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Our View: Gov. Walker believes in big, fundamental reforms - but jobs must follow

6:07 PM, Jul. 2, 2013  |  Comments
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Gov. Scott Walker changed his position on comprehensive immigration reform in an interview Tuesday with the Daily Herald Media Editorial Board, explicitly stating that, with caveats and requirements, he could support a path to citizenship for those here illegally. He did not take a position on the specific immigration bill being debated in Congress, but the statement was a departure from his previous positions, which suggested reforms to the system but stopped short of citizenship.

That's an interesting answer, and it is worth investigating how his views on the issue have changed since, as a candidate in 2010, he positioned himself as an immigration hawk.

But even more interesting, perhaps, was the way his broad answer on immigration revealed his way of looking at public policy problems. He said his preferred reform would be to the underlying system, the way legal immigration is structured.

"You hear some people talk about border security or a wall or all that," Walker said. "To me, I don't know that you need any of that if you had a better, saner way to let people into the country in the first place."

In the last two and a half years, the reforms Walker has made in Wisconsin have been controversial - at times hugely and historically so. But what is undeniable is that he does think in terms of fundamental, structural changes. Agree or disagree, that's what we have seen.

The big, central question of Walker's governorship, of course - and the one that's most acutely felt by Wisconsinites - is why the economy here has stagnated or limped toward recovery even as most of our Midwestern neighbors have seen growth that outstrips Wisconsin's. (The latest data does show Wisconsin pulling ahead of Illinois.) It's not only a complex question but also in some ways a still-unanswered one, as Walker and other Republicans argue that we will see faster growth this year and next year as a result of budget choices made in 2011.

Maybe we will. We don't have all the data yet, so we just don't know. What we do know is that our area, especially Wausau and Merrill, have among the state's highest unemployment rates. We hope that state, regional and international initiatives will help, but we remain concerned about the commitment to education.

There are two simple explanations for Wisconsin's struggles favored by partisans: The recall stymied economic growth, or Act 10 did. Both views clearly have some merit; both are much too neat and tidy for partisan purposes to be the sole explanation. Walker alluded to a massive recent report by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. that detailed factors that have held the state back.

We're not convinced that the new state budget can address these problems in a way that will seriously approach Walker's goal of presiding over the creation of 250,000 jobs in his first term. The budget's tax cut will provide less than $3.50 per paycheck to the average family in Marathon County - $87 per year for a household earning Marathon County's median income of $54,000 per year.

At the same time, we are certainly glad to see Wisconsin's recent economic improvements, both in absolute terms and relative to other states. For many families here in north central Wisconsin who still struggle, the most important measure of Walker's governorship will be whether they can say they're better off in 2014 than they were in 2010.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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