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The Failure of Austerity Demonstrated by Scott Walker and Mitt Romney
Naturally, the most critical election contest of 2012 will be the presidential election, but as a close second, all eyes are on the upcoming Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election of Scott Walker. Only a matter of days remain until this important recall is decided. One of the important aspects of the Wisconsin election is how the policies of Scott Walker mirror his counterpart on the national stage, Mitt Romney. Both spent their time as governor advocating austerity measures for their states during times of fiscal crisis and economic difficulty and notably, both oversaw some of the weakest states performances in job growth in the nation.
Governor Scott Walker and his Republican cronies in the state legislature swept into office with the agenda of the American Legislative Executive Committee (ALEC) as the foundation for their policy plans. They have implemented cuts across the board, famously in the form of dismantling union rights, and then using the absence of said unions to void contracts. He has also slashed taxes for the wealthy and corporations, while cutting funding for education and programs for the poor, children, and other vulnerable groups. In fact, since coming into office, taxes for corporations have decreased by 100 million dollars.
The return for all of these austerity measures is supposed to be rapid job growth. Instead, Wisconsin has had one of the worst records for job performance in the country. Scott Walker has made the ludicrous decision to blame either the protests against his policies or national health care reform for the lack of job growth in his state. Then, Walker recently made headlines by releasing bogus statistics claiming to have generated far more jobs than the Department of Labor through the Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked. Rather than use the numbers from the survey of employers (which is used by all other states now and throughout time), he decided to cook the books by having his own state Department of Revenue report a whole new set of numbers based on a survey of households (notoriously less reliable and riddled with measurement issues). Not only that, he chose to release “revised” numbers from the survey of employers that were not supposed to be released until the end of June. Instead of losing 33,000 jobs by the last quarter of 2011, these revised numbers supposedly show Wisconsin gaining some 23,000 jobs by that quarter. However, since no other states are releasing their revised numbers until the end of June, we still don’t know how Wisconsin performed relative to other states. In fact, they very well could be dead last in job production, yet his playing with statistics hides the facts. Essentially, Walker and his team have manipulated data to muddy the waters about what amounts to an abysmal record on jobs.
In a similar vein, Former Governor Mitt Romney likes to boast that he would be the best candidate to bolster the country’s economic outlook. He points to his background in business, much like George W. Bush did, and proclaims that he would do a better job than President Obama at creating jobs and promoting growth. But, there’s nothing better to determine a person’s potential accomplishments that to examine their past deeds. Even a cursory examination of his record as Massachusetts governor reveals a man with nothing to offer.
To hear him tell it, he took over a state in crisis and turned it around, but upon closer scrutiny, his austerity measures did little. There were two significant issues facing Massachusetts when he took office in 2003, the same issues facing nearly every other state, debt and unemployment. It’s true that Massachusetts was ranked next to last in unemployment figures the year before he was elected. The 2001 recession had hit the state particularly hard, because it had been more heavily invested in the technology boom than other states. When that bubble burst, the state subsequently hemorrhaged jobs at a rate far greater than the national average. All told, 4.7% of the state’s workforce lost jobs between 2001 and 2003. It’s also true that the state had a 3 billion dollar shortfall in its budget. That’s hardly surprising that state revenues took a harsh hit in light of the economic collapse that occurred.
So, what did Romney allegedly do to turn the state around? His only ideas were the traditional Republican standbys of slashing government programs and cutting taxes for the wealthy, particularly bragging that he cut capital gains taxes. According to his version of events, he singlehandedly fixed the state budget woes with this formula. But in fact, he had no power to change the state’s budget whatsoever. The state legislature was overwhelmingly Democratic. In fact, with 85% of the seats, the Democrats were so much more influential, they could have rejected anything he proposed or overturned anything he decided to veto. So, in reality, the Democrats leading the legislature passed budgets that reduced the state’s spending to balance the budget. Mitt Romney can claim nothing more than cheerleader status at best. Unfortunately, given what happened to job growth in the state of Massachusetts, the Democratic legislators who did take Romney’s route of using austerity measures likely stifled potential growth. Massachusetts ended up ranking 47th in the nation for job growth during Mitt Romney’s tenure as governor. Yes, even perennial last place states like Mississippi and Alabama outperformed them.
In the end, you have two prominent Republican governors with a chronic inability to convey the truth. In the service of their political goals, they will tell their constituents outright lies about their records as job creators. The fact that each is polling as well as they are is a testament to how gullible a significant portion of the population seems to be. There stands a reasonably decent chance that Wisconsin voters will opt to keep their divisive, regressive governor. In a traditionally progressive state, the people seem to be willing to let a man owned by ALEC, hostile to unions of all kinds, and backward on every social issue, maintain power. Of course, it remains to be seen if the worst case scenario actually occurs. On the national stage, things look better for the most part, although some polls (mostly conducted by right wing organizations) put Romney near or even ahead of Obama in some states. The lesson in both cases is that Democrats have to try and spread the truth about the job records of these two failed governors. They also need to get out the vote with more vigor than ever before, especially necessary with widespread voter suppression.