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By Ruth Conniff
Wisconsinites cringed when we read the news this week about Governor Scott Walker, who took a break from leading our state steadily to the bottom of the nation in job-creation and wage growth to share his wisdom in a keynote speech to the annual GOP dinner in Indiana.
A conservative duo who blog as "Chicks on the Right" were smitten with Walker. "In short, he was awesomesauce," they gushed.
That line made it all over state media, of course.
Less reported was the chicks' take on what goes into Walker's secret sauce:
"He spoke about how the GOP truly IS the party of optimism - because it believes in the potential of people. We measure success, he said, NOT by how many people depend on government, but by how many people are successfully independent."
Don't look too closely, but that sauce you're drinking is not what you think. A new report, released today by One Wisconsin Now, details how Walker--who has been on the public payroll all his life--owes much of his political success to that fact that he has been giving taxpayer-financed handouts to donors in exchange for big checks to his campaign. The conduit for this public-money-for-private-donations racket is the state's quasi-private agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which Walker created to replace the state's commerce department, and which he now chairs. The WEDC came in for a scathing report by the state's audit bureau recently because of its abysmal record-keeping, because it lost millions of dollars in taxpayer money, and because its staff admitting to buying iTunes gift cards, Badger tickets, and booze on the public dime. Worse, the agency cannot demonstrate that, in exchange for the $500 million it gave away to businesses, it helped create any jobs. Wisconsin has consistently ranked well below the national average for job creation and wage growth on Walker's watch, despite the governor's promise, when he came into office, to create 250,000 new jobs. The state audit bureau gave up trying to figure out whether Walker's job-creation agency had actually created a single job with all its handouts. In its report, the bureau cited terrible record-keeping and awards "to ineligible recipients, for ineligible projects, and for amounts that exceeded specified limits." The WEDC didn't monitor its expenditures, and didn't even attempt to count how many jobs it may have helped create. Almost $1 million of the tax credits the agency handed out "went for job creation and employee training that had occurred before the contracts were executed." As WEDC spokesman Thomas Thieding put it, "We don’t create the jobs. We help the job creators." "Helping the job creators" turns out to be a key element of Walker's campaign strategy--and the real recipe for success that he brings to other Republican governors. Between them, Scott Walker and the Republican Governors Association raked in nearly $650,000 in donations from the owners and employees of the businesses that benefited from the WEDC’s largesse. Walker received $429,060 in campaign contributions from the businessmen who got grants and tax credits from his new job-creation agency. The Virginia-based Republican Governors Association, which spent almost $15 million electing Walker and defending him in the recall, got $218,899 from the same group of people. Who paid for their WEDC-sponsored benefits? The taxpayers of Wisconsin, of course! And what did we get? A state economy that still ranks among the worst in the nation --with about half the job-creation rate of the national average. If you're a Republican governor who wants to pillage his state to build a political career, it's brilliant. If you're a resident of Wisconsin, or any citizen who cares about "the potential of people" and being "successful" and "independent"--that's not awesomesauce. That's poison.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Pro-choice Women Should Take On Republican Govs."
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