“We are Wisconsin, we will lead the way”
Under a green and gold capitol dome, Gov. Scott Walker gave his first State of the State address, which was very reminiscent of his campaign speeches.
To sum it up (in case you hadn’t heard): Wisconsin is open for business.
Walker took the words of the late, great Vince Lombardi as his motto for turning the state around and taking the fiscal and economic lead across the county: “Success demands singleness of purpose.”
In less than thirty days, the Legislature has passed a number of bills that Walker says are “sending a clear message that we are open for business. Now is the time to start hiring.”
Among the most significant is a tort reform bill which limits lawsuits against businesses. Also sailing through were the elimination of taxes on Health Savings Accounts, which Walker said will allow small businesses to offer health coverage to employees and bring the state in line with others; the expansion of the relocation and development act to lure out-of-state businesses to Wisconsin, and a tax credit for those businesses.
“Creating jobs is not a partisan issue,” Walker said. “These are not Republican or Democratic jobs. These are Wisconsin jobs.”
But Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) disagrees to an extent.
While Walker referred to the impending $258 million shortfall for the current budget and the $3.2 billion shortfall predicted for the next budget, he didn’t give any new specifics as to how he would fix that hole. Instead, he repeated campaign promises to get state employees to contribute more towards their own pensions and health care premiums and to redo the structure of government.
He referenced the battle over benefits at Mercury Marine as an example of the good that can occur when labor makes concessions. Walker quoted a Mercury employee who told him that the company has been good to him and his family, and now it was his turn to step up, give back and keep jobs in the town.
“I hope (state) employees feel they’ve been treated fairly, but they have to understand we must right-size government,” Walker said.
Walker did unveil one initiative towards growing those 250,000 promised jobs: the reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange. He said the Department of Transportation has developed a plan that will start reconstruction of the roadway earlier than scheduled and cost $600 million less than originally projected.
He said moving up the work on the interchange will improve the state’s transportation infrastructure, which is essential to job development and business expansion.
In all, Walker was high on the state and free with his slogans, but short on specifics. After 30 days he should be more forthcoming with plans than campaign rhetoric. Hopefully, there will be more substance when he sends his budget repair and biennial budget request to the Legislature over the next few months.