricks, Governor Walker’s largest donor perceives things to be in Wisconsin.

6.  K-12 education: taking credit from decades of investment

CLAIMS:  “Schools are doing better.”            

“High school graduation rates are up again — now ranking third in the nation.”                       

“Reading/Math scores are up in fourth and eighth grades.”

“ACT scores are second best in the nation.”

Most 2015 Wisconsin high school graduates started school in 2000 or 2001. Fourth graders started school in 2008 or 2009.  Eighth graders started school in 2004 or 2005.  The point is that the achievement at any of these levels is not a snapshot of momentary success.  It is the product of investments made in public education in our state over time.

Under Governor Walker and Republicans, K-12 GPR School Aids have lost more than $1 Billion ($1.05 Billion).  Recent cuts in state education spending, no matter how damaging, take years to work their way through the system as students moved from grade to grade.

Wisconsin is just beginning to feel the effects of Act 10 as there are fewer teachers, fewer students enrolling in teaching programs and a reduction in education licensing. 

7.  The UW System: When less is actually less.

CLAIM: “For the first time in University of Wisconsin history, in-state tuition is frozen at all UW campuses for four years in a row. That makes college more affordable for our students and working families.”

The UW System has lost $795 million in state aid since Governor Walker became Governor. In the strongest national economy in a decade, Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature cut $250 million in the most recent budget from our UW system. These cuts will lead to fewer courses offered and longer graduation times.  And the low morale is leading to high faculty turnover as talented professors leave for other states. 

From WisDems Chair Martha Laning

Democrats were hoping to hear Governor Scott Walker outline a plan to work across the aisle to solve the challenges Wisconsinites face each day. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker gave an election year speech focused on spinning a failed agenda rubber-stamped by his Republican-controlled legislature instead of a plan to increase opportunity for citizens in every corner of our state.

Wisconsin Republicans have spent the last five years on an agenda that decreased family incomes and shrunk the middle class. Local schools are struggling to do more with less in the face of budget cuts, our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, and mass layoffs just hit a five-year high.

If Republicans are ready to listen to concerns of Wisconsin families instead of focusing on their self-interests, Democrats are ready and willing to help lead on an agenda focused on growth, innovation, and opportunity.  

After a year of missed opportunities, it’s time to return to basic Wisconsin values and make sure that those who pay their fair share and play by the rules will have an opportunity to succeed and get ahead. Our state deserves an economy that works for everyone, not just millionaires and billionaires.

 From Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee

Wisconsin is 32nd — dead last in the Midwest — in private-sector job growth over the past four years. It was reported recently that layoff notices in Wisconsin topped 10,000 in 2015, the highest single-year total since Governor Walker took office. In sharp contrast, the Democratic agenda features job creation, wage growth, and other efforts to rebuilding the middle class as our top priorities. 

In his State of the State speech, our governor failed to mention the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), his privatization scheme, which has been plagued by outsourcing, corruption, and allegations of pay-to-play while failing to create jobs. Democrats have put forward a plan for a job creation agency that would be fully accountable and help entrepreneurs.

Tonight, Governor Walker spoke of his plan to address student debt, but it falls comically short of where our state needs it. Wisconsin is third-worst in the nation in student loan debt, yet Walker’s plan would provide relief to a mere 3% of Wisconsinites who need it. The Democratic plan allows people to refinance their student loans just like a mortgage or car payment, a common-sense plan supported by the vast majority of Wisconsinites. 

Republicans have been actively tearing down our state’s public, higher education system, disregarding the many Wisconsinites who depend on it. This included massive cuts to our technical colleges and a total loss of $795 million in state aid to the University of Wisconsin System under Walker and Republicans.

It should be no surprise our governor is out of touch with Wisconsin’s needs. During his failed presidential campaign, he spent approximately 48 minutes per day doing state business. Still, he blamed his gubernatorial duties, which he was elected to do, for his campaign’s failure. Democrats know that we need to listen to our constituents and respond to their concerns all the time, not just when it’s politically convenient.

Governor Walker is not on Wisconsin’s side, so I am very concerned about the State of Our State.

From Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee

While Gov. Walker and Wisconsin Republicans claim there’s a Wisconsin ‘comeback,’ more and more Wisconsinites are falling further behind under their willful ignorance and neglectful watch. 

The governor himself said that ‘we need to think more about the next generation than just about the next election.’ If that were true, we would have heard about the tragic epidemic of gun violence ravaging our communities. We would have heard how deep cuts have devastated our local public schools, and how too many students are drowning in debt due to our crushing student loan debt crisis. We would have heard about how families have been shattered by the lack of access to good paying jobs, so that they can put food on their tables and provide basic necessities for their loved ones.

We have serious problems to solve, and we need people serious about doing their jobs and serious solutions to fix them. I will continue to fight for a brighter future and better opportunities for families in Milwaukee and across the state.  This means standing strong for our values and fighting for safe neighborhoods, healthy children, strong local public schools, real student loan debt relief, and opportunities for workers to provide for their families.

From Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee

Just like he failed Milwaukee County as the Milwaukee County Executive, Governor Scott Walker has failed to lead Wisconsin. Last year, Governor Walker was so focused on trying to get elected to his next job that he failed to do the job he was elected to. Tonight, Governor Walker should’ve just said two simple words to the entire state; ‘I’m sorry.’

In tonight’s State of the State address, Governor Walker should’ve apologized for saying Wisconsin is open for business while ushering in a 5-year high of private sector layoffs. Governor Walker should’ve also apologized for saying we should transform education, yet making the largest cuts to public education in the history of Wisconsin that led to poor literacy rates and a drastic drop in ACT scores. Finally, Governor Walker should’ve apologized for failing to focus on running Wisconsin’s government, which led to financial abuse at WEDC and physical abuse at Lincoln Hills.

Tonight, the state of our state can be summed up in one word; neglected.

From Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison

During this entire legislative session, Governor Walker and legislative Republicans have shown that their priorities are protecting their own political careers, not the people of this state.  Time and time again we’ve seen this Governor and this Legislature put themselves, their campaigns and their own jobs, first.    

Since coming into power and following Governor Walker’s lead, legislative Republicans have cut more than $2 billion from our public schools, universities and technical schools.  They expect our public schools to Book Fair and Bake Sale their way out of the black hole they have created for our state, and our children.  Tonight we heard Governor Walker’s plan for Divide and Conquer 2.0 – taking health care options away from state employees to throw pennies at our public schools, instead of making the education investment our children need.

The vision outlined by Governor Walker tonight exemplifies a series of bad choices that continue to catapult Wisconsin’s families to lower wages, more student debt and fewer quality health care providers.”  

It is not too late for Wisconsin.  We are just one decision away from starting to turn this ship around.  Accepting the federal Medicaid dollars provided a pathway to put more money into the classroom while reducing if not eliminating the funding cut to our higher education institutions.  Despite my colleagues taking their marching orders from the special interests bankrolling their campaign coffers, we as legislators must continue to fight for the Wisconsin we all believe in, and protect the people’s backs, not our own.

From Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville

While he was running for President, Governor Walker focused on the priorities of Republican primary voters and wealthy donors. Now that he has dropped out of the race, it is time to focus on things that affect everyone in Wisconsin.

The Governor has vowed to restore a commitment to public education and the University of Wisconsin. After leaving thousands of students and families behind while pursuing the presidency, it is refreshing that Governor Walker finally recognizes that it is time to focus on what is good for Wisconsin.

Everyone in Wisconsin has been affected by the cuts to public education and the UW-System. We need to make sure that our workforce is prepared to fill the jobs that are currently available and that everyone is trained for the jobs of the future.

I wish we would have heard about are how we are going to fix our transportation budget and repair the crumbling roads and bridges throughout our state. This is a problem that is hurting every business, every community and every family in Wisconsin.

Kicking the can down the road while our highways and bridges are falling apart is a failure of Governor Walker’s leadership. It is time to bring people together and fix this problem for the future of our state. We cannot borrow our way out of this crisis and doing nothing only makes the situation worse.

