Then and now

Dan O’Donnell:

A new report from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce concludes that when Wisconsin’s massive new Foxconn plant is fully operational, it will increase the state’s gross domestic product by a whopping $51.5 bill over the next 15 years.  That amounts to roughly $3.4 billion per year and represents an $18 return on every $1 the state will spend on Foxconn tax incentives.

Just a day before that report was released, the Wisconsin Department of Labor announced that the state’s unemployment rate had dropped to an all-time low of 2.9% in February.

Both are cause for celebration in the Walker Administration, as both serve as validation of his economic agenda.  Just as importantly, though, both should serve as a reminder of how far Wisconsin has come under Republican rule after the disastrous reign of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle and a Democrat-controlled Legislature.

While Walker and the Republican Legislature have presided over a steadily declining unemployment rate that hit a record low last month, at the exact same time in Governor Doyle’s tenure–February of 2010–the state’s unemployment rate was at a near-record high of 9.1% (Incidentally, the record high of 9.2% was set the previous month.)

Today, initial unemployment claims are at their lowest level in at least 30 years, while continuing unemployment claims are at their lowest level since 1973.  Under Governor Doyle, Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance trust fund was more than $1 billion in debt.

Wisconsin’s total workforce participation rate now is higher than at any point in Wisconsin’s history, with a total of 3.075 million people now working.  At the same point in Governor Doyle’s second term, Wisconsin had 133,943 fewer jobs than at the end of Governor Doyle’s first term in 2006.

Fewer people were working, and those who were were earning less than they are now. Wages under Governor Walker are higher than they were under Governor Doyle (even adjusted for inflation).  Even Politifact had to (grudgingly) concede that “adjusting for inflation, the average wage is higher under Walker than it was when Doyle left office in 2010.”

It should be pointed out that the unemployment measure used here is too low. The correct measure is U6 — unemployment, underemployment (people working part-time who want to work full-time) and those who have stopped looking for full-time work. That seasonally adjusted national U6 rate in February was 8.2 percent. The feds don’t measure state U6 numbers, so we don’t know what Wisconsin’s U6 unemployment is.

The feds have measured U6 unemployment since 1994. The federal U6 number throughout 2010 ranged from 16.4 to 17.1 percent. The current U6 number is the lowest it has been since May 2007.

It also should be pointed out that for significant periods of Doyle’s term in office, the state unemployment rate was higher than the nation’s. The point here is that however measured, as measured by how unemployment is measured in the U.S. and in every state, this state is doing better than the nation and most states.

In large measure, this is because Governor Walker’s policies have been infinitely more business-friendly than Governor Doyle’s.  In 2010, Chief Executive Magazine ranked Wisconsin the ninth-worst state in America in which to do business.  Today, at the same point in Governor Walker’s second term, Wisconsin is ranked in the Top 10 for the first time ever.

It turns out that improving a state’s business climate, which results in more employment and less unemployment, requires business-friendly government policies. Liberals hate to read or hear that fact.

The State of Wisconsin’s financial health is just as strong as that of its citizens under Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature as well.  The state currently has a $579 million surplus in its main account and projects to finish the current 2017-2019 biennial budget cycle with a $385.2 million surplus. By contrast, under Governor Doyle Wisconsin ran a $2.7 billion budget deficit (after Doyle himself estimated in 2008 that the deficit could be as massive as $5 billion).

So dire was the financial situation that the Doyle Administration routinely raided the state’s transportation fund, eventually transferring a total of nearly $1.3 billion between 2003 and 2010 to try to plug near-constant budget gaps.  In October of 2007, the state even raided $200 million from the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund–money that was supposed to be held in trust for the victims of medical malpractice or accidents–a move the the State Supreme Court later determined to be unlawful and ordered Doyle to repay it.

Today, however, there is no need for budget raids. Wisconsin is running a budget surplus, and the Foxconn deal Governor Walker struck is estimated to add $3.4 billion per year to the state’s GDP. Business is booming and Wisconsinites are working in record numbers because Walker, unlike Doyle, is allowing Wisconsin to work by enacting policies that allow businesses to do business freely in Wisconsin.

After nearly eight years of those policies–unlike after eight years of Governor Doyle’s failures–it’s clear that Walker’s and the Republican Legislature’s brand of fiscal conservatism works for Wisconsin. It works, period.

So today, eight months before a gubernatorial election; with so much economic progress already having been made, one has to ask: why would Wisconsin ever think about turning back now?

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