When Scott Walker ran for Wisconsin governor in 2010, he vowed to create 250,000 jobs during his first term. The political cognoscenti rolled their eyes — generally, candidates are better served not propose such specific goals, in order to avoid a “read my lips” type of situation in the event the goal isn’t met. Moreover, the state had lost 150,000 jobs under his predecessor — the state’s economy would have to be dramatically better during his term than it was in the last. But as we then learned in the next two years, Walker is never afraid to buck convention.
Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released some jobs numbers that caught the gleeful attention of liberals, because they showed Wisconsin lagging behind neighboring states in job creation. According to the BLS, in Walker’s first two years, Wisconsin has gained up to 60,000 jobs — better than the losses under the last administration, but well short of the pace needed to reach his goal. Despite the slow growth, though, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate of 7.2 percent remains well below the national unemployment rate of 7.7 percent.
These numbers have caught the attention of the folks at websites such as The National Memo, and they’re gleefully celebrating the slow jobs growth under Walker’s reign. In a post that serves as a bouillabaisse of liberal gripes about Walker, they mock his contention that the political unrest of the past two years may have contributed to employer uncertainty. They complain that Walker’s new budget cuts taxes for the rich in the state (it does not), and that Walker’s previous budget cut taxes for businesses (which it did, but only for businesses that moved into the state and created jobs.)
Those looking to criticize Walker are happy to pretend job creation is something entirely under the governor’s control, as if Walker sits around his office muttering “now where did I put that ‘create jobs’ button again?” But obviously, a state’s economy is much more complex than that.
Consider Wisconsin’s tax situation when Walker took office. Despite his attempts to trim business taxes while also closing a $3.6 billion deficit in 2011, business taxes in Wisconsin remain high. According to a report just released by the Tax Foundation, Wisconsin has the fifth worst business climate in the nation. USA Today reported:
Wisconsin collected $149 in corporate income taxes per capita, in the top third of all states. In addition, the state brought in $1,128 in individual income taxes per capita, the 10th highest of all states. The Tax Foundation lists Wisconsin as a state where job growth has been hampered by taxes. The state’s unemployment rate, however, was lower than the national rate in January.
So if anything, it seems Wisconsin’s slow growth is attributable to its suffocating taxes and regulations, not because Walker has been handing out tax breaks to big-business cronies. Furthermore, the rest of the nation’s governors are moving toward lower business taxes and more favorable regulations, too, in order to lure other states’ jobs away — for instance, right next door, Michigan governor Rick Snyder has lowered taxes and signed “right to work” legislation.
Before Walker’s recall election last June, Democrats hammered him for the state’s slow jobs growth. (The issue of collective bargaining completely faded away, because polling had showed it to be a loser.) The voters didn’t seem to hold Walker responsible, since they reelected him with a greater margin than they had in 2010. It’s unclear whether Wisconsin will gain enough jobs in the next two years for the voters to give Walker a pass, since it seems almost impossible that he’ll meet his goal. But his opponents can be darn sure of one thing — he will do what he thinks will get him there.