I hope that Governor Walker can provide the leadership needed to focus on the issues that affect everyone in Wisconsin and not just the fringe group of primary voters and special interests.

From Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit

I am disappointed in Governor Walker’s State of the State address this evening. Wisconsin is in need of bold action for students, workers, and middle class families, but the Governor and legislative Republicans seem content to merely offer Band-Aids that are too little and too late for the challenges we face.

Student debt is a very real problem facing millions of Wisconsin residents, including senior citizens who are still paying off student loans decades after graduating from college. But Gov. Walker’s student debt plan would help only a tiny fraction of student borrowers. However, the Democratic plan provides real relief and allows people to refinance their student loans just like a mortgage or car payment. Allowing refinancing of student loans will help lower interest rates, level the playing field, and give more Wisconsin residents the opportunity to buy a car, own a home, and start a family.

Additionally, despite 10,000 layoff notices given out in Wisconsin last year, Gov. Walker and Republicans still have taken no significant actions to promote job growth in our state or make meaningful reforms to WEDC, our struggling economic development agency. As these layoffs occur and our economy progresses in the 21st century, the importance of retraining for laid off workers and preparing tomorrow’s workforce continues to grow.

Instead of bolstering our future workforce, Republicans have done serious harm to education in our state, handing down massive cuts to our public schools and technical colleges, and a $250 million cut to our world-class university system in their latest budget. If Republicans are serious about workforce development and growing our economy, they should restore these cuts and fully fund our public schools from kindergarten through college.

Wisconsin Democrats are ready to lead and will continue to demand action for the middle class and Wisconsin communities. We know we need better roads, stronger schools, more economic opportunity and real relief for all student loan borrowers. We know we need to expand access to healthcare, raise the minimum wage, make childcare affordable, and ensure retirement security for all workers. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker’s anemic plans for Wisconsin are too little and too late, and simply a distraction from the Republican inaction on these critical issues.

From Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee

Governor Walker is out of touch with the everyday needs of Wisconsin families. It is no surprise that while he was busy campaigning across the nation, he forgot about the real concerns of families at home. Wisconsin families are facing increased costs in childcare, layoffs from good-paying jobs and the daunting costs of student loans. Our children are suffering from the historic budget cuts to public education, and our parents are facing rising costs of healthcare due to the Governor’s failure to accept the federal funds for Badgercare. Rather than prioritizing the needs of the wealthy, we need to invest in an economic plan that will work for all Wisconsin families.

Senate Democrats drafted the Badger Blueprint because we know a strong Wisconsin starts with a comprehensive plan to strengthen and raise the standard of living for families across our state. From proven solutions to grow our economy as well as new ideas to increase opportunities for workers, the Blueprint shows that Senate Democrats are committed to helping all individuals succeed.

2015: The year Wisconsin lost itself

In 2015, Wisconsin completed a 180-degree turn away from the state’s lauded history as a model of good government. The year saw the fruition of a process set into motion in 2011, when conservative Republicans gerrymandered the state so they couldn’t lose. They stopped even pretending that we live in a democracy in which opposing viewpoints have the right to be heard. Instead they proved the axiom that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Their changes to the fundamental character of Wisconsin have occurred so fast and furiously the media and progressive groups haven’t been able to keep up with them. Stories that would have grabbed headlines in prior years were buried in the avalanche of game-changing laws tumbling out of the Capitol.

For every legislative travesty that’s been publicized in time to stop it through public outcry — such as the measure to abolish the state’s open records law, which was slipped quietly into the budget on a Friday afternoon — there have been dozens of other reckless laws enacted. Wisconsin citizens are likely to discover many transgressive laws on the books in the coming year that no one except Scott Walker, the Legislature’s Republican leadership and a few of their corporate backers are even aware of.

There’s not enough room in this editorial to enumerate all of the new measures that go against the grain of Wisconsin’s history. But we can say with certainty that few of them have spurred our economy, which is what our current leaders vowed to do when they were voted into office.

