In his bid for a third term as Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker is scrambling to create a positive narrative of his economic leadership. With worker shortages, fleeing millennials, a shrinking middle class, and a backward approach to almost everything, that’s a tall order.
Walker’s economic policies have been guided consistently by corporate-right think tanks and the demands of his wealthy donors. He’s followed an economic strategy that relies on tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, along with the elimination of environmental and consumer protections that businesses claim cut into their profits. But corporate profits are at an all-time high.
Walker’s economic game plan is virtually identical to the tax reform measure moving forward in the U.S. Congress. The heart of it is trickle-down economics, a disproven theory that’s been around for decades. It’s responsible for taking income inequality to an all-time high. With trickle-down, the rich have grown astronomically wealthier, the poor have gotten poorer, and the middle class has shrunk.
In fact, Wisconsin ranked first in the nation in the shrinkage of its middle class from 2000 to 2016.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says “home-grown” jobs contribute more than 80 percent of total job creation in every state. But Walker’s tax cuts mean nothing to such new businesses, because they have little taxable income in the beginning.
In fact, Walker's inattention to small businesses has resulted in stagnant economic growth in the state. Now he's giving $3 billion to Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, with the hope of creating 10,000 good jobs. But that money could have been used to support 10,000 homegrown start-ups in the state with loans of $300,000 each.
The Center also noted that massive tax cuts, such as those enacted by Walker, “take money away from schools, universities, and other public investments essential to producing the talented workforce that entrepreneurs require.”
That’s certainly proven true in Wisconsin, and now Walker’s facing the consequences. Foxconn needs a workforce much different than the state’s current one.
In fact, the state lacks workers, period. Wisconsin is in the top tier of states that are bleeding residents 40 and under — those at the prime working age. After seven years of this situation, Republicans are finally realizing how damaging the migration has been. They’re pivoting their message from promising new jobs to addressing the state’s workforce problem.
But the solution they’re offering is too little and too late: Walker is asking the Legislature for $6.8 million to spend on an ad campaign to attract the kind of qualified workers whom his policies have helped to drive away.
Shunning millennials and marching backward
Walker and his Republican majority have created a state that shuns millennial values and interests. We now live in a state that largely follows a fundamentalist Christian, far-right agenda. Science, conservation, birth control, reproductive freedom and stem-cell research are taboo here. The state’s Republican leaders fought a costly legal battle against same-sex marriage and now they’re trying to litigate which bathrooms transgender citizens must use.
Walker has diminished the state’s once-vaunted education system. He enacted the largest education cuts in the state’s history. He’s shifted funding from public schools to unaccountable voucher schools.
Walker has degraded the teaching profession by making licenses available for anyone who gets certified by a fast-track online program. College degrees and classroom training are no longer necessary to teach here. On Cyber Monday, an online company ran a sale offering Wisconsin alternative teaching certificates for $1,500.
Walker and his fellow Republican leaders also have dismantled the environmental regulations that made our air and water among the best in the nation. They’re selling our natural resources to the highest bidders.
Walker turned down federal funding for a high-speed rail connection to Madison as well as federal funding for rural broadband. He slashed funding for the Wisconsin Arts Board by two-thirds.
So, is it any surprise that millennials shun the state? In the Milwaukee area, there’s been a decline from 2010 to 2015 of almost 3 percent of suburban millennials and about 2 percent of urban ones. Those leaving are most likely headed to places that aren’t trying to turn back the clock.
A full account of the backward laws and policies enacted by Walker and the state’s Republican leaders would fill an encyclopedia. Suffice it to say that Walker is now scrambling to find good workers after sending them fleeing to 21st-century states.
It will take more than an ad campaign to lure them back. To achieve that goal, the state would have to reject Walker’s backwardness and move forward — embracing today’s realities and tomorrow’s possibilities.