Sunday, October 31, 2010

In race for governor, Milwaukee county exec blames mayor, exempts self from blame for community's ills

Never mind that, when all of America falls into an economic sinkhole, the source of the problem likely lies outside your city hall or your statehouse. Political ads across the nation are bludgeoning local and state office holders for the mess.

One of the more brazen examples is taking place in the governor’s race in Wisconsin. An ad sponsored by Republican candidate Scott Walker piles Milwaukee’s ills on the shoulders of his Democratic foe, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

“Barrett’s city has one of the worst job creation records of any big city in the U.S.,” the announcer charges. The voice notes that the city’s August unemployment rate was 11.5% and called Milwaukee the fourth poorest city in the nation. (Actually, dozens of smaller cities are poorer than Beer Town, which is in a twelve-way tie for the-third worst poverty rate among big cities. See analysis by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Employment and Training Institute.)

From Scott Walker's campaign site
What makes the ad so nervy is that Walker is acting as if he’s an innocent bystander, with no responsibility for Milwaukee’s ills. He’s Milwaukee County’s top official, for crying out loud. He’s held the post of county executive for eight years. So if the city’s record means, as the ad puts it, “we can’t trust Tom Barrett to turn Wisconsin’s economy around,” ditto for Walker. The last I checked, the city was a big part of the county.

Under Walker, the county’s unemployment rate soared from 4.6% in April of 2009 to 10.5% in March of 2010 – a period when the county lost a whopping 34,000 jobs.

The county exec has claimed exemption from responsibility on jobs. Economic development is not part of his portfolio, he says – a telling attitude. In light of the crying need, he should have made encouraging job creation a top priority. The problem was he remained a bystander – a guilty bystander.

Does Walker think he deserves a pass on the county’s poverty rate, too? Of every six people in the county, one is poor – the tenth worst rate among the 50 biggest counties in the nation. Walker blew chances to tackle poverty. The state stripped from Walker’s portfolio programs to serve the poor on the grounds they were badly run. The Private Industry Council, which does job training, was turned over to the city, and the state itself took over food aid, child care and medical assistance programs "Milwaukee County has demonstrated a sustained inability to successfully provide services to its (poor) customers," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted a state official as saying in a letter to Walker.

As a legislator Walker got behind a measure that was supposed to take a big bite out of poverty: Wisconsin Works, which ended cash grants to most poor families with children and tied aid to jobs. The theory was that, rather than easing poverty, the grants themselves were causing it by encouraging dependency. So by taking away the grants, you do poor people a favor, ending their dependency and nudging them into the middle-class. Well, the Walker ad itself testifies to the failure of that policy. Wisconsin Works didn’t do what Walker and other backers said it would do. Poverty has only intensified in the city (and in the county).

The county exec touts his penny-pinching budget submissions as his way of attracting businesses. Never mind that the strategy didn’t work. For one, few took his budgets seriously, They were seen as political stunts, his way of claiming he worked to keep taxes low, while leaving to the County Board the heavy lifting of coming up with a realistic budget. For another, the strategy didn’t stop thousands of jobs from vanishing.

Among public officials you can legitimately blame for the nation’s loss of millions of jobs is former President George Bush, who presided over an economic crash after cutting taxes for the wealthy and loosening regulations on businesses – principles that, eerily, Scott Walker holds dear.

No comments:

Post a Comment