Walker did not create anywhere near the 250,000 jobs he promised. The state has hovered near the bottom of job producers for most of his time in office. Wisconsin has the fastest shrinking middle class is the nation; median household income here has fallen at the nation’s highest rate since Walker took office.

Walker has doled out $279 million of taxpayer money in the form of tax credits — many more millions than are allowable under the law — to businesses that failed to create jobs, partly because they weren’t even required to do so in exchange for their corporate welfare. Some of that money has disappeared into thin air, leaving no trace of where it went. This is money that, along with Walker‘s tax cuts to the wealthy, was supposed to create jobs. Instead it left Wisconsin with a budget shortfall and without any way to restore Walker’s draconian cuts to education, the worst in the nation. It left the state with no way to repair its crumbling infrastructure or maintain its natural splendor. It left no money to accomplish the myriad of things required for the state to really grow its economy and maintain its quality of life.

In truth, Walker and the Republicans have paid scant attention to the economy. The majority of their efforts have gone toward appeasing corporate and right-wing special interests in order to keep themselves in power. And they’ve abused that power by getting rid of a panoply of laws passed to ferret out and prosecute political corruption. It’s impossible to believe politicians who prioritize eliminating government watchdog groups and related prosecutorial officers have their sights set on good deeds.

Instead of jobs, Walker and his GOP colleagues have focused on issues such as expanding gun ownership, fighting same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive freedom, eliminating environmental protections, telling people getting food stamps what they can buy, packing state government with inexperienced cronies, repealing laws involving fair wages, such as the equal pay law for women … the list feels endless and hopeless.

Scott Walker promised last year during his re-election campaign that he would not seek the presidency in 2016. But he was the first to throw his hat in the ring. He went on to neglect his responsibilities here and the lunacy of his public behavior and remarks made a laughingstock of Wisconsin.

He seemed to return to his lesser job angry and dejected — more determined than ever to reshape the state according to his impenetrable and conflicted ideals.

How well he’s succeeded.

The only hope for the future is that Democratic and Republican voters alike get out next year and vote for candidates they can trust to focus on the issues that are important to our collective future — and not to candidates who are intent only on furthering their personal interests and those of their patrons.

In Illinois as in Wisconsin, tax breaks to corporations have failed to create the promised jobs

Tax giveaways to corporations are a key component of the Republicans formula for job growth. But they’ve failed miserably in Wisconsin and now there’s evidence they’ve flopped in Illinois as well.

The Chicago Tribune analyzed (http://trib.in/1GnWjHk ) 783 deals the state has made through the Economic Development for a Growing Economy program and found that two-thirds of the companies that completed agreements didn’t maintain agreed-upon job levels.

State officials also can’t say how many jobs have been created by the program, known as EDGE, which Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wisely put on hold in June.

Since 1999, Illinois has promised more than $1 billion in EDGE tax breaks, which officials say helps lure new firms, hang onto employers who might move elsewhere and encouraging businesses to add jobs. Companies have so far collected about $450.3 million — money that, if collected, would help pay for public services such as education and health care.

Rauner’s move came this summer as he and the Democrats who control the General Assembly disagreed over a new state budget, though new deals the state reached with Amazon and ConAgra Foods before June have only been recently announced.

The Republican governor reiterated last week that, even when the EDGE program is restarted, the state won’t provide tax breaks unless companies create new jobs. At least 78 companies that have signed EDGE deals since 2004 were not required to add jobs, and at least 51 of those were made by the administration of Rauner’s predecessor, Democrat Pat Quinn.

But Rauner defended the tax breaks promised to ConAgra as crucial to the company’s plans to move its headquarters from Omaha, Nebraska, to Chicago. Neither ConAgra nor state officials have disclosed the terms of that deal beyond the requirement that the company add 150 new jobs.

“Getting corporate headquarters for a Fortune 500 company like ConAgra is a big deal long term to the economic growth in Illinois,” Rauner told The Associated Press. “And they will be adding jobs. We would not give them edge credits unless they were adding jobs.”

