Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Welcome to Scott Walker's Wisconsin, Mr. President


Later today, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will welcome President Barack Obama to the Badger State, where Obama is traveling to announce a new Labor Department rule requiring companies to pay their employees overtime rates for overtime pay, just as federal law has demanded for some 80 years now.

Obama's choice of Wisconsin is not accidental. Apparently, the White House sees Walker as a useful foil in its effort to contrast Democratic proposals to help working Americans with those that are championed by Walker and fellow Republican governors.

Walker in turn is thrilled by the attention, because there is nothing that an ambitious Republican politician wants more than to be picked on by Barack Obama. In a column headlined "Welcome to Wisconsin, Mr. President,", the governor claims that Wisconsin's "dramatic recovery" offers the nation a model of what conservative policies and leadership can do for the economy.

For example, Walker brags that as of February, Wisconsin now has more jobs than at any previous point in state history. While that's nice, the national economy hit that landmark back in April 2014. He also claims that over the past four years, his policies have "turned a $3.6 billion budget deficit into a nearly $1 billion surplus."

Apparently, that latter claim comes as quite a surprise to the people of Wisconsin and to the Republican legislators stuck still trying to pass a state budget. To them, that $1 billion surplus looks suspiciously like a $2.2 billion deficit. It turns out that like their counterparts in Kansas, Walker and his allies built their budgets on the assumption that their conservative policies would produce an economic boom, which in turn would flood the state treasury with revenue. The boom hasn't happened, and neither has the revenue increase.

In April, a statewide poll conducted by the Marquette Law School reported that just 41 percent of Wisconsin residents approved of Walker's performance as governor; 56 percent disapproved. (It also showed Walker losing in his home state to Hillary Clinton by 12 percentage points, 52-40.)

And why is Walker's job rating so dismal? The economy.

"Voters also see the state’s employment situation as turning down compared to other states, with 52 percent saying that Wisconsin is lagging behind other states in job creation, 34 percent saying that the state is doing about the same as other states and 8 percent saying that the state is creating jobs faster than other states."

Just 8 percent believe that Wisconsin job growth is better than average?

Of course, since perception isn't always reality, I thought I would take a look at the data to see how the Wisconsin economy has performed since January 2011, when Walker became governor. I wanted to see two things: How total job growth under Walker's anti-union, education-slashing policies compare to those of neighboring states in the upper Midwest, and how it compares to job growth nationally.

Here's what the data tell us:

At his first inauguration, Walker had pledged to create some 250,000 new jobs by 2015. He didn't reach half that number. He promised the creation of 10,000 new businesses. Last month, Wisconsin was ranked last in the country in business startups, a fall of five spots from its previous ranking of 45th.

Welcome to Scott Walker's Wisconsin, the model for Republican economic policy.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.