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Konopacki sunset Walker

Scott Walker has five more days in office.

He'll leave Monday, Jan. 7, the day Tony Evers will be inaugurated and take his place as the head of Wisconsin government.

Like most politicians — 1st District Congressman Paul Ryan being one example — Walker is riding into the sunset claiming to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

He and many of his Republican colleagues point proudly to the state of Wisconsin's economy, low unemployment and an $85 million drop in the state's tax burden since he took office back in 2010. They claim that Walker's signature anti-union legislation, the infamous Act 10, alone saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $3.5 billion.

Tax breaks and tax credits for some corporations, outright grants to others and, of course, the $3 billion in subsidies to convince the giant Foxconn corporation to build a big factory in southeast Wisconsin are all credited with bringing jobs to the state.

And, indeed, there's no question that the state's economy is better off than it was back in 2010, Democrat Jim Doyle's last year and the year of Walker's victory in the fall.

Let's not forget, though, that Scott Walker was the beneficiary of a national economic recovery that followed the disastrous Great Recession Barack Obama inherited from George W. Bush. Wisconsin has done well following those troubled times — but so has most every other state.

To claim that killing public unions and crippling those in the private sector with a so-called right-to-work law were big contributors to Wisconsin's recovery is nonsense. Most states didn't resort to onerous attacks on workers and their turnaround has been just as good, if not better, than Wisconsin's.

The Badger State now ranks 27th among the states in business growth and the state of its economy is also 27th — in other words, about the middle of the pack.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Walker pointed to a new study showing that the tax burden on Wisconsin citizens has fallen to its lowest point in 50 years. It is now at 10.5 percent of a taxpayer's income, dropping from 10.6 the year before.

Neighboring Minnesota, which has continually outperformed Wisconsin in recent years, still ranks among the highest in burdening its taxpayers, all of which shows that states can lower tax burdens simply by cutting taxes and then squeezing services. Kansas did just that under now-departed Gov. Sam Brownback. Its citizens saved big money on taxes, but the schools, for one, have imploded.

It isn't as severe as Kansas, but under Walker, Wisconsin too has regressed the past eight years.

Our infrastructure, especially roads and highways, has been neglected all in the name of making sure we don't raise the gas tax. Some Republicans blame local governments for not fixing their streets, but much of that is due to no significant help from the state.

One of Walker's early blunders was his insistence that Wisconsin not take federal money to expand passenger rail at a time when economic development and the need for public transportation were expanding. Denying public transportation to the working poor only exacerbates the inequality so prevalent in the state.

Meanwhile, we no longer rank among the very best in our public schools and universities. Flagship UW-Madison has fallen a couple of notches in attracting research money, state universities are having to cut majors and being forced to lay off faculty to make ends meet. Our prisons and correction facilities rank 44th in the country.

What's worse, though, is how far the state has fallen in protecting what's crucial to the future of Wisconsin — its natural resources. For the past eight years — the first time since  John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Warren Knowles and Gaylord Nelson led the way to preserve our beauty, protect our water and air, and write rules for responsible development— Walker's record on the environment has been awful.

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Under Walker, Wisconsin government made the crucial decision that encouraging unfettered development is more important than protecting the environment and that the interests of business supersede the need to preserve the state for generations to come.

Scientists were dismissed from the DNR. Developers were exempted from many of the state's longstanding environmental regulations, the worst being at the Foxconn plant, where the corporation not only received unprecedented subsidies, but was allowed to ignore rules protecting vital wetlands and water quality.

Environmental advocates are concerned that the damage to the state's natural resources and scenic beauty from Walker's tenure will take decades to fix.

The last eight years haven't been pretty. Scott Walker has left a formidable challenge for his successor, not to mention the same, old GOP-led Legislature is here to make the challenge even greater.

Nevertheless, let's hope for better times in 2019.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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