Recent headlines illustrate that some EDGE recipients not only don’t add new jobs, but cut employees. Mitsubishi received a new EDGE deal in 2011 but now plans to close its plant in Normal, cutting almost 1,200 jobs. Two more EDGE recipients also recently announced layoff plans: 500 jobs at Motorola Mobility in Chicago and 700 at Kraft Foods in Northfield.

Jim Schultz is the director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which oversees EDGE. He called the terms of many of the existing deals “very distasteful.”

David Vaught, a former Quinn budget chief and commerce director, told the newspaper that Quinn wanted to try “anything that could get us a job in a recession.” Some companies openly threatened to leave the state during the recession unless they received tax breaks.

When Quinn announced the $29 million deal with Mitsubishi, he proclaimed, “Illinois is Mitsubishi country and always will be.” But the company, which has received $5.2 million in tax breaks, plans to close the plant in November and move production overseas. A small staff will stay on through May, which could allow the car maker to avoid EDGE provisions requiring repayment if the company closes its Illinois facility within five years of signing the deal.

“When you’re in an economic emergency compounded by decades of financial recklessness, you fight to keep businesses and jobs in Illinois,” Quinn said in a statement defending deals he made.

Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who’s a longtime critic of EDGE tax breaks, calls the program “deeply flawed.”

“We have no idea what we’re getting in return in for our investment, and we don’t even know if anything works,” he said.

Wisconsinites who blame Gov. Scott Walker for the failure of his Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation should consider the mounting evidence that such programs simply don’t work. In Wisconsin, they’ve been nothing but gifts for Republicans’ cronies. Perhaps in Illinois, Democratic officials were the ones who made out like bandits.

It’s time to end pointless tax breaks for large corporations and the wealthy. In 30-plus years, it has never trickled down. It’s only squirted up.

Tax breaks must target the middle-class people who generate economic activity. They must be used for funding education, infrastructure and social programs — all of which help people who actually need the help.

GOP lawmakers remove Walker from his scandal-plagued jobs agency and ignore his request to seal off records

Republican lawmakers on the Legislature’s finance committee has plans to restructure Gov. Scott Walker’s struggling job creation agency WEDC. The committee has approved a plan to remove the governor as chairman, dramatically reduce the agency’s reserves and eliminate a program that would fund regional loans.

The move immediately drew praise from the committee’s minority Democrats. They declared that Republicans want to “fire” their own governor from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and demanded the GOP get even tougher on the agency.

“WEDC was part of the governor’s promise to create jobs. That promise has clearly been broken,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.

Republicans countered that Walker proposed removing all elected officials from the board in the state budget he introduced in February. They said he wants to depoliticize the agency and called on Democrats to dial back the rhetoric.

The committee debated the package for nearly three hours before voting. It passed 12–4, with all four Democrats on the committee voting against it.

The governor created WEDC in 2011 to serve as the state’s flagship economic engine. But the agency has been plagued by problems, including failing to track past-due loans, leadership turnover and blistering audits revealing mismanagement.

Walker included language in his budget that would have merged WEDC and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority into the Forward Wisconsin Development Authority, sealed off more of the new entity’s records, and allowed only people from the private sector to serve on the new agency’s board.

But criticism of WEDC has intensified over the last few weeks. An audit this month revealed the agency hasn’t followed state contract law and hasn’t demanded proof from grant and loan recipients that they’ve created jobs. This past week a newspaper reported that the agency awarded an unsecured $500,000 loan to a company controlled by a Walker campaign donor in 2011. The loan wasn’t used to create any jobs and still hasn’t been repaid.

Looking to blunt Democrats’ attacks as he prepares for a potential 2016 presidential bid, Walker has asked legislators to scrap the merger, end direct WEDC loans to businesses and use $55 million he set aside in the budget to fund loans to regional organizations for worker training instead.

Finance committee Republicans introduced a sweeping motion that would insert language in the budget wiping out the merger and removing the governor as board chairman. The board would be allowed to elect a member of the public as its leader.

WEDC would be required to reduce its reserves to one-sixth of its estimated annual administrative expenditures each year. The reserves would be reduced by $12 million in the upcoming fiscal year to reflect that change. The finance committee would control about $11.3 million of that money.

