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No campaign promise by Gov. Scott Walker was more bold than his assurance he would bring 250,000 new jobs to Wisconsin. Not part-time or temp jobs, but “permanent jobs…family supporting jobs,” as he put it in an interview with Fox 11 TV news in Green Bay, thereby upping the degree of difficulty. The reality is […]

No campaign promise by Gov. Scott Walker was more bold than his assurance he would bring 250,000 new jobs to Wisconsin. Not part-time or temp jobs, but “permanent jobs…family supporting jobs,” as he put it in an interview with Fox 11 TV news in Green Bay, thereby upping the degree of difficulty.

The reality is that Wisconsin’s economy doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is heavily dependent on the nation’s. Wisconsin, if anything, is even more likely than the average state to see its employment rise and fall in concert with the American economy, as a recent analysis found. “Over the last several years,” the Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance concluded, “the state’s job gains and losses were more closely related to national changes than all but 12 states. During the 2007-09 recession, job losses in Wisconsin (-5.1 percent) and the nation (-5.4 percent) were similar. Since January 2010, job gains here (1.6 percent) have also tracked the U.S. (1.4 percent).”

Walker’s contention, however, is that by radically changing the state, by slashing taxes and increasing incentives for business, he can stand out from the nation and outscore other states in gaining jobs. Perhaps, but if that is the approach, we need to consider the impact of these changes on all employment.  If tax cuts eliminate the jobs of teachers and professors along with increasing the number of private sector jobs, the net impact on the total number of family supporting jobs could be a wash.

Even on his own terms of increasing private sector jobs by 250,000, Walker isn’t doing very well. Each month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does a Politifact update on this issue and found that through the month of October, Walker had added 20,100 new jobs since January. His own administration, the Department of Revenue, has predicted that by 2014, the state will have added only 136,000 private sector jobs, far short of Walker’s promise.

But the results look worse when you look at all jobs. The liberal Center on Wisconsin Strategy measures all employment, private and public, and has found that from January through October the net gain is just 11,200 jobs. Meanwhile, population estimates show that the job-eligible population in Wisconsin, those 16 and older, rose by 17,943. So the increase in total jobs is actually falling behind the increase in potential workers.

Some conservatives, I suspect, would reject the idea that you should measure all employment. But if slashing taxes and government jobs only results in enough private sector employment to offset the cuts in public jobs, it’s a completely ineffective way of lowering unemployment. It’s of no value to a voter to have lower taxes but no job. Nor are businesses likely to locate in a state where taxes are low but schools and universities are in decline. Surveys have long shown that well-trained workers, powerhouse universities, good transportation (from highways to rail) and other kinds of government-created infrastructure are more important to businesses than the relative tax level.

Most people would agree we need both a vibrant private and public sector in Wisconsin if this is to be a great state. The daunting question is how to balance the two. An approach that simply measures private sector employment changes doesn’t even bother to try.

How Charging Protesters Could Boomerang

Call me naïve, but I was shocked by last week’s announcement by the Walker administration that it would henceforth require any protests by a group of four or more people to give 72 hours notice of their intent to protest and pay all costs of extra policing required. 

Walker’s people say they are simply clarifying laws that are already on the books. But anyone reasonably versed in state history knows there has been a long history of protests, going back many decades, where people did not give three days notice and were not charged for police costs. Last winter’s pro-labor protests cost an estimated $8 million in police overtime. Methinks Thomas Jefferson is rolling over in his grave at the idea of charging the bill to protesters. Whether its conservative Tea Party protesters or liberal opponents of Walker, the net effect is to curtail free expression. The first time the administration moves to enforce this, you can expect a court challenge.  

Opponents could argue the 72-hour notice has a chilling effect, curtailing any spontaneous expression of free speech. They could also argue that charging the costs of policing essentially creates a situation where only well-financed groups or individuals can afford to protest.

Beyond the policy question is one of politics, and I question the timing of Walker. Here is a governor who both parties predict will be subject to a recall election. This will be a duel over whose vision is more out of touch with average voters, and Walker decides to become the Grinch who stole the right to protest? This is just handing his opponents more ammunition and frankly may leave some moderates wondering whether Walker has gone off the deep end. Weren’t there any advisors to suggest the governor at least wait until after the election to pull this stunt?

The Buzz

-Republican assemblyman Jeff Stone, who lost the race for Milwaukee County Executive to Chris Abele last spring, did not rule out running against him again this spring in a recent JS article. But at last Thursday’s Press Club event, Stone was overheard assuring Abele he wasn’t going to run.

-Democratic State Sen. Tim Cullen, who announced last week that he would consider running in a recall election against Walker, could be a very interesting candidate. He has a background in business and worked in the administration of Gov. Tommy Thompson in the 1980s. He could sell himself as the antidote to the poisonous partisanship in Madison, which could have real appeal.

-MATC union leader Mike Rosen’s Sunday op-ed in the JS offers an interesting take on why manufacturers who now need workers can’t find them: After decades of layoffs and exporting jobs to states and nations outside the Rustbelt, these companies have fostered a generation of students seeking more dependable – and better paying – employers. 

-The Sunday JS story on racial disparities in traffic stops by the Milwaukee Police was far better balanced and sensible than its previous watchdog stories on how the department disciplines bad officers and how quickly it responds to citizen calls.  But the net effect of this blitzkrieg of front-page reports is to suggest to casual readers that this is a horrible police department and police chief that need constant watch dogging. If that’s not the paper’s intention, its editors might want to rethink what they are doing.  

-County Supervisor Eyon Biddle Sr., sent me a good humored response to my essay about his style of attacking opponents:  “As an elected official there are still some wrinkles in my approach, but I am evolving and learning more as the days go by,” Biddle wrote.  

-Are state legislators – and JS editorials – going overboard in their support for more reporting of child abuse? Pressroom Buzz considers.

-And the new national media darlings are the Marquette Golden Eagles. So sayeth the Sports Nut

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