First appeared in the March 12th edition of the Cap Times
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, and calls for congressional investigations into favoritism.
That’s only natural. There is almost nothing that upsets Americans more than being treated unfairly by their own government, especially when it comes to vital functions such as creating more economic opportunity for hard-pressed working families.
But it’s not the federal government that stands accused of unfairness, it’s the Walker administration, and the silence from conservatives is deafening. A recent Citizen Action of Wisconsin report found huge geographic disparities in the self-reported impact of Gov. Walker's jobs agency, including evidence it is benefiting Republican areas far more than Democratic areas.
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 and failing to hold businesses accountable for creating promised jobs, to questionable expenditures on meals and Badger tickets, Walker’s jobs agency is an embarrassment.
In an effort to repair its tarnished image, WEDC began posting data on its supposed impact on job creation. However, WEDC’s own 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.
When asked about the Citizen Action report, Gov. 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 where they can live in closer proximity to the alleged “job creators” who are receiving subsidies from the Walker administration?
One of the most shocking things the Citizen Action report found is that WEDC is actually providing substantially more jobs assistance to the wealthiest Republican areas than to the most impoverished Democratic areas. Take Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. Waukesha County’s average income is 73 percent higher than Milwaukee County’s, and its poverty rate is 75 percent lower. Yet WEDC's own data show it is impacting twice as many jobs in Waukesha County as it is in much larger Milwaukee County. WEDC is claiming one job impacted for every 164 Milwaukee County residents and one job impacted for every 36 Waukesha County residents.
Adding to the unfairness, the Milwaukee area is one of the most segregated and has some of the worst racial disparities in America. The region notoriously lacks good public transportation links or affordable housing in proximity to the jobs WEDC claims to be creating in Waukesha.
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, as the agency insists, 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. Using the public’s money to accentuate the gap in economic opportunity between Milwaukee’s wealthy Republican suburbs and the parts of Wisconsin with the greatest economic challenges is both shortsighted and grossly unfair.
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 WEDC report can be downloaded at www.citizenactionwi.org.
Do you like this post?