- Associated Press - Thursday, June 19, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 19

Lousy job growth and Gov. Scott Walker

The latest jobs numbers for Wisconsin are out, so that must mean it’s time for the political recriminations.

Here’s what the statistics show:

Wisconsin gained a few jobs last year - very few - and still trails the U.S. average for job growth, as it has for three years, nearly the entire term of Gov. Scott Walker.

So, it has to be Walker’s fault, right?

Sorry, but A plus B doesn’t equal C - not in this case.

The state’s economy is vastly more complicated than such a simplistic and politically expedient explanation.

Wisconsin gained 28,141 private-sector jobs in 2013, a 1.2 percent increase, and the state ranked 37th in the pace of job creation. In 2012, Wisconsin was 36th; it was 35th in 2011.

Nationally, private-sector jobs were created at a rate of 2.1 percent during 2013, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those statistics, known as the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, are considered the most credible and comprehensive gauge of job growth. The data are based on a canvas of 96% of the nation’s employers in the public and private sectors.

A governor can affect a state’s economy by his or her policy decisions. A big cut in the budgets of technical schools now might mean fewer tech school graduates later, which could affect the ability of companies to fill jobs. Walker’s controversial policies to turn down $800 million in federal aid for a high-speed train or to eviscerate collective bargaining for public employees certainly had some impact. But it’s rarely a straight line from gubernatorial action to economic result.

Consider, too, that Wisconsin has consistently trailed the national average for job creation for a decade across both Republican and Democratic administrations. Sluggish growth here is, sadly, nothing new.

The real reason for the state’s sluggish job growth likely has to do with Wisconsin’s economic mix - the types of companies that do business here. The state is reliant on older, mature industries, such as paper and pulp, manufacturing and metal bending, that aren’t growing very fast or even are contracting in the face of global competition. Wisconsin needs more entrepreneurs willing to take risks; it needs more young, growing companies.

Walker was foolish to promise that the state would create 250,000 private-sector jobs by the end of his first term - a promise he’s saddled with and which will not be kept. It was a political gamble, and he should be held accountable for it. But we didn’t believe then, and certainly don’t believe now, that his actions are the main reason jobs are created. They are not.

We’ve disagreed with this governor on many issues. He has frequently been short-sighted, hard-headed and politically over-eager to the detriment of public policy. But we also believe in being fair: We see no evidence that Walker’s policies have made more than a marginal difference, for better or worse, on Wisconsin’s economy.


Wisconsin State Journal, June 18

Train talk worth pursuing

It sounds good. Maybe a little too good.

A group of rail enthusiasts called All Aboard Wisconsin is exploring a passenger rail line between Madison and Chicago. The group says its idea wouldn’t require state or federal money. It could use existing tracks and start rolling in six to eight months at speeds approaching 80 mph.

Let’s keep the conversation going and see if a solid plan materializes.

With the group’s reasonable parameters, Madison and the state have little to lose. And the potential gain for our citizens and economy is a new and convenient connection to the Midwest’s largest city.

The central question is whether such a venture is financially feasible.

Gov. Scott Walker famously rejected more than $800 million in federal funding for a higher-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison. His decision may have been smart politics, but it hurt Wisconsin jobs and business.

What’s most intriguing about All Aboard Wisconsin is that the private sector would lead the way. That should make the discussion more amenable to state leaders.

A similarly named effort called All Aboard Florida is serious about connecting Miami and Orlando with privately owned, operated and maintained passenger trains.

Previous efforts to link Madison to Chicago by passenger train have fizzled. But interest in rail may be growing.

About 928,000 people got on or off an Amtrak train in Wisconsin during the most recent year of data, according to All Aboard Wisconsin. That includes passengers on seven daily round trips between Milwaukee and Chicago. Amtrak also runs a long-distance train from Chicago through the Wisconsin cities of Columbus and La Crosse all the way to the West Coast.

All Aboard Wisconsin thinks a short-line rail company might find a Madison-to-Chicago route feasible. So they’re organizing a train ride this week to discuss the possibility. Madison Ald. Scott Resnick said Tuesday he plans to attend. So do a couple of dozen others from the Madison area.

“This won’t be easy to accomplish, but it’s something so many community partners believe in,” Resnick said this week. “It unleashes a new potential in both economic vitality and cultural experience between Madison and Chicago. Making an easier commute between the two cities unleashes a number of opportunities.”

He’s right. Let’s see if it can work.


Green Bay Press-Gazette, June 16

We need innovative ideas to clean up our air

Last week, President Barack Obama presented the administration’s plan to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants, seeking a 30 percent reduction in the nation by 2030.

Eighty-two percent of greenhouse gas pollution, which causes temperatures to rise, comes from carbon dioxide in the U.S., and this is produced primarily through the burning of fossil fuels - coal, natural gas, oil - solid waste, trees and wood products.

Therefore, cutting carbon emissions from existing power plants seems like a logical place to start.

Predictably, both sides of the debate jumped on the issue. Critics say the plan will lead to increases in utility rates and job losses, especially for those businesses that need lots of affordable energy. Proponents point to health issues and climate dangers, such as higher temperatures, rising seas and more intense storms.

What we need, though, are innovative ideas and new approaches that would allow us to clean up the air without hurting the economy instead of rhetoric and hot air.

For example, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby has proposed what it says is an economic solution, not an environmental solution.

It proposes a national tax on the carbon dioxide content of fossil fuels burned, starting at $10 per metric ton of carbon dioxide a year and increasing by $10 a ton each year.

All of the money from this tax would be divided into equal shares and returned to each household, with one share for each adult and a half share per child up to a maximum of two. By 2025, the study estimates, a family of four will get a check for almost $300 a month.

As the tax increases and companies reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, the Regional Economic Models Inc. estimates it would lead to 2.2 million jobs over 10 years. Greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 33 percent by 2025, five years ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency goal, and 52 percent by 2035.

The editorial board has some questions about the proposal and the very word “tax” makes this plan a nonstarter for some, but the Citizens’ Climate Lobby proposal is the kind of thinking that needs to be encouraged if we want to address pollution and climate change issues.

We need to look at new ways and new incentives to reduce emissions that pollute our area. The EPA plan is expected to be finalized by June 2015 and state plans are due by June 2016. So we have time and some flexibility in looking for innovative ways to reduce emissions

We live in a state where burning coal accounted for 51 percent of the state’s electricity production in 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In its “State of the Air 2014” report, the American Lung Association gave Brown County a D for its ozone levels. Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties received F’s.

As part of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, states can design a program for meeting their goals, and they can work with other states to coordination reductions. This type of flexibility might let Wisconsin account for any cross-border pollution, especially the kind seen along the lakeshore.

Even if you don’t buy into the climate change debate, you should be worried about air pollution and the more immediate impact it can have on our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

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