Rumors aside, Doyle doesn’t look ready to pack it in.

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Governor Jim Doyle may be down in the polls, but during a recent economic forum at UW-Madison, he didn’t look like a guy that wants out of the Governor’s Mansion. He looked like a guy who was ready to take on all comers next year, despite some chatter that he won’t seek a third term.

Doyle, speaking a few days before the 2009-11 state budget was adopted, already has his battle lines drawn for would-be opponents Scott Walker and Mark Neumann, or at least he’s teeing up the rhetoric for Barbara Lawton, Ron Kind, or Tom Barrett. He seems to be energized by the most challenging budget in years, and it comes through when he talks about protecting K-12 education from deep cuts, maintaining recent gains in childrenÕs health care coverage, and continuing the development of alternative fuels.

It also comes through when he talks about what the budget does for, not to, business. Given the new taxes in the budget, his critics think he’s gone off the deep end along with the Democratically controlled Legislature. That body has been called the most anti-business Legislature in recent memory, but Doyle has promoted some impressive measures to prevent that charge from tagging him.

First and foremost, state grants have been applied to develop Wisconsin as more of a player in high-end manufacturing, and the strategy paid off when exports doubled over the past five years. Say what you want about Doyle’s promotion of corn-based ethanol, but it helped this decade become one of the most prosperous periods ever for Wisconsin farmers.

In perhaps Doyle’s most important business legacy, the state enacted the Act 255 angel and venture investment program, and later increased those investments and made them more flexible. As a result, angel investment had soared prior to the recession and is poised to gain more momentum when the economy turns a corner.

The 2009-11 budget has some much-needed business incentives, including dollar-per-dollar tax credits for any company that expands R&D by 25% over a three-year period, and a jobs tax credit that rewards companies that expand their workforce. As is the case with most worthwhile policies, it’s the incentives, stupid.

In strong economic times, Doyle noted, states fight over how to get their piece of the growth. “In this economy, we’re fighting to maintain what we have,” he observed. “These are real tools that I and future governors will have to drive economic development in this state.”

That “future governors” talk may smack of legacy, but unless President Barack Obama appoints Doyle as Ambassador to Ireland (not likely after Pittsburgh Steelers’ President Dan Rooney got the nod), or names him to run the Peace Corps, an organization he once served and now is run by an Acting Director, I would not be surprised to see his name on the ballot in 2010. If the economy continues to sag well into that election year, his business record will likely draw some fire, but he’s not devoid of his own ammunition.