The state Legislature's 2011-12 regular session has careened to a close, with both parties accusing the other of blocking progress on Wisconsin's No. 1 issue: job creation.
"Unfortunately, despite holding two so-called special jobs sessions, the Republican-controlled Legislature has spent more time focusing on giving money to private voucher schools while undermining public education, an extreme social agenda and power grabs," groused Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, in a press release.
Barca's office has identified more than a dozen jobs bills introduced by Democrats that failed to pass, some of which were even included in Republican Gov. Scott Walker's call last September for a special session on jobs. Even with the governor's backing, they died on the vine.
Republicans, meanwhile, are in a snit over the Democrats' opposition to a bill to revamp the state's mining rules. Some of their volleys don't even mention that a Republican, Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center, cast a pivotal vote against what he believed to be a flawed bill.
"Senate Democrats have failed Wisconsin," asserted state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a press release. "I'm extremely disappointed that they refuse to see the clear need for jobs in our state."
State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, speculated as to the other side's base motives: "I fear the Democrats in the Senate feel it's more important for Scott Walker to lose his job than it is to provide jobs to thousands of folks in our state."
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin lost 12,500 jobs between January 2011 and January 2012, more than any other state; only five other states posted job losses. But Wisconsin gained a significant number of private sector jobs in January, preliminary numbers show, suggesting a turnaround.
Walker's press secretary, Cullen Werwie, said in an email that the state has passed "some of the most aggressive pro-jobs proposals in the entire country," including new wetlands rules and job training proposals that "will improve our economy and help the private sector create jobs." He added that the vast majority of the jobs bills passed with bipartisan support.
But the Democrats' own jobs initiatives hit a brick wall. Walker's special session jobs package included a bill backed by Barca to create early stage seed and angel investment tax credits — so-called venture capital. The bill's fiscal estimate predicted these credits would generate enough new revenue to offset their costs.
The bills went nowhere.
Another Democratic bill on Walker's list, to create a tax break for employers who cover employee mass transit expenses as a fringe benefit, was backed by an improbable array of interest groups: the Sierra Club, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
But it wasn't backed by legislative Republicans, so it withered and died.
Ditto with AB 398, a Democratic bill to provide grants for technical college boards to partner with the private sector to address skills gaps and workforce shortages. The bill's supporters included the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a state union representing teachers; and the Wisconsin Realtors Association, one of the state's most powerful business lobby groups. It failed.
Also left on the cutting room floor were Democrat-backed bills to give tax breaks for hiring new workers, encourage state and local governments to buy from Wisconsin-based businesses, provide grants to new small businesses that offer paid internships; and allow small businesses to get a tax credit to expand operations earlier in the process.
Asked about the failure of Democrat-backed bills, even those that had the governor's support, Walker spokesman Werwie called the failure of Democrats and Sen. Schultz to pass the mining bill "a devastating move for people looking for work and for the private sector unions who supported the proposal. Those 17 senators sold out private sector unions and workers for political gain."
Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.