Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wisconsin May Be Near the Bottom – But We Ain’t Broke!

Well, the news is out and it is official now: Wisconsin ranks 35th among the 50 states in the U.S. in job growth for the four years 2011 – 2014 and “dead last,” as some like to say, among its neighboring states of Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. While the nation as a whole added jobs over that four-year period at a rate greater than 9% Wisconsin could not muster even 6%.

What does this tell us? One thing it does not tell us is the whole story. In critiquing the performance of the economy one must be careful not to demand more than a particular region can be expected to deliver. Many factors play into the dynamics of job creation that are beyond the short term power of a government to control or change.

But we were very specifically promised that policies put into effect beginning in 2011 would create the number of jobs, 250,000 to be specific, that would have put Wisconsin at the top of the charts by this time. In reality only a little over half that number have materialized. And while the nation had rebounded above the number employed before the dramatic economic crash of 2007-08, Wisconsin was still struggling at the end of 2014 to get back to the pre-recession level.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider the policies enacted in the last four years. As our legislators struggle to devise a balanced budget, they face a 2 to 3.5 million dollar deficit. Obviously lowering taxes on the wealthy and cutting benefits for the poor have not paved the way to a balanced budget. Still our legislators – at least the majority of them – seem convinced that banging our heads against the wall will eventually achieve the kind of economic breakthrough they have been hoping for.

Sadly, it isn’t the heads of our legislators, our governor, nor the heads of their wealthy political benefactors, that is being used to smash the way to success. It is the heads of state employees whose wages, benefits, and bargaining rights have been stripped from them. It is the heads of welfare recipients whose benefits have been cut back and who, in the next years, will be harassed by the requirement to take a drug test in order to receive those benefits. It is heads of poor Wisconsin residents who are denied Medicaid benefits because of our government’s refusal to participate in “Obamacare.” It is the heads of our low-wage service sector workers who are working at below-poverty-level wages with short hours and no benefits.

There is a simple solution to our budgetary problems in Wisconsin. We need to tax ourselves at whatever level is required to provide the services we want our state to provide. That includes well built and well maintained roads, bridges, ports, etc. It includes a K-12 through college system of education that is fully funded and staffed with qualified, well compensated, college-prepared teachers and professors. It includes affordable healthcare for all our citizens. It includes welfare benefits for those who are unable to earn a living. It includes the establishment of a living wage for all workers, part-time as well as full-time.

Wisconsin is not broke, as we were told when we began this race to the bottom. Much of our choice, scenic land is being gobbled up for use as recreational playgrounds for the wealthy or development of premier residential districts. Our lakes are filled with boats and other recreational apparatuses costing $20,000 up to $100,000 and more. Our highways teem with new vehicles many costing more than a three bedroom home – some of them are three bedroom homes on wheels. Our sports venues are full every time they are open with fans spending hundreds of dollars per visit for admission and food. Our bars and restaurants are crowded from early morning until late at night with young and old enjoying food and drink that they could have for half the price by eating at home.

No, we are not broke. Even the poorest among us are not broke. We can afford the small increase in taxes – it should be proportional to income or wealth – that it would take to put the state on a sound footing. And as those taxes go to work they will generate the kind of growth our leaders have been promising; jobs in numbers that could exceed the national average.

Let’s give it a try! I’m willing to do my part.

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