Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, facing a recall election June 5, made what he called a campaign stop in Springfield Tuesday to address hundreds of business leaders at Employer Action Day, sponsored by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Walker is drumming up support for his policies in part to combat with union pressure from across the country.
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He balanced a two-year budget $3.6 billion in the red, in part by cutting budgets to state services and eliminating collective bargaining rights for state employees. The Illinois Chamber and NFIB invited Walker to speak because they say those decisions prove he’s facing his state’s problems head-on instead of picking around the edges. They say that’s the type of leadership needed to create a more stable business climate. Walker’s visit drew the ire of thousands of protestors, who packed a couple of city blocks in downtown Springfield outside the hotel where Walker was speaking. They say Wisconsin has lost jobs since Walker has been in office.
“It’s a smaller state than we are,” says Illinois Chamber of Commerce president Doug Whitley, who noted Walker has been in office for only 15 months. “Their economy is not nearly as diverse as our economy, and I think Illinois is going to continue to do well. We’ve already turned the corner.” Many detractors also asked the Chamber why it would invite Walker to speak in Illinois, given Walker’s history of trying to lure Illinois companies north. Walker downplayed those calls, in which he offered tax incentives to Illinois companies that move. “The biggest thing we keep track of is the unemployment rate,” says Walker, noting he doesn’t keep track of how many Illinois companies have crossed the border. “Illinois’ is 9.1 percent, Wisconsin’s is 6.9 percent, and I believe it will continue to drop because of our policies.”