Scott’s Unhappy Anniversary

I arrived at In Business magazine two years ago this month, a callow, naïve young squab with eyes wide as Rush Limbaugh’s pants hamper, determined to soak in my new surroundings and clamp like a starved dingo onto the fleshy femurs of wisdom offered up daily by IB’s esteemed brain trust.

My very first day coincided with the famous Blizzard of ’11, the Packers won the Super Bowl at the end of my first week, and then things really got interesting.

As we all remember, the State Capitol exploded, and here in the outer spiral arm of the blog galaxy, we had our own bit of fun.

I was too junior a member of IB’s editorial team to weigh in at the time (my first blog post coming three months later), but there was no mistaking the electricity in the air at IB HQ.

Two years and one contentious recall election later, what’s transpired?

Well, the man who promised 250,000 new jobs by the end of his first term is on pace for spectacularly less than that, and in the meantime he’s distinguished himself as more of an excuse maker than a job creator.

In December, aware of his tepid record on job creation, which has fallen miserably short of that fabled 250-large, Gov. Walker said, “Most of 2011 was protests, and then there were recalls, [and] that combined with the national economy slowing down, all the concern the last few months about the fiscal cliff, and uncertainty under the Affordable Care Act. There’s a lot of reasons why we’re not on pace to hit that number – and understandable reasons.”

Hey, he might also point out that Goody Osborne was spied less than a fortnight ago cavorting in the light of the full moon with the devil.

Still, at least some of the blame for the protests and the recall has to fall at the feet of Walker, who either wildly underestimated the level of distaste ordinary Wisconsinites would have for his schemes or simply chose not to care. 

Also, Walker did all he could to gin up the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act, choosing to remain on the sidelines as other states got busy planning for the law’s implementation.

But beyond that, it’s fair to focus on the slowdown of the national economy and wonder how big a factor that has been. Is Walker right that Wisconsin’s economy has been hog-tied by a phlegmatic national economy?

Well, yes and no.

It would be disingenuous to say the slow national recovery has not profoundly affected Wisconsin, but it’s also true that our state, relatively speaking, has been a laggard when it comes to job creation.

Remember the June recall election and the May surprise Scott Walker pulled? Challenger Tom Barrett decided to make the election about Walker’s jobs record instead of collective bargaining, referencing monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers that showed negative job creation during 2011. In response, Walker prematurely released Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages numbers, a more accurate data set that showed modest job growth. 


At the time, many observers (including moi) noted that Walker’s preferred numbers, while being more accurate, were fairly meaningless out of context, given that they revealed little to nothing about our state’s performance relative to other states’.

Well, we now have that context, and it reflects poorly on the governor.

In January, the BLS released its most recent Quarterly Census numbers (from June 2011-June 2012), revealing that Wisconsin is indeed a slow-growth state – 42nd in the nation overall in private-sector job growth. Not only that, we’re going in the wrong direction, dropping from 37th in the previous (March 2011-March 2012) period.

So what’s the moral?

In 2011, Gov. Walker made a clear-cut wager. He bet that balancing the budget on the backs of public workers – while limiting their ability to collectively bargain (and also to spend) – was the way to move our economy forward.

It’s too early to say for sure whether that will eventually turn out to be a good bet, but one thing’s for certain – the early returns aren’t promising. And for that, there’s really no good excuse.

Tom is now on Twitter. Follow him @LeftBizBrain, if you please.