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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jobs with Big Payoffs

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Many people in the state have to be baffled to see Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who campaigned on creating “jobs, jobs, jobs,” turn away billions of dollars that could create tens of thousands of jobs in Wisconsin.

Walker’s job creation record continues to be among the worst in the nation—42nd out of the 50 states—while the rest of the country experiences a growing economic recovery.

Despite his own poor jobs record, Walker recently publicly attacked Milwaukee, the state’s largest economic driver, and began advising Mayor Tom Barrett on how to create more jobs.

Walker said that unlike Barrett he’d spend his time and resources on economic development projects that put people to work.

"I'd spend more time focusing on helping develop jobs and improving the climate, streamline the processes, as opposed to picking battles at either the state or federal level,” Walker said.

Yet, in his second biennial budget, Walker offers little help. He froze state shared revenue for the city after he’d already drastically slashed it in his last budget.  

Punishing Milwaukee economically also hurts Wisconsin. If Walker were serious about creating “jobs, jobs, jobs,” he wouldn’t let political animosity toward Milwaukee get in the way of creating jobs anywhere.

But is creating jobs in Wisconsin really Walker’s highest priority? Despite what Walker says publicly, it’s clear that job creation is not really his primary interest.

Walker is far more interested in championing right-wing ideology than in creating jobs for Wisconsin. But it’s not just ideological. There’s something much more corrupt at work.

That’s why Walker’s criticism of Milwaukee was so blatantly dishonest. Milwaukee invested millions of dollars in developing an industrial site in the heart of the city’s economically depressed black community so that it could attract the first major new industry in decades.

And it succeeded. Talgo, a Spanish train car company, opened its doors to manufacture train cars for a multi-billion dollar expansion of a nationwide high-speed rail system.

It was launched with an $810 million federal grant to Wisconsin that was a rare bipartisan achievement for two previous state governors, Republican Tommy Thompson and Democrat Jim Doyle.

When Thompson was governor and chairman of the board of Amtrak, he enthusiastically supported high-speed rail and made sure Wisconsin was at the center of a Midwest system connecting St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities.

When Walker became governor, he immediately trashed that huge economic windfall. He turned down the entire $810 million that would have created at least 13,000 jobs and even more economic development along the improved rail corridors throughout the state. Walker sent all that money and those jobs to other states.

The same thing happened again when Walker turned down even more federal money—$4.38 billion through 2020—to expand Medicaid health coverage for poor Wisconsinites.

Besides insuring more than 200,000 of Walker’s constituents, those funds would have added an estimated 10,000 new health care jobs, many in Milwaukee.

 

GOP Legislators Cash in on Mining Bill

After turning down billions of dollars creating more than 23,000 jobs, this week Walker signed his major job creation bill.

The law removes state environmental protections to encourage open pit iron mining in northwestern Wisconsin. No one can trust the wildly escalating jobs numbers supporters make up, but the mining company itself estimated it would create 700 jobs.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby, said it could take five to seven years to create any jobs, probably longer when environmentalists start filing lawsuits.

What kind of economic sense does that make? Why would Walker turn down billions that would create tens of thousands of jobs and concentrate instead on promoting an environmentally destructive industry that may or may not create several hundred jobs years from now?

The answer is simple and not very pretty. Those billions of dollars from the federal government to create jobs didn’t come with any payoffs to the governor and Republican legislators. Deregulating the mining industry does.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign contributions, reports that from 2010 through about mid-2012, mining bill supporters contributed $11.34 million to Walker and another $4.25 million to members of the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Topping the legislative recipients was Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills, who accepted $467,293 from mining interests. Darling spent a record $1.23 million in 2011 fighting off a recall challenge from Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch.

Darling’s haul topped by more than $150,000 the mining money contributed to the second place recipient, the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate. It got $313,413.

You can bet further reports will show even more millions in anti-environment, pro-mining gratitude to the governor and the Legislature for a job well done.

Walker and Republican legislators may not create very many jobs for Wisconsin, but the few jobs they do create pay off handsomely for themselves.