Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval

2011 will go down in Wisconsin's history as one of the most volatile years for the state's politics and economy. While facing a big state budget deficit, amid the national recession, Governor Scott Walker implemented massive spending cuts and limits to public workers' collective bargaining rights shortly after his inauguration. As Democrats attempted to delay votes, and thousands of citizens protested, Republican lawmakers approved the governor's policies.

The events sparked months of heated debate over the GOP agenda, as well as recalls of state senators and efforts to unseat the governor. Walker's supporters maintain that he is positioning Wisconsin for an economic rebound and fiscal stability. His critics insist the policies are harming the middle class, public education and the social safety net.

During December 2011, Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval explored the intersection of Wisconsin's volatile political and economic climate. WUWM News reporters and Lake Effect producers reflected on the year, examined the long-range impact of the new policies and looked into where the state may be headed.

In taking office, Scott Walker declared that the state is now open for business. But it’s a mixed bag for business - employment is stagnant at best, and though unemployment has fallen slightly of late, the number of jobs here has declined significantly. We talk with Paul Jadin, the President and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the unit that largely replaced the state’s Department of Commerce this year.

This past year saw a major reorganization for the Wisconsin Arts Board – which lost its agency level status and was absorbed within the state’s Department of Tourism. George Tzugros is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Arts Board. Tzugros spoke with Bonnie North as part of our Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval series.

As our Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval series continues to identify winners and losers of the past year, we’ll meet the two legislators who aren’t about to let civility die in Wisconsin’s legislature. Republican Senator Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Democratic Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville formed a two-man caucus in support of bipartisanship this fall. We spoke with them in September while they were on their self-described Common Ground tour of Wisconsin.

We continue our week-long series Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval.

This first year of the Walker Administration may be remembered as one of Wisconsin’s most tumultuous political eras.

Early on, the governor created environmental waves by putting the brakes on much-anticipated wind turbine siting rules – stifling a fledgling industry.

We now continue Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval. All week, we’re exploring the impact of Wisconsin’s divisive political climate this year, mixed with a tough economy. Tuesday, we reported on some winners of the new Republican majority’s agenda, including business interests and social conservatives.

Today, we focus on entities that lost ground, the biggest – public workers. Gov. Walker’s budget required them to pay more for their health insurance and pensions, in order to ease the state deficit. The GOP went one step further in 2011, by stripping most public unions of all rights except to bargain for limited wage increases. As WUWM’s Marti Mikkelson reports, angered public workers are now part of a massive effort to recall the governor.

As part of Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval, we’re identifying winners and losers of the past year. But in the case of county government, it’s hard to tell where it falls. Chris Abele is the Milwaukee County Executive. He spoke with Mitch Teich.

School Desks
Photos.com

Our conversation about the complicated nature of winners and losers in 2011 takes a look at education. Alan Borsuk is a senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School, and writes education op-ed columns for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for which he was a longtime reporter. He spoke with Mitch Teich as part of our Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval series.

Political Participation for the Win

Dec 13, 2011
Wisaflcio, Flickr

Political activism was definitely a winner in Wisconsin in 2011. We’ll talk with the directors of two policy organizations for our Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval series. Scot Ross is the executive director of the Madison-based progressive advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. Matt Seaholm is the state director for Americans for Prosperity - Wisconsin. They both spoke with Stephanie Lecci - you can find more of their conversation as supplemental audio below.

Labor Leader Says Unions Lost Rights, Gained Solidarity

Dec 13, 2011

A local union leader weighs in on how organized labor came out of this historic political year. Sheila Cochran is the Chief Operating Officer and Secretary/Treasurer of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO. She spoke with Stephanie Lecci as part of our Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval series - you can hear much more of their conversation as supplemental audio below.

It was nearly a year ago that Gov. Walker proclaimed - Wisconsin is open for business. In order to re-enforce that message, his administration successfully advanced a number of tax breaks to encourage businesses to hire and even relocate to the state. There was some bipartisan support for the incentives, although Democrats labeled them marginal and later blasted the governor and Republican lawmakers for slashing money from things such as education. Still, Walker maintains Wisconsin is in a much better place with a balanced budget and improved business climate. Is that the case? WUWM’s LaToya Dennis posed the question to Abdur Chowdhury. He’s chair of Marquette University’s Department of Economics.

We now continue “Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval.” All week, we’re examining the divisive year Wisconsin has experienced politically, with perhaps economic worries at the core. Last fall, for the first time in over a decade voters put Republicans in control of state government. New Gov. Scott Walker insisted he had the formula to erase the state’s massive deficit and create jobs.

State of Business

Dec 13, 2011

From the beginning, Gov. Scott Walker said once he took office his focus would be on creating jobs. During the 2010 campaign, he vowed to create 250,000 private sector positions during his first term. To help, he converted the commerce department into a public-private entity called the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and instructed it to focus exclusively on fostering business growth, rather than also regulating the private sector. Walker also instituted a number of tax breaks for companies that create jobs here. In this installment of Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval, WUWM’s LaToya Dennis explores the impact the changes are having on business growth. Things are bustling at Cree Ruud Lighting in Sturtevant. Until earlier this year, it had been just Ruud - a firm making commercial and energy efficient lighting. Then, Cree, a company based in North Carolina, specializing in LED lighting bought the Wisconsin operation for $525 million. Construction crews have since broken ground for a gigantic addition.

Our Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval series features a roundtable discussion with journalists of all political bents analyzing the past year’s political events. That panel includes: Bruce Murphy, editor of Milwaukee Magazine; Lynda Jones, editor of the Milwaukee Courier; Steve Jagler, executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee; Mark Kass editor of the Business Journal of Milwaukee and David Haynes, editorial page editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A Historical Precedent for an Unprecedented Year?

Dec 12, 2011

We try to figure out whether a seemingly unprecedented year in Wisconsin actually does have a historical precedent. Historian John Gurda is the author of nineteen books, including The Making of Milwaukee and Cream City Chronicles. He’s also a regular Lake Effect contributor, and he spoke with Stephanie Lecci as part of our Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval series.

Attorney & Blogger Tracks Gov. Walker's Rise

Dec 12, 2011

Our Project Milwaukee: State of Upheaval coverage continues with Milwaukee attorney and conservative blogger Rick Esenberg, and his take on the meaning and the legacy of the past year.

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