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Guest views: Governor has little impact on economy

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June 20, 2014

The latest jobs numbers for Wisconsin are out, so that must mean it’s time for the political recriminations.

Here’s what the statistics show: Wisconsin gained a few jobs last year—very few—and still trails the U.S. average for job growth, as it has for three years, nearly the entire term of Gov. Scott Walker.

So, it has to be Walker’s fault, right?

Sorry, but A+B doesn’t equal C—not in this case.

The state’s economy is vastly more complicated than such a simplistic and politically expedient explanation.

Wisconsin gained 28,141 private-sector jobs in 2013, a 1.2 percent increase, and the state ranked 37th in the pace of job creation. In 2012, Wisconsin was 36th; it was 35th in 2011.

Nationally, private-sector jobs were created at a rate of 2.1 percent during 2013, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those statistics, known as the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, are considered the most credible and comprehensive gauge of job growth. The data are based on a canvas of 96 percent of the nation’s employers in the public and private sectors.

A governor can affect a state’s economy by his or her policy decisions. A big cut in the budgets of technical schools now might mean fewer tech school graduates later, which could affect the ability of companies to fill jobs. Walker’s controversial policies to turn down $800 million in federal aid for a high-speed train or to eviscerate collective bargaining for public employees certainly had some impact. But it’s rarely a straight line from gubernatorial action to economic result.

Consider, too, that Wisconsin has consistently trailed the national average for job creation for a decade across both Republican and Democratic administrations. Sluggish growth here is, sadly, nothing new.

The real reason for the state’s sluggish job growth likely has to do with Wisconsin’s economic mix—the types of companies that do business here. The state is reliant on older, mature industries, such as paper and pulp, manufacturing and metal bending, that aren’t growing very fast or even are contracting in the face of global competition. Wisconsin needs more entrepreneurs willing to take risks; it needs more young, growing companies.

Walker was foolish to promise that the state would create 250,000 private-sector jobs by the end of his first term—a promise he’s saddled with and which will not be kept. It was a political gamble, and he should be held accountable for it. But we didn’t believe then, and certainly don’t believe now, that his actions are the main reason jobs are created. They are not.

We’ve disagreed with this governor on many issues. He has frequently been short-sighted, hard-headed and politically over-eager to the detriment of public policy. But we also believe in being fair: We see no evidence that Walker’s policies have made more than a marginal difference, for better or worse, on Wisconsin’s economy.

—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel



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