Matt Pommer: Walker campaign shifts gears

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Matt Pommer
September 3, 2014

Gov. Scott Walker's re-election campaign has shifted gears on the issue of private-sector job growth in Wisconsin.

His new TV ads focus on how Wisconsin is doing compared to other states in one month. Democratic ads have cited federal statistics over a three-year period that show Wisconsin ranking last among 10 Midwestern states. Walker's TV ads say Wisconsin is third among 12 Midwestern states.

Interestingly, the new approach is the same one that the Walker administration denounced just 14 months earlier because fewer than 4 percent of employers are involved in making the monthly estimates.

A Walker administration press release in June of 2013 said: “The monthly job estimates are flawed and a poor indicator of economic outlook in Wisconsin. Thus any study or ranking using the monthly estimate should be viewed with increased scrutiny.”

A more accurate picture is reflected by the federal government's quarterly census of employers and wages, the Walker administration said last year. That is the database that Democrats cite in their ads.

More important, the new Walker approach will enable conservative radio talk shows to hail job growth under the Walker administration. That should help maintain the governor's right-wing base of support. The latest Marquette University Law School poll shows Walker in a dead-heat with Democratic gubernatorial challenger Mary Burke.

Using a new set of numbers is different for the Walker campaign. During the early months of the campaign, the employment issue was met by arguing that Walker's job growth record is a lot better than that of former Democrat Jim Doyle, who was governor when the recession hit. Burke had served in Doyle's cabinet.

Walker had been so confident of that approach that he said voters would not hold it against him for failing to fulfill his 2010 campaign promise of creating 250,000 private-sector jobs in four years in office. Latest numbers suggest Walker may not even reach half of the campaign promise.

New federal numbers are due out next week. Both sides are likely to find something they like in the upcoming data. Stay tuned.

Other economic issues also are elbowing their way into the gubernatorial campaign. State government tax receipts are $281 million below budget estimates. Democrats argue that Republicans should have focused tax-cutting efforts on the property tax rather than the income tax.

Walker has brushed aside criticism of the revenue picture, saying economic growth and reduced spending should solve that problem.

 This summer new estimates of Medicaid spending under Walker's approach soared to more than $200 million for the current biennium. Walker had rejected the full expansion of Medicaid that was developed under the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010.

Full expansion requires coverage of people up to 138 percent of federal poverty standards. The federal government is paying the full cost of that expansion through 2016, declining to 90 percent in future years. Walker's approach covers those up to 100 percent of the poverty level. The feds pay just 59 percent of the Wisconsin approach.

Rejecting federal money has become an issue in other states with Republican governors. News accounts indicated that the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, who is facing a difficult re-election effort, was moving his state toward a full Medicaid expansion with 100 percent federal funding.

Pennsylvania Democrats and several newspapers had asked why their state should be rejecting full funding when other states are taking it. That question has not bubbled to the top of many Wisconsin editorial pages.

Matt Pommer writes this Wisconsin Newspaper Association weekly state government newsletter. He is dean of the state Capitol correspondents, having covered government action in Madison for 36 years. Readers can contact Pommer at mpommer@sbcglobal.net.

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