Is Wisconsin’s economy in better shape now than when Gov. Walker took office?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Welcome to "Political Posturing," featuring opposing views on current issues important to Wisconsin's business community. In this column, Wisconsin Business Alliance Executive Director Lori Compas and conservative columnist David Blaska offer their opinions from the left and the right, respectively.

Walker’s decisions have harmed our state.

There’s a lot to be said for positive thinking, but facts are facts. Wisconsin’s economy is in worse shape today than it was four years ago.

One of Scott Walker’s first actions as governor was rejecting $23 million in federal funds for expanding rural broadband access. Expanding broadband would have boosted business opportunities in small towns and rural areas throughout Wisconsin, but now those tax dollars — tax dollars we sent to the federal government and could have gotten back — have gone to other states.

Walker also rejected funds for high-speed rail. Again, these funds were essentially a rebate on our federal taxes, and they would have benefited businesses across the state by linking Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and the Twin Cities. But again, our tax dollars went to other states. Train-maker Talgo has closed its Wisconsin factory, and the trains we paid for will link Chicago to Detroit instead of Milwaukee.

Wisconsin’s job growth has fallen far behind neighboring states and the U.S. as a whole. In fact, our state’s job growth ranks ninth among the 10 Midwestern states, according to the latest figures available at press time. Unemployment numbers are down here, as they are across the country, but it’s important to keep in mind that unemployment figures don’t account for people who have given up and fallen off the rolls.

And finally, our state’s budget does not have a surplus. Our current leaders essentially paid off the state’s debt with a credit card, borrowing money to finance our obligations.

No amount of crowing about an imaginary surplus will erase our state’s serious debt. Reciting misleading unemployment numbers will not reopen closed factories or stop Wisconsin from losing jobs. And it’s just plain silly to pretend that broadband access and high-speed rail aren’t important in today’s economy.

I’m all for positive thinking, but it’s time to face the facts. Our state’s economy is in worse shape than it was four years ago, and it won’t get better until our leaders invest in modern infrastructure and stop cherry-picking jobs and budget numbers.

Lori Compas is a small business owner and the executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Business Alliance, WisconsinBusinessAlliance.com.

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Wisconsin — and its business owners — are better off.

Let’s get this out of the way: Scott Walker likely will not reach his goal of 250,000 new jobs in his first term. The same partisans who excuse the Democratic president for the most sluggish economic recovery in 50 years cry biblical lamentations that Wisconsin may fall short on his ambitious goal.

You can’t blame the Democrats. It’s all they’ve got. Voters two years ago ratified Act 10 in what was essentially a referendum on Walker’s public sector collective bargaining reforms. And there was always something “Brett Hulsey” about party boss Mike Tate’s prediction that Walker would see the inside of a jail cell before a second term.

There is no question Wisconsin’s economy is improving under Scott Walker. Remember that he inherited a $3.6 billion shortfall. He turned it into a projected $911 million surplus. Not by raising taxes but by growing the economy.

Wisconsin unemployment in March was 5.9%, below the national rate of 6.7% (now 6.3% with April’s data factored in). Wisconsin has the lowest monthly rate of unemployment since November 2008, down from a high of 9.2% four years ago. The private sector added more jobs last year than in any year since 1999.

Democrats in the Doyle years didn’t talk about jobs, given that job growth was less than half that of neighboring Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. At the conclusion of the Doyle regime, the Pew Center for the States named Wisconsin one of the 10 worst states for fiscal stability.

Wisconsin is doing well enough that Walker and the Republican Legislature can return $150 to property- and income-tax payers this year. Chairman Tate calls it “a gimmick” — the rest of us call it tax relief. This is the third year that property taxes have declined, compared to a 27% increase in the decade before.

Help for the middle class? How about freezing student tuition at the state university system? This is the first two-year tuition freeze in the 42-year history of the combined UW system. In the preceding eight years, student tuition had more than doubled, with annual increases up to 16%. Now Walker is asking his Republican Legislature to do it again. Some gimmick!

David Blaska is a Madison columnist and In Business blogger. Find his blog at ibmadison.com/Blogger/Bring-It.

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