CAP TIMES: What’s good for fat cats is bad for rest of us

June 22, 2011
Dave Zweifel

Gov. Scott Walker never misses a chance these days to take credit for Chief Executive Magazine moving Wisconsin up 17 notches — 41st to 24th — in its ranking of the best and worst states for business.

Although the poll of 500 CEOs, the fattest of America’s fat cats, was conducted less than two weeks after Walker became governor, it’s clear that the Wisconsin governor’s war against public employee unions and ever-greater tax breaks for the interests of big business have impressed the ranks of those who typically get multimillion-dollar end-of-the-year bonuses whether their companies do well or not.

The more a state does to make sure corporations pay few taxes, while relegating workers to the short end of the stick, the better the folks who read magazines like Chief Executive like it.

I pointed this out a couple of months ago when I noted that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is now ranking the state of Mississippi high on its list of places with good labor and employment practices.

Big business really likes that state. It has no state minimum wage and few unions to bother with, and its employment anti-discrimination laws are the bare minimum that the feds require states to enact. Meanwhile, a state like Pennsylvania, which has strong child labor laws and where workers earn above the national average, is considered a bad place for business.

The fact that Mississippi, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has the lowest per-person income in the country, the lowest life expectancy and an education system ranked 47th among the 50 states doesn’t enter into the big business equation.

All that, of course, plays well into Walker’s plan.

Average worker income in Wisconsin is going down, low-income workers will have a tougher time qualifying for the Earned Income Tax Credit, fewer state workers will have union protection, and even the state’s child labor laws will be changed so that businesses can work 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds more than 40 hours a week. The object, of course, is to give employers larger opportunities to get more work out of mostly minimum-wage workers.

Walker and his rubber-stamp allies in the Legislature are convinced that all this will attract new businesses to Wisconsin and create more jobs. The question remains, however, just what kind of businesses and jobs this blatant race to the bottom will attract and create.

Wisconsin was once the leader among the states, with enlightened and enterprising government, healthy businesses and a strong middle-class workforce. For decades it was a model for good, clean, open government. And although it expected businesses and corporations to contribute to the welfare of the state, many did so because of the advantages — from good schools to a healthy environment — that Wisconsin offered them in return.

All this has been turned on its head. While we may soon join Mississippi at the top of the pro-business world, we’re also likely to join it at the bottom in per-person income and other categories.

Scott Walker and the CEOs of corporate America may think that’s a good thing, but for the rest of us, it’s a tragedy.