Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that Wisconsin's job creation numbers for his first year in office will be revised this week, less than three weeks before he faces a recall election that could turn based on his success in improving the state's struggling economy.
While the June 5 recall was prompted by Walker's curbing of public worker union rights, it also hinges on how well he's met his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs over four years. He will face off with Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Walker said at a carpet store in Oconomowoc that the revised figures for 2011 coming out Wednesday will be "brighter" than previously reported. The state Department of Workforce Development issued figures in March indicating Wisconsin lost 9,700 private sector jobs since Walker took office in January last year.
Walker promised to add 250,000 jobs during his 2010 campaign, and he reiterated that promise to Republican Party faithful at its annual convention at the weekend. Through March, the most recent month available, the state has added just 5,900 jobs under Walker.
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It wasn't clear who would release the new numbers. Walker's campaign referred questions to his office, but his spokesman there did not immediately respond. Messages left with Department of Workforce Development were not immediately returned.
Democrats were skeptical, saying Walker is avoiding taking responsibility for Wisconsin's poor job performance. Between March 2011 and March 2012, Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The governor's had 15 to 16 months to create jobs," said state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate. Walker has spent too much time traveling the country raising money for the recall when he should have been home focusing on job creation, Tate said.
Walker blamed the state's employment woes on the recalls, saying employers are hesitant to add jobs during times of political uncertainty but that there would be a "dramatic turnaround" after June 5.
"There is a tremendous enthusiasm built up for additional jobs," he said. "I think you're going to see a tremendous takeoff."
Walker made his comments at Vic's Carpet and Flooring, a family-owned business that he said saved nearly $3,000 on its 2011 property tax bill thanks to the governor's budget that stopped local governments from raising property taxes to make up for cuts in aid. He planned official stops later Monday in Neenah and Racine to make what he called significant jobs announcements.
Walker also took shots at Barrett, pointing to tax increases and a rise in unemployment in Milwaukee over the eight years Barrett has been mayor. Property taxes increased seven out of Barrett's eight years as mayor and the city's unemployment rate was third highest in the state at 10.4 percent in March.
"I believe the vast majority of people in this state don't want the rest of the state to become another Milwaukee," Walker said.
Barrett was campaigning Monday at the student union on the University of Wisconsin campus in Milwaukee.
Also Monday, the Democratic Party urged Walker and the state elections board to release more information about a criminal defense fund created in connection with a secret Milwaukee County investigation that has led to criminal charges against five people close to the governor.
The investigation centers on people who served during Walker's time as a Milwaukee County executive before he was elected governor in 2010. Allegations range from campaigning on county time to embezzling money from a veterans program.
Walker himself hasn't been charged with wrongdoing and has repeatedly said he's cooperating with the investigation and is not the focus of it. However, he also set up a legal defense fund - a move allowed only for officeholders who have been charged or are under investigation for election or campaign violations - and transferred $60,000 from his campaign donations to pay legal bills.
The Democratic Party called on the elections board to release all communications it had with Walker in relation to establishing the fund.
Walker dismissed the Democrats' request.
"It's nothing more than a cheap political stunt," he said. "They want to talk about anything other than Tom Barrett's failed record in Milwaukee."