January 23, 2019
Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
My fellow Wisconsinites, the state of our state is strong. Not because of anything the man delivering this year’s State of the State address did, mind you.
It’s quite the opposite, actually.
The state of our state is strong because of the man he defeated and the men and women he is now pledging to oppose. The state of our state is strong because of the policies that he is promising to undo.
In fact, my fellow Wisconsinites, the best thing Governor Tony Evers can do to keep the state of our state strong is absolutely nothing. If he wants to keep Wisconsin moving forward, he can take a backseat to a Republican State Legislature that has presided over unprecedented growth.
Naturally, he won’t, but it will behoove him to at least consider how strong Wisconsin has grown over the past eight years.
The state ended the 2017-2018 Fiscal Year with a $588.5 million budget surplus and a whopping $1.53 billion in its General Fund. By way of contrast, Wisconsin ended the final year of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle’s tenure in 2010 facing a $3.6 billion budget shortfall and ended the 2009-2010 Fiscal Year with only $71.0 million in the General Fund.
Doyle’s policies were so disastrous for Wisconsin that what had been $835.7 million in the General Fund at the end of the long tenure of Republican Governor Tommy Thompson dropped a staggering 82 percent in just ten years.
When Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature took over in 2011, though, the state’s financial picture immediately brightened. Wisconsin had a budget surplus in each of the past eight years, and after eight years of Republican rule the state now has $320.1 million in its “rainy day” fund—190 times higher than the $1.68 million with which Governor Doyle and the Democratic Legislature left it.
Negligent mismanagement of Wisconsin’s finances forced the Democrats to hike taxes by $3 billion in Governor Doyle’s final biennial budget, but after eight years of Walker and a Republican Legislature, the tax burden on Wisconsinites has declined by a staggering $8 billion.
Not coincidentally, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate rose from 5.5 percent in December of 2002 (the month before Doyle took office) to 8.2 percent in December of 2010 (his last full month in office) and then dropped to 3.0 percent in Governor Walker’s last full month in office this past December.
That was the fifth straight month of 3.0 percent unemployment after state-record lows of 2.8 percent in April and May.
At no point during Doyle’s governorship did unemployment drop below 4.3 percent.
Because so many more people are working than when Doyle left office, Wisconsin’s total general purpose revenues hit $8.48 billion in 2018, compared with $6.09 billion in 2010 (even though the tax burden on individual Wisconsinites was much higher).
In 2010, Wisconsin’s poverty rate was 13.0 percent and approximately 733,000 people lived below the state’s poverty line while an additional 983,000 lived close to it. By 2018, though, the poverty rate was down to 11.3 percent and the total number of people living in poverty dropped to 639,564.
And not only are more people out of poverty after eight years of Republican reforms, people are making more money.
New MacIver Institute research finds that “Wisconsin’s private-sector wages grew on average by 5.7 percent in the first five months of 2018, according to Census Bureau data. That compares to 2.7 percent for the entire U.S. Last year alone Wisconsin median household income rose more than $1,000 to about $59,300, according to the Census Bureau. The state averaged a 3.6 percent increase in earnings, compared to the national average of 2.8 percent.”
By literally every indicator, the state of our state is infinitely stronger today than the last time a Democratic Governor was in office. And our state can remain strong if its new Democratic Governor recognizes what has worked for the past eight years and what failed for the eight years before that.
Governor Evers is now calling for what amounts to a return to the Doyle economy as he proposes the same bloated spending that will lead to the same confiscatory tax hikes that already led Wisconsin to the brink of ruin.
Yet today, the state of our state is strong, and if Evers wants to keep it that way, the best thing he can do is simply step back and let Republican policies strengthen it even further.