by Phil Neuenfeld (
As Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday delivers his first "state of the state" address, working men and women across Wisconsin are wondering what happened to the jobs agenda that played such a prominent role in November's election.
As a candidate, Walker pledged that addressing unemployment - currently 7.5% statewide but higher in urban and some rural areas - would be his administration's top priority and the focus of a special session of the Legislature. It was part of his promise to create 250,000 jobs by 2014.
So far, it's hard to pinpoint any action by the governor that creates a single job or does anything to boost the state from its economic slump.
There certainly isn't a new job to be found in Senate Bill 1 and Assembly Bill 1, the so-called tort reform legislation passed during the session. The measure severely limits the legal protections of workers and consumers injured through acts of corporate negligence or malfeasance, such as the "Big Blue" crane accident that led to the deaths of three ironworkers during the construction of Miller Park.
A witness testifying on behalf of the legislation flatly refused to say if it would create any jobs, calling it a "trick question."
Other initiatives by Walker and his allies are, to be blunt, head-scratchers. Without corresponding revenue increases, tax breaks for a handful of small businesses, deductions on health savings accounts and a voter ID bill actually will add to the state's $3 billion budget deficit. As a result, these moves threaten essential state programs such as health care for the elderly and education.
And while reasonable observers can disagree about the precise number of jobs lost during the high-speed rail fiasco, no one disputes the fact that the employment and economic opportunities in the construction, retail and manufacturing sectors the train would have brought are now gone.
In his address Tuesday, Walker probably will try to pin the blame for Wisconsin's budget woes on the wages and benefits of state workers. It's an argument that's unfortunate and misguided. State workers and their families, like their counterparts in the private sector, have made enormous sacrifices: Furlough days, double-digit jumps in payments for health care premiums and wage freezes have stretched and broken the budgets of public servants in every corner of the state. Demonizing public employees and their families is wrong.
The fact is that the state's finances will not improve until Wisconsinites are working again. The governor was elected on his promises to create family-supporting jobs, improve economic opportunities and build businesses.
Working families all over Wisconsin are cheering on the governor to make good on his promise to spur job growth. But we know that taunting elected officials from Illinois and putting up new signs at our borders are not serious job creation efforts.
Walker has formidable resources to accomplish his agenda. His allies control both houses of the Legislature, and he has one of the most powerful veto pens in the country.
So, will he use his power to do what he promised and focus on creating family-supporting jobs for Wisconsin? And, no, that's not a trick question.
Phil Neuenfeldt is president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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