- Associated Press - Monday, December 21, 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 18

Another lousy Wisconsin jobs report and little action on job creation

Gov. Scott Walker can’t avoid the latest bad news on jobs in Wisconsin. A new government report shows that our state ranked 32nd in private-sector job growth among the 50 states in the five-year period that ended in June. That’s the entire recovery period since the last recession.

Private-sector hiring in Wisconsin grew just 7.6 percent during those five years, far behind the national growth of 11.2 percent and behind nearby Midwestern states. Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa and Illinois all did better. (Although, certainly in the case of Michigan, the growth of its economy had much to do with having fallen so far in prior years.)

As usual, Walker is trying to obscure the facts. The governor spins a different tale - one of manna and tax cuts from his magic touch in Madison.



It simply ain’t so, governor. The facts are clear.

Is Walker entirely to blame for Wisconsin’s anemic job growth? Of course not. There are fundamental forces at work here that keep the economy in this manufacturing-intensive state from growing at a faster clip. Wisconsin, for better or worse, is home to large industries whose growth is sluggish. Certainly, Walker should own his record - he did make the brave claim in 2010 that the state would grow 250,000 jobs by the end of his first term.

But while some of this is his fault - presiding over a dysfunctional state jobs agency comes first to mind - most of what is happening here is beyond the control of any politician. And thank heavens for that.

We continue to believe that there are things that government can do. Increasing the minimum wage would help. Americans living at the edge of poverty haven’t had a “raise” in years. It’s time to give them one. And state government ought to use its scarce dollars for economic development efficiently and wisely. Two strikes against the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., though in theory it remains a good idea.

The far bigger issue is the lack of growth in the upper Midwest generally. This is a shared problem among most of these states, which are home to industrial giants with names such as Harley-Davidson, Ford, GM, Cummins and Eaton. State governments, business groups and educational institutions should do what they can, within the bounds of reason and sensible budgets, to assist these legacy businesses.

But all interested parties should focus more energy than they have so far on creating a culture of innovation that spawns new companies springing from new ideas.

The ideas are out there. The state’s corporations and universities are leaders in patent production. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has $1 billion in funded research annually.

What the state does not have even after years of talking, is a functional ecosystem to allow good ideas to consistently grow. And Wisconsin for sure does not have the necessary financing.

Does Wisconsin have the necessary appetite for risk? Do our leaders, whether in business or government, have the will to unmask imposters and put resources into efforts that work?

Those are questions that anyone who cares about the future ought to be asking

___

Wisconsin State Journal, Dec. 20

Washington still ignoring nation’s debt

Merry Christmas, America, your government is still functioning.

That’s the bright side of last week’s $1.1 trillion spending deal in Congress. Our leaders in Washington didn’t shut down the federal government this time as they rushed to avert a self-inflicted budget crisis.

In bipartisan fashion, Republicans and Democrats also managed to cooperate on major legislation. That doesn’t happen enough, and it represents some progress, which Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, now speaker of the House, deserves some credit for.

But to find agreement, both sides gave each other political wins on spending and tax priorities - without covering the full cost. That means, according to the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, as much as $680 billion will be added to America’s debt over the next decade - not including interest.

“This may be the season for generosity, but not fiscal lunacy,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, which advocates for fiscal responsibility.

Unions got a favor from Democrats who managed to delay for two years the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health insurance. Also delayed are taxes on medical devices and health insurers.

Nobody likes a tax. But that is how the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, was partly paid for. Washington shouldn’t abandon efforts to control health care costs.

More money for medical research is welcome. Continuing tax cuts for families and businesses will help people get by and encourage economic growth.

But at what expense?

President Barack Obama signed the budget deal Friday, touting it as a gift.

“There’s no better Christmas present for the American people because this will allow the kind of stability, and will allow the economy to grow, at a time when you’ve got great weakness in the economies around the world,” he said. “This puts us on a responsible path.”

Stability? Yes. A fiscally responsible path? No.

Ryan touted the absence of wasteful earmarks as a victory. No more bridges to nowhere.

That’s good.

He also pledged to improve the budget process next year by involving more members and passing appropriation bills. Ryan became speaker late in the budget cycle this time.

But Ryan, R-Janesville, also is guilty of spending money on Republican priorities the government can’t afford, including a big increase for the Pentagon.

As leader of the House, Ryan wants to concentrate on a pro-growth agenda in the coming year. That sounds good. But if it also means growing the nation’s annual budget deficit and total debt, America will become more vulnerable.

