Where is the urgency on jobs?

Editor’s note: Wisconsin Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) delivered his response to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s State of the State Address Tuesday night. The following is the text of Barca’s response.

Tonight is the time set aside to reflect on where we are in Wisconsin – and where we would like our state to be. What Wisconsin needs is not simply rosy pictures but an honest assessment of where we stand, both the positive and the negative. Unfortunately, this candid assessment is not what we heard tonight.

“As Wisconsin leaders, we must acknowledge, confront and address why Wisconsin has fallen behind most other states, particularly our neighbors, in its economic recovery. We must assess why middle-class incomes are declining and job creation is lagging.

“What I believe is needed – and missing — to change this dynamic in our state is a sense of urgency and immediate action on economic recovery, closing the skills gap and putting people back to work. No more broken promises. No more glossing over real problems. Time to stop excuses from any leaders.

“Wisconsin is 42nd in the nation in job creation and at the bottom in the Midwest. Forbes Magazine predicts we will continue to lag behind much of the country for years to come. The magazine also ranked us 42nd — among the worst states to do business. Forbes noted that Wisconsin “job growth is projected to be second worst in the U.S. through 2016.”

“That is devastating for Wisconsin working families. Here in Wisconsin, we should never be content with being number 42. Yet, stunningly, our governor and legislative Republicans have not shown any sense of urgency on jobs.

“The Legislature was out of session for nine months. The budget will not be signed into law for another half-a-year. About 50 jobs bills died at the end of last session. Even if a mining bill is passed soon it will not create jobs for years.

“Gov. Walker began the last session with great urgency for taking away rights and tilting elections toward the GOP. In the governor’s words, he “dropped the bomb.” That bomb divided and polarized our state. And it sent shockwaves that stole the focus, bipartisanship and energy away from economic recovery and job creation.

“It has been two years since that time. Despite our repeated calls for a true special session on job creation and closing the skills gap, it simply has not happened. At times it seems Republicans are prioritizing everything but job creation. Whether it is taking away workers’ rights, rolling back equal pay protections or making it tougher to vote – these things have been given priority over creating jobs.

“We must take action now. Far too many Wisconsinites struggle with unemployment or underemployment or have seen their wages and quality-of-life decline. Middle-class families deserve hope, assurance and real action that will provide true economic security and certainty.

“In January 2011 Democrats introduced a package of jobs bills as our first action on inauguration day. And in November 2011 we introduced a package of bills aimed at closing the skills gap. Despite promises, these creative and innovative bills were never passed – most were never even debated or considered.

“That is unfortunate because despite two years of talk about jobs, Wisconsin lags behind much of the rest of the country. Gov. Walker remains terribly far off pace of his promise to create 250,000 jobs. Politifact puts him at 37,000 jobs and shot down his exaggerated claims of higher numbers with its harshest “Pants on Fire” rating.

“It’s past time to stop inflating and contorting numbers. It’s far past time to stop spending large amounts of time on polarizing, less pressing partisan issues.

“I am not content with remaining 42nd in the nation. None of us should be. Wisconsin has always been a state that leads on innovative ideas and is known for its strong public schools, high-quality health care and our leading university and technical college system.

“After this last session we are known for historic cuts to public schools, undermining job training at technical colleges and routinely being at the very bottom of the jobs rankings.

“There is nothing wrong with this state that cannot be solved with an actual focus and urgency devoted to jobs and education.

“Wisconsin has often led the nation in innovation and rankings. For the sake of the middle class and small businesses, let’s immediately dedicate ourselves to the hard work of putting people back to work.”

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