Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has promised to create 250,000 new jobs. In advance of a planned gubernatorial recall election, Walker announced last month that the State Legislature would focus "like a laser" on job creation. With his "special session" on jobs now concluded, it is clear that the legislative package had little to do with jobs and much to do with spin, special interests and the illusion of momentum.
This is the second time legislators have met in special session to address jobs this year. The first special session produced the now-infamous Act 10 that stripped public workers of collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin is starting to feel the impact of that bill. The state lost an eye-popping 11,500 public sector jobs in September.
Wisconsinites had good reason to be worried about a new special session.
Bicycles, a Wing and a Prayer
The new session started with a prayer and a distinct lack of ambition. With a straight face, Republican State Representative Alvin Ott prayed for deregulation: "Father, we ask your blessing today as we start a session again and as we become busy and try do things that will help the people of the state of Wisconsin, create jobs, lessen regulation and so on and so forth, dear Lord," said Ott.
Republican Rep. Jim Steineke set the bar low: "The focus has been and remains to be on job creation, but government can not create jobs, all we can do is give the private sector the tools they need to feel confident in expanding and hiring new workers."
When you believe philosophically that you can't do anything to create jobs, some very interesting proposals emerge. For instance, the legislature passed new rules that change the definition of bicycles and make it easier for cars to pass bikes (AB 265). The bill would exempt bikes from the 15-mph speed limit for vehicles equipped with metal tires. Now bikers can speed their goods to port.
The GOP also reached out to Hollywood, reducing the application fee for a film and franchise tax credit from $5,000 to $500 (SB 3). Do you hear that, Tom Cruise? Wisconsin is open for business!
Another innovative bill says that a property owner is not liable for injury or death of a person trespassing on their property (SB 22). So if a kid gets killed falling out of a tree in your backyard -- no worries!
The legislature passed a bill that would reduce the interest rate that major corporations have to pay on court-ordered payments to consumers injured or killed by dangerous products to 4.25 percent (SB 14). Another bill would cap the fees that lawyers could receive in this type of civil case (SB 12). While these ALEC-inspired "tort reform" bills surely harm consumers and their lawyers, it is less clear how they create jobs.
The most controversial measure in this special session's package dealt with the state's Department of Natural Resources permitting process. The bill would make it easier to pollute the state's waterways with mining waste, among other things (SB/AB 24). Apparently you have to pollute to create jobs. For now, that bill is stalled.
Sex Ed, Guns and Deer?
Rather than focusing "like a laser" on the economy, hands-off legislators threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Lawmakers mandated abstinence-based sex education and reversed an earlier decision to allow for teaching about contraceptives (SB 237). Public health experts kindly called the bill "scientifically inaccurate." Democrats were more blunt: "We're taking a step back to the Flintstone era," said Senator John Erpenbach.
Wisconsin deer hunters will no longer have to kill an antlerless deer before they bag a trophy buck, perhaps giving a boost to the taxidermy industry in the state (SB 75). Hunters and taxidermists can also celebrate the new law that allows them to buy beer at 6 a.m. rather than 8 a.m (AB 63).
The legislature also passed the ALEC-inspired "castle doctrine" legislation long promoted by the National Rifle Association, a "shoot first, ask questions later" bill that gives a person immunity from civil and criminal liability if they kill another in their home, work, or vehicle and allege self-defense (AB 69).
Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan hit the mark when he dubbed it the "anything but jobs" session. Wisconsin is increasingly becoming a national laughing stock, especially as the legislature secures the arrest of 18 people for carrying cameras in the Capitol at the same time that they move forward with a measure to allow concealed guns in the Capitol and right onto the Assembly floor.
WI Unemployed Have Been Abandoned
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO released a common sense jobs plan that calls for investment in infrastructure and retrofitting to reduce energy costs, procurement policies that stimulate local businesses by "buying local," and investment in the technical college system, but not a single one of these measures was considered.
As the state enters its fourth month of negative job growth, the unemployed in Wisconsin have been cut loose by Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP. At the federal level, Republicans are actively sabotaging any bill that would aid the economy in order to ruin Obama's chance of reelection.
For America's 30 million unemployed and underemployed, it is going to be a long, hard winter.
Ben Tobias contributed to this report.