The agency would be required to distribute the remaining $750,000 in grants to the Midwest Energy Research Consortium; Northcentral Technical College; Prosperity Southwest Wisconsin, an economic development agency in that area; and the Marathon County Economic Development Corporation.

The plan also would eliminate the additional open records exemptions as well as the regional loans.

The proposal makes no mention of WEDC’s loan program. Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, the committee’s co-chairman, told reporters during a news conference that Republicans support “winding” the program down. He offered no specifics.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email to The Associated Press that the plan “is in line with prior actions,” pointing out the governor had proposed removing all elected officials from the Forward Wisconsin Development Authority.

“These provisions,” she said, “are not major departures from what the governor has proposed and discussed publicly.”

After four years in office, Walker blames state’s sluggish economy on ex-Gov. Jim Doyle and former Democratic leaders

Visiting with Minnesota Republicans last week, Gov. Scott Walker blamed Wisconsin’s lagging economy on former Gov. Jim Doyle, the Democrat who held office before Walker took over in 2010. On the other hand, he credited Minnesota’s booming economy to former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who preceded Democrat Mark Dayton. Like Walker, Dayton began his first term in 2010.

“You’ve had the advantage of other than a two-year period of having Republicans in charge of at least one part of government for some time. Before we came into office for many years, there was a Democrat governor, a Democrat assembly and a Democrat Senate,” Walker said after the closed-door meeting.

Therefore, Walker said, it was unfair to compare the success that Minnesota has enjoyed under a Democratic governor to the relative failure that Wisconsin has suffered under his leadership.

Minnesota’s jobless rate has consistently been lower than Wisconsin’s and never climbed as high during the Great Recession. Minnesota’s unemployment rate has tumbled from above 7 percent at Gov. Mark Dayton’s first election in 2010 to 3.7 percent now.

Wisconsin has trailed the national average in private-sector job growth since six months after Walker took office. Wisconsin’s job-growth rate was higher than the national average before he took office.

Walker fell short of a signature campaign promise to create 250,000 private-sector jobs, adding instead 145,000 new jobs. Wisconsin ranked 40th nationwide in private-sector job growth in the 12-month period ending in September.

As he tours the country, Walker has boasted that new businesses are starting up in Wisconsin at a higher rate than the rest of the country and that income growth for residents exceeds the national average. But his critics point out that many of those new businesses are home enterprises created by people who can’t find decent-paying jobs.

And the most recent U.S. census data (for 2009–2013) shows Wisconsin lagging the nation in both median household and per capita income.

Walker’s closed-door session with Minnesota legislators — and later gatherings with top business leaders and a conservative group — come as he nears an announcement on a White House campaign. He’s taken all the preliminary steps toward a bid, including hiring staff and taking repeated trips to states with early primaries. He’s traveled extensively abroad in recent months to be able to lay claim that he’s familiar with world affairs.

Walker has said a formal decision would come once Wisconsin lawmakers set a new budget, probably in early June. The policy-heavy budget proposed by Walker has stirred massive opposition, including within his own party. It has already resulted in significant job losses.

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Analysis: Walker’s presidential campaign cherry-picks economic data

Scott Walker has transformed Wisconsin politics, winning three elections in four years and signing laws that weaken unions, crippling a key ally of the Democratic Party.

But the likely Republican presidential contender has had less success changing Wisconsin’s economy and budget. The state lags in job growth and its budget faces a shortfall. It’s a record that complicates Walker’s path in early primary states as he sells his Wisconsin record as a showcase of what he’ll do for the nation.

“Most of his activity was more politically focused than economically, job-creation focused,” said John Torinus, a Milwaukee businessman and venture capitalist who nevertheless praises some of Walker’s moves. “He was going to concentrate on job creation with a laser-like focus and he got distracted.”

Wisconsin has added private-sector jobs at a lower rate than the national average since July 2011 — six months after Walker took office. Walker promised in the 2010 campaign that if elected his policies would create 250,000 private sector jobs. But only about 145,000 such jobs were created over his first four years.

