Gov. Scott Walker spun a dream in his State of the State address, a dream we wish were true. The dream: Wisconsin’s economy is back.
“The Wisconsin comeback is real,” he said.
Well … not entirely. Yes, the unemployment rate is down, and the most recent monthly jobs report was stronger. But in reality, Wisconsin’s economy still is being outperformed by other states in the Upper Midwest.
The state ranked 32nd in private-sector job growth among the 50 states in the five-year period that ended in June, according to federal government figures released in December. During that period, which encompasses the entire recovery since the Great Recession, Wisconsin private-sector jobs increased only by 7.6 percent, while the national rate of job growth was 11.2 percent. Most nearby states did better than Wisconsin.
The sluggish growth is not necessarily Walker’s fault. No matter what powers he claims, a governor has limited options against the swirling winds of a global economy, particularly in a state still so reliant on heavy industry.
And the state continues to have a serious mismatch between available qualified workers and available jobs. Recognizing this, Walker said last week: “We must value our students who choose to be highly skilled welders, IT technicians or certified nursing assistants as much as we do those who choose to be doctors or lawyers. Each of these professions is vitally needed for a strong economy in Wisconsin,” he said. He’s right.
Walker should get credit for bringing discipline to state spending if not always in a thoughtful manner.
Walker has reduced taxes and cut spending, and while it’s a good thing to keep taxes in check, his spending cuts sometimes have harmed state services. We worry about Walker’s obsession with cutting higher education. Walker bragged about freezing tuition in his speech. But the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which educates more Wisconsin students than any other campus, faces wrenching decisions this spring as a result of that decision and spending cuts. That may harm students in the end.
We like the pilot program the governor mentioned in which students would get career planning earlier. That could be an important aid to families. We believe the idea of a three-year degree program that could start in high school may make sense and sounds like it could be an innovative way to reduce costs and get young people on the job sooner.
And we think that Walker’s statewide “listening sessions” this year are a good idea.
Walker could start, though, by listening to Democrats in the Legislature. He could start a new politics in Wisconsin by pledging to work with them on the issues that really matter: jobs, schools, higher education.
As Walker contemplates running for a third term, here’s hoping he’ll do what he says he’ll do this year: Listen, especially to those who may disagree with him.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL