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Walker's state of the state: more jobs, mining reform, tax cut in 2013

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MADISON (WRN)   Governor Scott Walker sketched the framework of his agenda for the next two years, in his annual “State of the State” address Tuesday. “Bold vision, and bright hope for the future” was the overarching theme of Walker’s remarks to a joint session of the Wisconsin legislature, as he hit on the high points of what he hopes to accomplish with a briskly delivered 33 minute presentation.

We’re turning things around. We’re heading in the right direction. We’re moving Wisconsin forward. And unlike other states, we avoided significant tax increases, massive layoffs and cuts in programs, like Medicaid. Instead, we put in place long-term structural reforms that helped us balance state and local government budgets for years to come. What we did was think more about the next generation than we did about the next election-and it worked. 

For the first time in our state’s history, we set money aside in two consecutive years for the rainy day fund. Our bond rating is solid and our pension system is the only one in the country that is fully funded. We made tough, but prudent, decisions to get our fiscal house in order. Today, unlike the federal government and many of our neighboring states, we have a surplus, which will allow us to invest in our priorities. 

With the introduction of my proposed budget next month, I will lay out a clear plan for reducing the burden on hard-working families by lowering income taxes on the middle class. We want to continue to put more money in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers and small business owners in our state. Unlike the message coming out of Washington, I believe that putting more money in the hands of the people-instead of the government-is good for the economy. 

Walker told the lawmakers that he has five areas he wants to focus on for the next two years.

That’s why I laid out five very clear priorities for the next two years: create jobs, develop the workforce, transform education, reform government, and invest in our infrastructure. And it’s also why I’ve asked the members of the legislature to stay focused on these same priorities-and not get distracted on other issues. 

Walker wants a new mining law on the fast track at the Capitol, telling lawmakers he wants a bill on his desk early this year.

A mine would be a lifeline to people in northwestern Wisconsin, where the unemployment rate in Iron County is the 2nd highest in the state at nearly 12 percent. But the benefits will be felt all across Wisconsin. 

We have the potential for a billion and a half dollar investment here in our state that could lead to as many as 3,000 construction-related jobs and 2,800 long-term jobs. 

Walker introduced a number of union members who, he said, “really want to get to work,” but the job claims drew a skeptical response from the legislature’s

longest-serving lawmaker, Senator Fred Risser. The Madison Democrat rebutted the claims in a statement released just prior to the speech.

The Governor’s assertion that a mining bill will create in excess of 5,000 new short and long-term jobs is pure fantasy. Even if some bill becomes law, objections from the Army Corps of Engineers and tribal sovereignty concerns about water quality and pollution will lock this issue up in the courts for many years.

To that end, focusing on the needs of all state residents should not include special interest legislation for out-of-state mining companies at the expense of our state’s environment, tourism economy, and public health laws.

Walker also highlighted his goal of streamlining the state’s business regulations, releasing a report on that just prior to delivering his remarks.

Tonight, I am pleased to release this report, which identifies over 300 rule modifications in 218 administrative code chapters. Making these changes will make it easier to do business in the state, while maintaining the safety and health of our citizens. Speaker Vos has also made this a priority and my administration looks forward to working with him and other members of the legislature to improve our state’s regulatory climate. 

Walker also talked about the need to continue education reform efforts in Wisconsin.

In our budget, we will lay out plans to provide a financial incentive for high-performing and rapidly improving schools. We want to reward and replicate success-all across the state.

Every child should have access to a great education. We continue to expand the number of choices for families in Wisconsin-be it a traditional, a charter, a voucher, a virtual, or a home school environment. Moving forward, we want to continue to dramatically improve existing schools and give parents the opportunity to choose legitimate alternatives to failing schools. 

Walker’s education comments were criticized by one of the newest members of the legislature. In a statement, Milwaukee Senator Nikiya Harris said that the governor had “contributed to the crippling of our public schools,” in the previous session of the legislature.

It pains me to think that we live in a state that would starve a struggling public system instead of working to fix it. As a product of public education, I know that public schools are part of the village it takes to raise children, and I hope that the governor will realize that taking away resources from a system that has a responsibility to educate our kids is wrong. 

Walker concluded his remarks with a dig at politicians in Washington, and a reminder that he hasn’t forgotten a key campaign promise.

In many ways, our position in Wisconsin is a stark contrast to the chaos in Washington, DC. While many of our nation’s leaders fail to make tough decisions, we decided to avoid failure by embracing true reform. 

Still, there is much work to be done. As I travel the state, it is clear to me why our focus on helping create 250,000 jobs by 2015 is about much more than just fulfilling a campaign promise. Simply put, it is about helping improve the lives of 250,000 more families in Wisconsin. 

In a reminder of last year’s divisive session, protesters outside the Assembly chambers could be heard inside during the governor’s speech.

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