Allowing American oil exports (a Republican priority) while continuing clean energy incentives (a Democratic goal) was probably the best energy deal Congress could get.

Both sides also agreed to tighten control on traveling to the United States without visas. That will do a lot more to protect against terrorists than a ban on Syrian refugees would have.

Ryan and Obama have talked about the need to simplify the nation’s tax code. Ryan sees the start of progress that can continue in the coming year.

But the nation’s debt, predicted to reach $20 trillion by the time a new president takes office in little more than a year, isn’t going away. It’s only continuing to climb.

Agreeing to spend more and tax less is much easier than setting the nation on a solid financial path, which will require true leadership.

___

The Journal Times of Racine, Dec. 20

The Walker administration’s policy of secrecy

Regardless of whether you voted for a legislator or chief executive, you have a right to know how that elected official and his or her staff are conducting the business of government. The government represents the people, therefore the government is doing the people’s business and the people have a right to see the records of any communication regarding that business.

Gov. Scott Walker and his administration keep telling us they don’t see it that way.

On Wednesday, the governor signed into a law a bill which reduces restrictions on money flowing into state political campaigns and allows candidates to coordinate with issue advocacy groups. You know the ones; they have the ads which say “Tell Barack Obama to stop …” and which make clear, without saying as much, that they’re on the side of whomever is opposing the president, or whichever elected official you’re being urged to tell, on a particular issue. Issue advocacy groups aren’t required to say from whom their contributions come, but in Wisconsin they’re now free to give that money to whomever they wish.

Walker was investigated for this type of activity by the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying. At least it did; the bill Walker signed on Wednesday dismantles the GAB and replaces it with two separate elections and ethics commissions overseen by appointees, most of them partisans, made by legislative leaders and the governor.

The GAB was established in the wake of the state’s caucus scandals in the early 2000s, scandals which saw legislative leaders in both parties go to prison. Outside experts hailed the board as a national model, in part because it’s led by former judges instead of the partisans who fill that role in most other states.

The bill signed Wednesday by Walker replaces the GAB with two separate elections and ethics commissions overseen by appointees, most of them partisans, made by legislative leaders and the governor.

The lead lawmakers in the majority and minority parties in the Assembly and Senate each will appoint a member to both commissions. The elections commission will include two former local elections clerks - and the ethics commission, two former judges - that are appointed by the governor.

A key Senate change empowers a legislative committee controlled by majority Republicans with appointing head administrators for the new commissions if commissioners don’t pick them within 45 days.

Since the commissions are designed to be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, this obviously creates an incentive for commissioners aligned with the majority party to stall on voting for an administrator, thus empowering their party to make the selection.

The measure also resumes the practice, halted when the GAB was created in 2007, of allowing lawmakers to control funding for investigations of alleged wrongdoing by public officials. No possibility of partisanship there, right?

It’s disappointing and troubling to see that none of the lessons learned the hard way in the last decade have been carried over to this decade.

The combination of a weakened open records law and a toothless ethics board all but guarantees that government bodies will conceal whatever they want to conceal.

The Walker administration is doing it now. The governor waited until the day after the Public Relations Board made a favorable-to-Walker definition of “transitory records” - meaning text messages which, as you may have noticed, have become a rather popular form of communication - to deny a Wisconsin State Journal open records request about a $500,000 loan by the Walker-established Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

If this doesn’t bother you because you voted for Walker, just imagine the next Democratic governor or legislative majority in Madison, having been empowered this month to conceal whatever it wants to conceal.

Whatever mode of communication isn’t covered by an open records law, that will be the mode that elected officials and staffers will use to circumvent the law, enabling some spokesperson to issue a pious news release or sound bite declaring that “under the law, we are not obligated.”

A report Friday by Dee J. Hall of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism quoted Peter Bildsten, former secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions, and Paul Jadin, former head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., as saying they were instructed in Walker’s first term by then-Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch not to use official email or state telephones to relay important information or documents.

Bildsten said Huebsch, Walker’s top aide, gave this warning at a cabinet meeting: “Don’t send me an email of anything important on my state computer, and don’t call me on anything of importance on my state phone. If you have anything of consequence or importance, call me on your personal phones or walk it over.”

“And that,” Bildsten said, “is how most communications were handled going forward.”

If you’re proud of what you do, you conduct your business for every eye to see. In fact, you’re eager to tell people about it. An eagerness to conceal makes you look guilty of something.

There was no photo-op ceremony when Gov. Walker signed the bills on Wednesday. The establishment of the newest state laws was conducted in private.

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