Keep the Walker economy going

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer in Wisconsin, has come and gone. The kids are back in school. Even some of the more eager leaves have begun to turn as a reminder that winter is looming on the horizon. Also looming is the November election, when Wisconsin’s voters will decide whether to change the direction of our state or stay the course.

Gov. Scott Walker has a great case to make for his re-election, but many voters have become complacent after so many years of success. Too often, politics is about “what have you done for me lately.” Walker and the legislative Republicans have made tremendous improvements in preserving and expanding civil rights, protecting life, education reform and many other areas of government. But with the limited space available in this column, let us look deeper at Wisconsin’s economy under Walker.

In 2010, the year that Scott Walker was elected as governor, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stood at 8.7 percent. Over a quarter-million Wisconsinites were looking for work and could not find it. Per capita income had fallen to $38,598. Businesses were fleeing Wisconsin due to the inflexible regulatory climate, a hostile government and oppressive taxes. The state budget was running yet another massive deficit and voters were facing another round of tax increases.

Fast forward to July 2018 — after almost two full terms of Walker. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stands at 3.1 percent — a rate below what many economists consider full employment. There are more than 300,000 more Wisconsinites working now than there were in 2010, and they are earning more. Per capita income in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, is up to $46,762 — an increase of more than $8,000 per person and the most recent economic data coming from federal number crunchers indicates that income growth is accelerating with sustained high employment.

One might be tempted to dismiss these economic comparisons as unfair given the entire nation’s economy is booming. That is true and a reason that voters should also return Republican majorities to the Congress, but Wisconsin is even doing better under Walker than most other states.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin’s percent growth in privatesector jobs in July ranked seventh nationally and first in the Midwest. Our state’s July unemployment rate tied for the seventh lowest in the nation. In the manufacturing industry, Wisconsin ranked fifth nationally in percent growth in jobs over the last year and gained the second-most manufacturing jobs in the last six months.

The evidence is clear that while the nation’s economy is enjoying fabulous growth in jobs and wages, Wisconsin is one of the states leading the pack.

The vast majority of Wisconsin’s economic success is due to the millions of Wisconsinites who work hard, build businesses and create value in the global market. State government’s policies can either retard the innate economic prowess of Wisconsin’s people or help create an environment where that prowess can be let loose. The policies that Walker enacted during his first two terms have enabled Wisconsinites to flex their economic muscles.

For example, Walker set about immediately cutting state regulations and reining in the fearsome Department of Natural Resources. He signed the law making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, thus freeing the people from forced unionization. Walker cut taxes and improved Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps most importantly, Walker’s pro-business attitude has permeated state government. During the Jim Doyle era, Wisconsin had a well-earned reputation for being hostile to business. Companies that dared to open in the state were threatened with costly regulations, a DNR that would deny permits and slam them with fines for the most inconsequential infraction and politicians who would cluck their tongues if they were not the “right kind” of jobs.

Under Walker, the state has struck a better regulatory balance that protects the interests of all Wisconsinites — including those who want to work. State agencies still enforce all of the laws and regulations, but do so by helping businesses comply instead of crushing them with fines. When businesses run into some problem with state government, a state regulator is more likely to pick up the phone and ask, “How can I help?” That matters to business owners who are just trying to grow their businesses the best they know how.

Finally, unlike the previous governor, Walker actively recruits businesses to move to Wisconsin. There is no doubt that had it not been for Walker aggressively recruiting Foxconn, that multibillion-dollar investment would have gone to another state. Walker not only asked for the business, he closed the deal. A lesser governor would not have succeeded.

Wisconsin’s economy has made a complete turnaround under Walker and is heading in the right direction. It is a mistake to think that the state’s economy will continue in that direction under Tony Evers. Leadership matters and Wisconsin’s economy needs Walker to remain at the helm.