Walker says feds approve higher Wis. job numbers

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By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Gov. Scott Walker's administration said Wednesday that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has finalized higher job numbers for Wisconsin for 2011, which would blunt one of his opponents' biggest arguments against him just six days before he stands for recall.

However, Walker's Democratic opponent in the recall, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, told reporters that he doesn't believe Walker's administration and he wants to see official confirmation.

"Anybody has a right to be suspicious," Barrett said.

Walker's Department of Workforce Development provided an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday from the bureau's staff that shows it gave final approval to the numbers. The email did not say what number the bureau approved, but Workforce Development spokesman John Dipko said it was 23,608, which would be dramatically better job creation in the state than figures based on a different survey of businesses.

Dipko said the numbers would be provided to the AP on Thursday and published on the state's website Friday.

Though Tuesday's recall was sparked by Walker's proposal effectively ending collective bargaining rights for most state workers, much of the truncated campaign has focused on Walker's performance related to the economy. In an unusual move, Walker released the fresh job creation numbers two weeks ago, before the federal bureau had approved them.

Barrett has accused Walker of "cooking the books" and trying to spin the numbers to his advantage.

The labor bureau isn't scheduled to publish the new numbers until three weeks after the election. No one at the agency's regional office in Chicago answered the phone after hours Wednesday.

However, according to Walker's administration, the final figures confirmed by the bureau show the state gained 23,608 jobs in 2011, rather than losing 33,900 jobs, which was the worst in the nation. That figure would also be 287 higher than the estimate Walker released early.

"You have my personal assurance that is not a made-up number," said Georgia Maxwell, the department's executive assistant.

Walker was jubilant when told of the news after a campaign stop in Janesville.

"More than good news for me, it's good news for the state," a smiling Walker said.

Walker also said Barrett owed people an apology.

Todd Schober, a financial planner and Walker supporter from Racine, said he's always skeptical about what competing campaigns claim but that the positive numbers resonated more with him based on what he's seeing anecdotally.

"I just think we're heading in the right direction," he said.

Even with the improved numbers for 2011, Walker is far from meeting his campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs. He's on pace to create just over 94,000.

A Marquette University Law School released Wednesday poll showed Walker with a narrow 7-point lead over Barrett, 52 percent to 45 percent. The poll's margin of error was 4.1 percentage points. In the same poll two weeks ago Walker held a 6-point lead, 50 percent to 44 percent.

The latest random telephone poll of 600 likely voters was done between May 23 and Thursday.

The poll also showed that more respondents — 50 percent to 43 percent — believed Walker would do a better job with the economy than Barrett. That is similar to two weeks ago, when Walker held a 48-41 edge on that question. That question polled 720 registered voters and had a smaller 3.7 percentage point margin of error.

Meanwhile, out-of-state donors kept pumping cash into Walker's campaign last month.

Reports filed with state elections officials Tuesday show Walker, aided by a quirk in state law that eliminates contribution limits for recall targets, collected $5.9 million between April 24 and Wednesday. Almost two-thirds of that money — $3.7 million — came from contributors who listed an address outside Wisconsin.

Barrett, meanwhile, raised $3.4 million between April 24 and Wednesday, with 70 percent of his money coming from donors with Wisconsin addresses, the reports showed.

Barrett has raised a total of $4.2 million since he jumped into the recall race in late March, while Walker has raised $31 million since winning office.

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Associated Press writers Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee, Dinesh Ramde in Racine, Wis., and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wis., contributed to this report.

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