Other Views: Reality differs from Walker’s economic claims

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Rep. Debra Kolste
Saturday, January 28, 2017

President Obama’s critics have ripped him for the performance of the economy. Sure unemployment is low, the critics acknowledge. But, the critics say, wage growth is slow and many discouraged workers have stopped looking for jobs.

But what of Wisconsin’s recovery under Gov. Scott Walker?

Wisconsin’s economy has recovered at half the rate of the Obama national economy. Wisconsin’s economic performance trails the Midwest and most of the nation, even though Walker has enjoyed a compliant Legislature for his entire tenure.

The governor boasted in his State of the State message about rock bottom Wisconsin unemployment.

But six years into the Walker regime, his strategy has produced fewer than half the new jobs he promised by 2014. Unemployment is low, partly because people of working age are leaving the state.

The governor cherry-picks numbers from the depths of the recession to tout economic growth and jobs performance. In truth, state wage levels remain below pre-recession levels. The median Wisconsin income is 1.9 percent lower than in 2005.

Wisconsin ranks last nationally in entrepreneurial start-ups. Our economy trails Midwest neighbors in nearly every measurable factor. Walker’s most stunning accomplishment has been to convince some Wisconsinites that “it’s working.”

It isn’t. Without creative statistical analysis, it is impossible to cite where the Walker magic has worked. His signature political triumph has been passing Act 10. But punishing teachers and other public employees hasn’t produced an economic boom.

Property taxes grew by 2.2 percent under Walker, despite a freeze. One reason is that voters in school districts and municipalities statewide are passing referendums. People see roads and schools crumbling for lack of funding and they vote to tax themselves.

Municipalities impose wheel taxes, higher dumping fees and other fees, and those are taxes, too. They are not counted as property tax hikes, but that is what they are. Not only that, but it costs Wisconsin residents more to use state parks and soon it may cost more to hunt and fish.

The sliver of good news is that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau now projects higher 2017 state revenues. But projections are not the same as dollars, and two-thirds of the projected windfall comes from skipped debt payments and national economic growth.

Another truth is that Wisconsin’s roads and bridges are rotting away because Walker lacks the will to identify a funding source. When Walker took office, his transportation secretary studied road funding options. The governor rejected all the various alternatives, and six years later nothing has been done.

Walker’s strategy has been to borrow money and delay roadwork. That strategy will bring the transportation fund shortfall to $3 billion by 2027. Bad roads, stalled projects and booming debt.

Is that conservative government?

The strategy of hoping the transportation crises solves itself while divesting in public schools and taking an axe to our universities has not boosted Wisconsin’s economy or prospects for the future.

The Walker program has been in force for years. The economic and administrative failures belong to him.

Rep. Debra Kolste, a Democrat from Janesville, represents the 44th Assembly District.


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