Wisconsin ranked 40th in private sector job growth for the 12 months ending in September, said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Walker has called hiring in his state the “gold standard” for measuring his performance.

Still, the state has seen a higher rate of new businesses starting than the rest of the country and income growth for Wisconsin residents has exceeded the national average.

But at the same time, Wisconsin is in the top tier of states in which the middle class is rapidly shrinking, according to a state-by-state analysis conducted the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin households belonged to the middle class, which is defined as those earning between 67 percent and 200 percent of a state’s median income. By 2013, less than half — 48.9 percent — of Wisconsin households were defined as middle class. In Wisconsin, inflation-adjusted income fell from $60,344 in 2000 to $51,467 in 2013.

Walker, with the help of the state’s pervasive right-wing media, has cherry-picked data that paints a far rosier picture, and Walker’s many die-hard fans choose to believe only the positive numbers — even when their own lives reflect the contrary. They’ve become something of a personality cult, bristling at any information that reflects negatively on the governor.

As a result, Wisconsin is one of the most politically divided states in the nation, with a line drawn in quicksand between Walker’s die-hard faithful and progressives. The latter are alarmed by his massive cuts to education, huge tax giveaways to the very wealthy, relaxation of environmental regulations, the adoption of photo ID laws to give GOP candidates an electoral advantage and a host of other controversial policy moves. Others are angry over the constant questions of corruption and pay-for-play that hover over his political career.

Walker’s political group Our American Revival is concentrating on spinning his record as one of economic success.

“The governor is now taking his reform ideas that led to this economic success in Wisconsin and sharing them nationally,” said spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

Of course, not all of the state’s economic woes are Walker’s fault alone. Heavily reliant on manufacturing, Wisconsin has perennially lagged the nation in job creation and often used fiscal tricks to paper over budget deficits. Walker vowed to change that when he ran in 2010, but his latest budget resorts to the same tricks.

The Republican right adores Walker over his signature move, just six weeks into his first term in 2011, to curtail public unions’ collective bargaining power while also forcing them to pay more for pension and health care benefits.

Following weeks of protests, and the fleeing of Democratic state senators for three weeks to try to block a vote, Walker got his way. That drama, along with Walker’s 2012 recall victory and other laws he’s signed legalizing concealed weapons and last month’s right-to-work law are central in his stump speech, as he presents himself as a man of action with a record of conservative accomplishments.

M. Kevin McGee, an economist at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said Wisconsin’s job performance kept pace with its Midwestern peers until Walker took office. Then it fell behind. His theory: Walker’s public sector union moves, and subsequent benefit cuts, shocked those workers into cutting consumer spending.

“What happened here changed the behavior of enough people in the state that it affected economic growth,” McGee said.

Last year, facing forecasts of a nearly $1 billion increase in tax revenue, Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature passed an $800 million tax-cut package. The state is on pace to collect only about half of the tax revenue previously projected, exacerbating the latest budget problem.

“We dug our own hole,” said former state Sen Mike Ellis, a Republican, adding that he still thinks the fiscal picture is better than when Walker took office.

Heading into this year the state faced an $800 million shortfall just to continue spending at the current level and $2.2 billion when state agency requests were taken into consideration. Walker’s plan calls for more massive education cuts and borrowing more than $1 billion to pay for roads. The proposal has run into widespread opposition, including from Republicans.

Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said Walker’s initial budgets were responsible, but the more recent ones resemble those of his Democratic precedessor, Jim Doyle.

Berry said the state’s lackluster jobs record shows Walker overpromised in the campaign. Governors, he noted, rarely have a significant impact on job creation. “This slow rate of job growth is nothing new,” Berry said.

The Associated Press contributed to this analysis.


Wisconsin’s middle-class among fastest shrinking, and state’s job-growth rate sinks to bottom fifth

The middle class is shrinking in every state in America, and Wisconsin is in the top tier of those where the middle class has experienced the most severe erosion, according to a state-by-state analysis on the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline blog.

