GUTLESS WONDER: Covering his tracks, econ-dev failure Walker slimes Burke and fluffs up some bad math | WisCommunity

GUTLESS WONDER: Covering his tracks, econ-dev failure Walker slimes Burke and fluffs up some bad math

Scott Walker's campaign clearly is in damage-control mode after months of revelations that the pet project he chairs as governor, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC), has made huge and costly investment mistakes. That, and poor job-creation performance, have him playing the usual game of Republican projection. Walker has tried to relocate his own economic development failings to challenger Mary Burke, who from 2005 to 2007 ran the state Commerce Department, WEDC's more able precursor. And when one attack backfires, he just turns to another; throw a lot of spaghetti against the wall and hope some of it will stick.

So far Walker has come up with two economic-development examples to use against Burke: A very modest amount of outsourcing by her family's firm, Trek Bicycle when she no longer worked there, and a failed attempt under her watch to lure an Illinois business to the state. But both these isolated examples could be matched and then some by the failures and screw-ups in Walker's three-plus years helming the state and chairing WEDC.

Indeed, until Monday, Walker championed the very sort of outsourcing that he continues to complain about and -- inaccurately -- blame on Burke. That's when he made an abrupt 180-degree turn, backing Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca's proposal that would prevent state money and tax incentives from going to firms outsourcing jobs.

Before that, outsourcing in Walker's view was cool, because ... business! But what's sauce for the goose: "Open For Business" Walker, more so than many governors, has not only happily spent money trying to poach existing jobs from other states, he was until Monday happy to give financial aid to in-state firms that supported his campaign with cash even though they moved jobs out of state.

And let's not forget that well before Barca made his outsourcing limits proposal, candidate Burke had included limits on job outsourcing in her position papers, a position Walker is now trying to co-opt. Message: Walker has spoken. Everything fixed! Nothing to see here! Voters can now disregard!

More telling: On the same day Walker announced his revisionist outsourcing stance, his campaign tried to change the subject, de-emphasizing TV ads blaming Burke for Trek's particular outsourcing and returning to its earlier attack on her for spending tax dollars in 2006 for a never-realized Kenosha County development project.

The regurgitated Walker attack is amusing on several counts. For one thing, it assigns total responsibility for the deal to then-Secretary Burke; yet although the Commerce Department under her tenure made other, successful deals to create jobs, Republicans have insisted that in at least one of those cases, Burke was not involved. Apparently she is only to be credited in the case of bad outcomes.

In the Kenosha deal, Burke's Commerce team used $12.3 million worth of federal economic development aid to help assemble a vacant commercial site in Pleasant Prairie, with an eye toward attracting a large Illinois pharmaceutical firm to expand there. But the firm never followed through and the state now will repay the federal government.

The Walker attack ad painted this as a Burke "boondoggle" that will cost state taxpayers $25 million. Interestingly, Team Walker double-counted the $12.3 million: once coming in and then once again going back out. Worse, no one seems to be counting the continuing value of the property bought with the money, a property that still could be used for other economic development projects in a geographically strategic locale. But so far, Walker's own WEDC hasn't made anything of that, either.

Burke has said Walker is ignorant about the way economic development works. If that's not entirely true, it's surely the case that he's being a hypocrite. After all, it's common in the economic development realm for governments to take investment risks when the potential benefits outweigh the costs. Governments at all levels have often installed infrastructure where none is immediately needed, or even erected "spec" buildings in industrial parks, all with an eye toward luring prospective developers. In other words, you win some, you lose some and the only real issue is the overall, net result. Walker's own WEDC has done this very kind of risk-taking and come up dry on more than one occasion. The difference is that on numerous occasions Walker's team not only produced squat, but botched the paperwork, losing track of loans and sometimes costing taxpayers even more.

And that explains the bigger picture, here: Despite an international economic free-fall in 2008, Wisconsin was making good progress recovering through 2010. Then, Walker's bend-over-for-business economic policies kicked in and the state began to wallow and even regress. It's sauce for the gander, and the bird in question is a ring-tailed Scotty.


July 29, 2014 - 10:16am