By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The two highest profile candidates for Wisconsin governor accused each other Tuesday of not having realistic plans to back up their job creation promises.
Republican Scott Walker said last month that he could create 250,000 jobs in his first term as governor. Democrat Tom Barrett on Tuesday said his goal was to replace the 180,000 jobs that have been lost since the start of the recession.
Walker released a six-point plan to meet his goal and Barrett said his could be met in part by the state accepting federal stimulus money to build a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee. Walker opposes the train plan and says it would not come close to meeting Barrett’s job creation estimates.
The squabble over job creation goals and construction of the rail line allows Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor, and Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, to demonstrate their differences in the early stages of the governor’s race.
Barrett is the highest profile Democratic candidate while Walker is being challenged for his party’s nomination by former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann.
Barrett limited his criticisms on Tuesday to Walker, calling his 250,000 job creation number arbitrary and dismissing his plan for achieving it.
“I think he just pulled that number out of the air,” Barrett said during a break in a tour of businesses being led by Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. “I’m not going to take an arbitrary number simply for a campaign statement.”
Walker said creating 250,000 was the minimum of what could be done under his plan that calls for lowering taxes, improving health care, education and infrastructure, ending frivolous lawsuits, and reducing regulations.
“I believe firmly that’s just a starting point, not the end point for us,” he said in a telephone interview.
Barrett called Walker’s job creation plan nothing more than a political document.
For his part, Barrett said generating 180,000 jobs over three years could be done by sending the message that Wisconsin is open for business and accepting help from the federal government, including $810 million in federal stimulus money to build a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee.
Barrett has previously endorsed tax cuts as a job creation tool, reviewing the state’s economic development programs and making it easier for small businesses to get started and grow.
Wisconsin has lost roughly 180,000 jobs since the start of the recession two years ago and refilling those is attainable “if we can just push, push, push,” Barrett said.
Walker said Barrett won’t come close to refilling those lost jobs if he pins his hopes on the rail line, which the state has estimated would create only 55 permanent jobs. Walker said a $1 million tax cut alone would create that many jobs.
While only 55 new employees would be needed to operate the rail line, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has said thousands of jobs could be created to build the 85-mile line over the next five years.
Walker has spoken out against the rail line saying it will cost taxpayers too much in ongoing costs, not create enough jobs and be too expensive for people to use on a regular basis. The estimated round-trip ticket cost is between $40 and $66.
Barrett said ridership will increase as gas prices go up and it makes good economic sense to connect the state’s two largest cities by train, especially if it becomes part of a larger envisioned regional rail system linking Chicago to the Twin Cities.