In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin households belonged to the middle class, which is defined as those earning between 67 and 200 percent of a state’s median income. By 2013, less than half — 48.9 percent — of Wisconsin households were defined as middle class.

The blog showed that median income dropped in most states during the same years. In Wisconsin, inflation-adjusted income fell from $60,344 in 2000 to $51,467 in 2013.

In addition to Wisconsin, Ohio, North Dakota, Nevada, and New Mexico experience the largest declines in middle-class households over the 13-year span. Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii suffered the least declines.

The analysis also showed that an increasing percentage of households are paying at least 30 percent of their total income on housing. In Wisconsin, 24 percent of households spent at last 30 percent of their income on housing in 2000, but by 2013 the rate had grown to 31 percent.

Meanwhile, new figures released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics contain yet more bad economic news for Wisconsin: The state has fallen into a tie for 38th place in private-sector job growth over the past year, trailing the neighboring states of Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa. The numbers, which are derived from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, reveal the state’s private-sector job growth rate at 1.16 percent —half the national rate of 2.3 percent.

New estimate projects $1.8-billion budget shortfall from Walker’s corporate tax cuts

A nearly $1.8 billion budget shortfall projected by a new report released yesterday provides yet more evidence that Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature have mismanaged the state’s finances, critics say.

The two-year budget that ends in June is projected to be nearly $396 million short after tax collections came in $281 million less than anticipated. The $1.8 billion shortfall is forecast for the next budget, which runs from July 2015 through June 2017.

The Legislature will have to address the deficits next year. All of the numbers are estimates and will change based on actual spending and tax collections in coming months.

Walker and legislative Republican leaders downplayed the latest bad news for the budget, while Democrats pressed them for details about how they planned to address it.

“We have a proven track record of managing the taxpayers’ money well,” said Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick. “By continuing to grow the economy, finding further efficiencies in government, continuing to eliminate waste, we will take care of any future structural issues.”

Walker’s Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, a former state Commerce Department secretary and Trek Bicycle executive, said the projected shortfall is the result of Walker’s “irresponsible approach” and “failed stewardship of a lagging economy.”

Walker and the Republican Legislature passed about $2 billion in tax cuts over the past three years, approving broad income and property tax reductions and an income tax cut targeting manufacturers. Critics complained that the lion’s share of the tax cuts went to Walker’s wealthy corporate out-of-state donors while taxes on the poor effectively increased.

“Governor Walker has spent money we don’t have,” Burke said in a statement. “In the business world, if a CEO created this big of a financial mess, he would be fired.”

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos accused Democrats of “looking for dark clouds on a sunny day.”

Since Walker took office, only about 103,000 private-sector jobs have been created in the state after about 133,000 were lost during the recession. Walker pledged during the 2010 campaign to create 250,000 private-sector jobs, a pledge he won’t come anywhere close to meeting. During his 2010 campaign, he urged voters to hold him to his pledge, but now he says that he never meant it to be taken literally.

Under Walker and the GOP, Wisconsin’s job growth has been about half the national average. The state ranks last in the upper Midwest for job creation during Walker’s term.

Although the unemployment rate has fallen, experts attribute that partly to people giving up on seeking jobs as well as people taking low-paying part-time jobs.

Walker and Republicans inherited a roughly $3 billion budget shortfall, which they plugged by making deep spending cuts to schools and local governments. Walker also used the shortfall to argue for passage of a law requiring most public workers to pay more for their pension and health care benefits while also taking away nearly all of their collective bargaining power.

The savings from those higher contributions helped schools and local governments deal with the other spending cuts.

Walker argues, as he runs for re-election, that he made the tough choices necessary to turn around the state’s economy, which his critics contend that he turned around from bad to worse.

Even in the face of the recent negative estimates, Walker and Republican legislative leaders have promised to take a similar approach to bring the budget into balance.

“Our local schools, small businesses and communities can’t afford to limp through another round of devastating budget cuts,” said Democratic state Sen. Jen Shilling, a member of the Legislature’s budget committee. She said the numbers definitively prove that Walker and Republicans’ approach has failed.

The Associated Press contributed to this article

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