The most unsettling prospect with Gov. Scott Walker is the notion that he might actually believe what he is saying about the budget he is proposing for Wisconsin.
When Walker assumed the governorship two years ago, Wisconsin was holding its own economically. Job growth was competitive with neighboring states and the nation.
No more. Since Walker began implementing his austerity agenda, growth has stalled.
The state now ranks No. 42 in the nation when it comes to job creation.
The state trails all of its neighbors when it comes to job growth.
Middle-class wages are declining.
Economic development initiatives, which Walker placed under the control of political appointees rather than professional public servants, are scandal-plagued and staggeringly unsuccessful. The new agency the governor set up has drawn federal scrutiny because it can’t account for the money that has flowed through it.
Major manufacturing industries are struggling— paper plants that have been mainstays of employment in northern Wisconsin are threatened with closure. Instead of worrying about those thousands of good-paying jobs, Walker and his legislative allies have spent months trying to weaken environmental laws as they pursue a mining pipe dream that may never materialize – and that will never replace the high-paying jobs that are being lost on their watch.
It’s tough out there.
So what does Walker propose?
Right-wing social engineering.
Walker’s rejecting federal funds that would have allowed the state to expand access to health care because — by his own explanation — he doesn’t like President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Walker is sticking to his wrongheaded approach even as conservative governors in Ohio, Florida and other states stop playing politics and embrace opportunities to ensure that those in need are cared for.
Walker is proposing to force voucher programs on school districts across the state because, well, he has taken a lot of campaign money from out-of-state donors who favor privatization of education.
Predictably, Walker says, “I want to cut taxes over and over and over again until we are leading the country in economic recovery.”
The problem, of course, is that Walker’s tiny cuts in taxes – which overwhelmingly benefit those who are already in the economic comfort zone — are accompanied by cuts that further undermine recovery.
Walker has cut and cut and cut. He has attacked public employees. He has reduced school funding. He has squeezed funding for services. And he has done it all in the name of reducing taxes.
That’s gotten Wisconsin down to No. 42 in job creation.
It is hard to imagine how he could make things much worse.
But Scott Walker is trying. And if the Legislature embraces his austerity agenda, Wisconsin might well make it to No. 43 or No. 44.
Who knows, Walker might even be able to displace Mississippi and get Wisconsin into the bottom five.
With so much evidence that he is heading the wrong way, even Walker might change direction. Indeed, the only reason Walker would keep doing what he has been doing is if he actually believes what he is saying.
And that, as noted, is the most unsettling prospect of all.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org