Politics

Union-Busting Scott Walker is Not a Job Killer After All

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is taking no chances in the union-instigated recall election he is facing in early June. He won more votes than all of the other Democratic candidates combined in the primary last week, prompting Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert to remark:

It's just not normal in politics for a major incumbent with token opposition to generate turnout on a par with a heavily contested race in the other party. It was an unexpected turnout bomb, a demonstration of Walker's greatest political asset, even greater than his considerable money advantage — the ability to mobilize his base.

And after being in a statistical dead-heat for a while with Tom Barrett, his Democratic challenger, he has now opened a six-point lead. Still, one of the raps against Walker is that his attacks on public sector union collective bargaining rights had yielded no economic benefits for the state.

Walker had been arguing that controlling government spending by making it difficult for public unions to negotiate lavish wages and benefits would allow the state to control taxes and attract business. Wisconsin's business taxes are among the worst in the country. And according to the Tax Foundation, in 2009 Wisconsin had the fourth-highest combined state and local tax burden in the country, with only New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut residents paying more, as Nick Gillespie pointed out.

But months after the union reforms, Wisconsin's job situation had deteriorated. Walker had promised to create 250,000 during his campaign. Instead he lost 33,900 jobs in his first full year from December 2010 to December 2011 – many of them, incidentally, in the private sector. At least that's what his opponents claimed.

But they turned out to be quite wrong.

Their job loss figures, it seems, were estimated from a sample of 3.5 percent of Wisconsin's businesses. However, new numbers released by the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages which are based on an actual count of all state businesses found that far from losing jobs, Wisconsin gained 23,321 jobs. This is not great. But it is heck of a lot better than losing jobs. And it'll make Wisconsin's unemployment rate – already about a point and a half less than the national average – even better.

It is unusual for a state to release these figures before they are vetted and blessed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hence, Walker's opponents, who have been accusing him of killing jobs, are now accusing him of – gasp! – playing politics. But just how foul is Walker's move? This is what the Bureau told the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal via email: "No, BLS does not have any concerns. Wisconsin is free to publish its data as it wishes."