Wisconsin is open for business -- business as usual that is | WisCommunity

Wisconsin is open for business -- business as usual that is

After reading this morning's lengthy opus in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about Gov. Walker's plan to privatize the economic development functions of the state Commerce Dept., I pledged to myself I'd help fellow readers avoid having to wade through the details. And so I've created this helpful summary, so we can cut to the chase of what this all really means.

Walker proposes to create a Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., modeled after a 2005 venture created by his Republican counterpart in Indiana. To do it, Walker would spin off a large chunk of the state Commerce Department, meaning some of that agency's 340 employees would be affected. And here's how:

* The employees would be dumped from their jobs. Bloomberg.com summed up this part of the strategy in a headline: "Wis. gov doesn't want state workers at new agency" -- because, as we all are expected to know, public employees are just no damned good and they're [shudder!] unionized.

* The displaced workers would be able to re-apply for their corresponding jobs at the new private corporation but there'd be no guarantee any or all of them would be rehired, nor would they any longer have any civil service protection since they'd no longer represented by their labor union (the union says all these moves would be illegal, but Walker isn't listening because, dagnabbit,! we got ourselves a crisis to fix and we can't worry about little things like the law.

Moreover, Walker's going to create jobs by first destroying them. And regardless of how many ex-Commerce staffers get similar jobs in the new private corporation, you can bet Walker will claim credit for "creating" those jobs.

* The former state employees who do survive the transitiion could, according to the guv, opt in to stay with the state retirement system, although Walker also plans to cut benefits in that system. And of course wage scales would be completely up in the air, no longer related to years of service or established pay ranges.

* Meanwhiile (ahem!), the new CEO of the economic development corporation would be able to receive pay greater than the top scale to which the current Commerce secretary is limited. Yup, the boss will get more, the worker bees very likely will get less.

And there you have it: Wisconsin's main economic development tool will now be a business, structured pretty much like the businesses it is supposed to serve. All one big happy family, except the newest member will be the outfit expected to shell out millions in tax credits, tax cuts, grants and other enticements to lure businesses to the state -- or, more likely, keep them from saying bye unless they get frequent and fresh bribes -- er, cash incentives.

How will all of this work out? Well, the model for Walker's power play, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., has been of dubious effectiveness. WTHR-TV in Indianapolis ran an investigative report, which it summarized on its web site:

State leaders boast of 100,000 new Indiana jobs in the past five years, but an Eyewitness News investigation finds many of the state's "economic successes" are actually empty fields and deserted factories where thousands of promised jobs never showed up.

Oh, you mean businesses actually have to deliver on their promises in exchange for public cash? Whoops.


January 7, 2011 - 10:41am