'Things are only going to get better:' Gov. Walker lays out 'ambitious' plan in State of the State address

MADISON – Governor Scott Walker laid out what he calls an “ambitious” plan for Wisconsin Wednesday, Jan. 24 during his State of the State address; his vision includes new requirements for people seeking welfare, additional rural economic development spending, and a new child tax credit.

The Republican governor delivered his annual address ahead of a challenging campaign as Walker vies for a third term as governor. He faces opposition from a crowded Democratic field and his speech came just days after what he described as a “wake-up call” for Republicans; they lost a special election for a state senate seat in a traditionally conservative district in the western part of the state.

Walker touted the state’s budget surplus and pointed to an unemployment rate of 3%, which is a full percentage point below the national average.

“The only other time it was that low was in May, June, and July in 1999 when Tommy Thompson was governor,” Walker said. “Things were good then, they’re good now, and they’re only going to get better.”

Walker said he is investing much of an estimated half-billion dollar budget surplus, introducing Wednesday a $122 million child tax credit which would give families $100 per child, affecting an estimated 671,000 families.

“Couple hundred dollars more in the family budget could really make a difference,” Walker said. “It could be a new pair of shoes, a winter coat, activity fees at school, maybe a copay at the doctor or dentist’s office.”

The Walker administration also announced a $50 million rural economic development program, providing grant money to “stimulate private investment, improve productivity, and to fill open jobs in rural communities.” The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will administer the grants. WEDC would force companies to repay grants should they fail to make good on their promises. WEDC has faced public scrutiny in the past for its inability to recoup public money from business that failed to meet their goals.

Walker also boasted about increased spending on K-12 education. Democratic critics have called it a cynical election year move that comes after previous cuts to education under the Walker administration.

“He said quite few times he gave extra money to education but, very candidly, if I took $1,000 from you and I gave you $800 back, you’re happy to get your $800 back but you still did not fix the hole,” said State Sen. Lena Taylor (D – Milwaukee).

Walker also discussed a recently-introduced plan to stabilize the healthcare system in Wisconsin with a plan that guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and assistance paying for premiums for people who don’t get their insurance through an employer or through Medicaid.

“Our healthcare stability plan will help keep premiums at a reasonable level here in Wisconsin,” Walker said, “This is a market-driven approach to bring stability to healthcare in Wisconsin.”

Democrats said the healthcare proposal is another election year flip-flop since Walker is now embracing a popular part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, after previously calling for the ACA to be repealed.

“The governor has been one of the biggest forces of destabilizing our healthcare markets in the state of Wisconsin,” said State Rep. David Bowen (D – Milwaukee). “And now, all of a sudden, he wants to use tools from the Affordable Care Act, use it at the state level and say ‘I’m stabilizing those markets.’”

Walker also spoke about his plans to add new requirements for people seeking welfare assistance. His proposal calls for working age, able-bodied adults to put in 30 hours of work/job training per week and to pass a drug test in order to qualify for welfare.

Walker later called on lawmakers to approve a measure that closes the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison by the end of this session. He cites a plan Democrats have long pushed which calls for smaller, local facilities. Walker said he wants the approval of six regional juvenile detention centers, noting it’s a concept that could get bipartisan support and is based on a model used in Missouri.