What if the Obama administration was investing in more jobs in blue states than in red states? There would be outrage from conservative governors such as Scott Walker.
That’s only natural. There is almost nothing that upsets Americans more than being treated unfairly, especially when it comes to vital government functions like expanding economic opportunity.
But it’s not the federal government that stands accused of unfairness, it’s the Walker sdministration. A recent Citizen Action of Wisconsin report found huge geographic and partisan disparities in the self-reported impact of Governor Walker’s jobs agency.
Since its creation, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, or WEDC, has been a train wreck. From losing track of millions in business loans, violating federal and state laws, failing to hold businesses accountable for creating promised jobs, to questionable expenditures on meals and Badger tickets, Walker’s jobs agency is an embarrassment.
To repair its tarnished image, WEDC began posting more data. However, this data reveals patterns of unfairness in the distribution of job creation efforts.
There are large geographic variations in the jobs impact WEDC claims, and Republican legislative districts have almost twice as many jobs projected as Democratic districts. WEDC is claiming three times as many jobs impacted per person in wealthy and heavily Republican Waukesha County then in Milwaukee County, or in the the entire regions surrounding La Crosse, Eau Claire, and Wausau.
When asked about the Citizen Action report, Walker asserted it was “biased and partisan,” but did not deny its findings. Instead he declared that a “significant number of business leaders” simply “happen to be Republicans.”
This is a stunning response. What are Wisconsin families who live in Democratic districts supposed to do, pick up and move to Republican districts?
Although the partisan and geographic disparities revealed in the Citizen Action report do not prove corruption by themselves, they raise red flags. The progressive advocacy group One Wisconsin Now has reported an alarming correspondence between WEDC business subsidies and campaign contributions to Scott Walker. This puts Walker’s excuse that more business leaders “happen to be Republican” in a very disturbing light.
Even if outright corruption is not influencing WEDC business grant and loan decisions, the data revealed in the Citizen Action report certainly establishes the absence of a serious economic development strategy designed to help expand opportunity not just in growing areas but also in the parts of the state that need it most.
The role of our state government is to shape the economy in a way that truly benefits every working family in Wisconsin. This is the public interest that justifies the use of state resources. No business has a right to public money without demonstrated public benefit.
Both Walker and WEDC owe the public an explanation. This ought not to be a partisan issue. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all believe state government should not play favorites, and has a moral obligation to invest in economic opportunity in every part of Wisconsin. Simple fairness demands it.
Kevin Kane is lead organizer and Robert Kraig is executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. The full Citizen Action report can be downloaded at www.citizenactionwi.org