Wisconsin plan for Illinois?
Reforms in Land of Lincoln could help provide certainty to private-sector job creators
All too often political leaders have been afraid to tell the truth about the costs associated with pension, health care and other entitlement obligations. It is time for politicians to own up to these fiscal challenges.
As is the case in Illinois, the truth is often sobering. I know the feeling. When I became governor in Wisconsin, the state faced a $3.6 billion deficit, was hemorrhaging jobs and had high unemployment.
While I'm not an expert on the fiscal challenges facing Illinois, based on media reports I've read and stories I've heard from visiting your state, there are major budgetary issues that need to be resolved. Illinois faces a fiscal and economic crisis.
In times of crisis, citizens should demand leadership. In the weeks leading up to the Wisconsin recall election, a supporter and friend told me: "If you hadn't gone as far as you did, you might have avoided this recall election." I responded, "We also wouldn't have fixed our problem. I'm not planning on it, but I'm not afraid to lose."
The actions we took in balancing the state's budget and implementing collective bargaining reforms were solely aimed at ensuring that my two sons and other kids would inherit a state better off than the one I had. Burying the next generation under a mountain of crippling debt was never a realistic option.
Economic growth and job creation are largely dependent on certainty, which government can provide by delivering stable services, predictable regulations and a favorable tax climate.
I visited Illinois last week, not to poach businesses but to encourage employers who have a global presence to consider future expansion in Wisconsin. The future of Wisconsin's economy is tied to the Midwest region — specifically the Chicago and northern Illinois areas, which is why I hope Illinois leaders can make long-term structural changes that will provide certainty to private-sector job creators.
The reforms we enacted in Wisconsin balanced our budget and improved the economic environment for job creators. We did all of that without overall tax increases, massive public employee layoffs or cuts to those who are truly in need of help, such as individuals who rely on Medicaid.
Since I took office, more than 41,000 jobs have been added in Wisconsin. Today, Wisconsin's unemployment rate is below 7 percent — it hasn't been that low since 2008. We are getting people back to work. Even better, employers are ready to add more jobs. Two years ago, a survey of Wisconsin employers showed that just 10 percent thought the state was headed in the right direction. Today the survey shows that 94 percent believe Wisconsin is headed in the right direction and a solid majority plan to add jobs.
Similarly, CEOs from around the country used to have a negative view about doing business in our state. Before I took office, Wisconsin routinely ranked in the bottom 10 of states to do business in. Last month, Wisconsin broke into the top 20. What we did in Wisconsin was common sense. Like many small businesses and households, we had challenges, and we set out to fix them.
Now is the time for leaders in Illinois and across the nation to take on these tough choices. The next generation is counting on us.
Scott Walker is the governor of Wisconsin.