The Burke jobs report. I read it so you don't have to. | WisCommunity

The Burke jobs report. I read it so you don't have to.


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke recently issued a 40-page report on her jobs plan for Wisconsin and I finally got around to reading it. Twice.

I was struck by its scholarship and my immediate takeaway is Burke has apparently surrounded herself with some talented people. Reports like this seldom gain much traction because they can't be summarized in a campaign ad but they do provide a road map for legislators in the event the Dems take the statehouse.

She addresses jobs development from every angle such as promoting industry clusters, bringing down the cost of higher education and reversing the brain drain. She even proposes a state-level small business loan fund, a mini-SBA so to speak.

Burke also doesn't fall into the trap of gaming ways to steal companies from other states, a zero-sum game that Walker (and many other governors) seems to believe holds the secret to economic growth.

But more on that later. The report reminded me of a similar tome issued two years ago by Tim Sullivan. You may recall Sullivan, the former Chairman of Bucyrus International was commissioned by Gov. Scott Walker to impart his wisdom and tell us what we need to grow jobs in Wisconsin.

His report, issued in August 2012, claimed there was a "skills gap" and jobs were going begging because prospective employees didn't have the skill set to perform the necessary duties. He advocated an overhaul of the higher education system, with more emphasis on tech schools, to address the training issue. Not a new idea exactly.

That got a lot of publicity and was even praised by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel as worthy of note. Go figure. It provided Republicans cover because they could now argue there is no unemployment problem just a skills gap.

UWM researcher Marc Levine issued his own report (using real data) and shot down Sullivan's premise, noting that it is more of a "wage gap". Those companies which pay well don't seem to suffer a shortage of workers. Who knew?

These were not the only things Sullivan recommended. Getting less publicity was his call to cut taxes on the wealthy and raise sales taxes, hence, adopting a more regressive tax structure. Somehow this is viewed as good for business like those economic powerhouses of Alabama and Mississippi.

There was a third theme in Sullivan's report which did not go unnoticed, at least by Republicans. Sullivan kvetched in his 126-page report about the cost of unemployment insurance and said it is rife with fraud. It was unclear how this was such a big deal but it was the only item that resulted in any legislative response. The legislature passed bills giving employers more leeway in denying UI claims and created a one-week waiting period for benefits.

As I said, this stands in sharp contrast to the Burke report which is full of data. I don't want to seem critical but I would have liked to have seen some of the following addressed in the report:

1. Some mention of green energy. Bruce Murphy of did an excellent piece on the wind power industry in Wisconsin, noting that not a single wind turbine has been constructed since Walker became governor. The hostile legislative atmosphere surrounding wind power (legislation to increase the distance from residences and to make it easier to sue wind power operators) has killed the industry in Wisconsin and the jobs which support it.

2. The Medicaid expansion. Burke supports the Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin, which is good, but she missed a bet on how many jobs the expansion, and its millions of dollars in new money, would bring to the state. I am sure someone has done that calculation.

3. Unions and Act 10. Burke needs to issue some clarity on her position. We all know that you can't put the toothpaste back into the tube but she doesn't want to use the word "repeal" in her public statements. I would suggest she adopt a "repeal and replace" meme (not very original) for restoration of bargaining rights while recognizing that public employees will never get back everything they lost.

4. Milwaukee. I know, advocating for Milwaukee doesn't play well in the rest of the state (just ask Tom Barrett) but this ticking time bomb in the inner city demands something on the scale of the Marshall Plan. An unemployment rate of 25 to 40 percent (depending on who you talk to) is unsustainable and immoral.




March 29, 2014 - 10:43am