Scott Walker is the 45th governor of Wisconsin. Although hailing from a blue state that has voted Democratic for president in the last six elections dating back to 1988, Mr. Walker, a Republican, was elected governor in 2010 with 52 percent of the electorate and beat down a union-driven recall in June by an impressive 7 points. His career in public service includes eight years as the Milwaukee County Executive and five terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly. Before entering the political fray, Mr. Walker worked for IBM and the American Red Cross. Interested in civic events early in life, he was a representative to Boys Nation and an Eagle Scout. You can find out more about the governor’s policies at:walker.wi.gov.
Decker: Unemployment has been stuck above 8 percent for President Obama’s entire term. While millions of Americans are out of work, many employers have a different problem: They can’t find applicants with the necessary skills to fill vacant positions. Is there a way to more effectively meet the demand for certain skilled trades from the large existing jobless pool?
Walker: Yes, addressing Wisconsin’s skill gap will be one of my priorities in the next state budget. In our state, employers in manufacturing, health care and information technology are having trouble finding applicants with the right experience to fill current openings. We must ensure we are educating our students about industries with jobs available today, and we are already working on solutions. Through Wisconsin’s youth-apprenticeship program, high-school students learn about and gain experience in these high-growth, high-wage fields. Through this program, students can access the state’s technical colleges and university system to pursue opportunities in a wide variety of fields.
Moving forward, we will refocus existing resources to help connect individuals seeking employment with available jobs. For instance, in Wisconsin, we currently have more than 41,000 job postings onwww.jobcenterofwisconsin.com; and although Wisconsin is below the national average, thousands of people are applying for unemployment benefits. Unemployment applications and the jobs posting website are administered by the same state agency, but there is currently little to no coordination between the two programs. By linking these two currently disconnected services, individuals applying for unemployment will also register with our online jobs center, which will provide immediate access to thousands of current job openings.
Decker: Democrats predictably used the 2012 election campaign to demagogue tax cuts as being handouts to the rich. It’s not clear who they think employs most Americans if not those who have capital to invest and take risks to build businesses that create jobs, but certainly their scheme of evermore government spending hasn’t worked. What’s your philosophy on the role tax policy plays in the economy?
Walker: From a good-governance perspective, taxes are only one piece of the job-creation equation. Ultimately, taxes fit into the bottom-line cost of doing business — other major factors include litigation and regulatory environment. Government can either make it more favorable to create jobs by decreasing the costs associated with business, or less favorable to create jobs by increasing costs. Big-government advocates often discuss taxes in moral terms making a claim that the rich need to pay their “fair share.” What they ignore is the fact that most small businesses file individual income taxes, which means increasing taxes on the rich directly increases the cost of maintaining, growing or founding a small business.
Taxes should fund priorities. When excessive taxes are pushed by big-government advocates, they often commit resources to enforce senseless regulations and pay for burdensome bureaucracy. In Wisconsin, my predecessor increased taxes and expanded needless regulations. Builders were required to use siding rated hurricane proof. Wisconsin has never experienced a hurricane and likely never will. This absurd regulation cost the already ailing construction industry with no real benefit to anyone. Government needs to reduce the costs associated with private-sector job creation, including taxes. As a nation, we need to stand with our small-business owners so they can continue to innovate and help our economy thrive.
Decker: The Senate Budget Committee pegs the cost of America’s unfunded liabilities for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Obamacare at $99.4 trillion over 75 years. In Congress, Rep. Paul Ryan, your fellow Wisconsinite who was picked to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, has done what most politicians are afraid to do — suggest major systemic reforms for our welfare state, including programs that affect senior citizens. What should happen to lessen this huge fiscal burden weighing down businesses, the states and our nation as a whole?
Walker: Those individuals seeking federal office can speak specifically about federal entitlement programs. However, Wisconsin can be a model for the nation. We made long-term structural reforms and balanced a $3.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes, without massive layoffs and without cuts in Medicaid. The next generation in our state will no longer be buried under a mountain of economically crippling debt from state government. I am optimistic those seeking federal office can have an honest debate on the role of federal spending and the devastating affect debt may have on our children and grandchildren.
Decker: Every spring around graduation time, embarrassing studies are released that show large majorities of U.S. high-school graduates don’t have a grasp of basic math skills or know fundamental details about our history such as in what century the Civil War occurred. It’s fair to say there is a national crisis in public education. You have a comprehensive vision for education reform. What can be done to reverse this dangerous slide?
Walker: In 2010, Megan Sampson was named an Outstanding First Year Teacher in Wisconsin. A week later, she got a layoff notice from Milwaukee Public Schools because her collective-bargaining contract required staffing decisions to be made based on seniority. We changed the system. Now, school districts can make staffing decisions based on merit and pay based on performance. Ultimately, this will keep the best and the brightest in our classrooms and improve education for all children.
Beyond reforming collective bargaining, we need to empower parents so they can make educational decisions for their children based on verifiable data. This involves a number of different items ranging from giving them the tools and choice to utilize virtual schools or charter schools to empowering them with information about the performance of all area public and private schools. We are in the final stages of implementing a school-accountability system, which will provide parents with data-based ratings for all area schools. Rewarding excellence and empowering parents will provide positive results for all students.
Decker: You impressively defeated a recall effort and won a showdown over adding some common sense into collective-bargaining rules for public employees. What’s the legacy of that battle, what does it mean for Wisconsin, and how can your stand be an example for statehouses facing difficult decisions across the country?
Walker: I hope the recall election showed leaders all across the country it’s more important to focus on the next generation than the next election. Wisconsin faced both a fiscal and economic crisis. I talked about my plan to fix these problems when I was interviewing for the job of governor in 2009 and 2010. Then, instead of doing what would have been politically easy by shying away from the tough decisions, I followed through on the promises I made to our state’s residents. As for Wisconsin, we’ll continue to focus on making the tough decisions necessary to keep our fiscal house in order, while ultimately creating an environment that allows the private sector to create jobs.
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Brett M. Decker, former Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Times, was an editorial page writer and editor for the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong, Senior Vice President of the Export-Import Bank, Senior Vice President of Pentagon Federal Credit Union, speechwriter to then-House Majority Whip (later Majority Leader) Tom DeLay and reporter and television producer for the legendary Robert ...
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