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Politics & Government

Lawmakers, Analysts Make Predictions for Walker's State of the State Address

Eric Thayer, Getty Images

On Wednesday night, Gov. Scott Walker will unveil his plan for spending a $900 million state surplus. Four years ago, he focused on jobs.

Walker campaigned in 2010 on a promise to create 250,000 private sector jobs in four years. The state and country were working to pull free from the Great Recession.

After the election, Walker reiterated his vow in his first State of the State address in 2011.

“We are defining success for this administration by our ability to shape an environment where 250,000 jobs are created. Every action of our administration should be looked at through the lens of job creation. That’s why moments after taking the oath of office as your governor, I called a special session of the Legislature to focus on jobs. Already, we are sending a clear message that Wisconsin is open for business,” Walker says. 

During the special session, lawmakers approved the governor’s plans for lowering business costs.

“Yesterday, I signed an expansion of our relocation and economic development tax credits. These measures will help our state attract and retain businesses and jobs,” Walker says.

In addition to lowering certain taxes, the Legislature cut regulations, and raised the bar for filing lawsuits against companies. In his first State of the State Address, the governor also proposed solutions to Wisconsin’s $3 billion budget deficit. He said he wanted to ‘right size’ government, by requiring state employees to pay more for their benefits and slashing money for entitlement programs.

“Last week, our Secretary at the Department of Health Services testified before Congress on some of the challenges we are facing in Medicaid. In that program alone, we face a more than $150 million shortfall over the next six months and over the next biennium, the shortfall exceeds $1.8 billion. These are challenges that cannot be ignored,” Walker says.

Republican Rep. Dale Kooyenga acknowledges the governor will probably fall short of his goal to create 250,000 jobs - the latest federal figures indicate that Wisconsin has gained fewer than 105,000. Yet Kooyenga says the sum of the changes Walker has made, have left the state in much better shape than in 2011.

“We didn’t think the state would turn around this much, by every single metric, the gap deficit is down by over $1 billion, there’s over a 3,000 percent increase in the rainy day fund. There are tremendous signs across the board that we did not expect, so now we’re able to move to the next level, which is lowering taxes,” Kooyenga says.

While the governor may outline plans to cut taxes, Democrat Chris Larson does not expect Walker to reference his 2011 jobs numbers or plans to shrink Medicaid spending.

“He won’t talk about health care directly, considering that even his own proposal has had to go through two wash-ups in just a month’s time because they ended up calculating things wrong and they needed to fix it. And, we turned down enough money that would have created 10,500 new jobs and covered many more people for less money in our state for health care,” Larson says.

The governor rejected federal money to expand Medicaid coverage to adults living at or below 130 percent of poverty. He says that range could become too costly in years ahead. Instead, Wisconsin will cover adults with incomes up to the poverty line.

Larson does not expect the governor to talk about his education record in tonight’s speech. Walker’s budgets have cut millions from public schools, weakened teacher unions and expanded voucher schools, but his first State of the State Address did not mention education.

This year’s will likely be an upbeat message about economic achievements, according to UW-Green Bay Political Scientist Michael Kraft.

“I think what he’s likely to say is the state has recovered economically, maybe he will acknowledge not quite as much as he had hoped but I’m sure he’ll put a positive spin on this to say he’s very pleased with the level of economic recovery and he will do much more to push it ahead in 2014,” Kraft says.

While the governor’s first State of the State Address set his course for Wisconsin, Kraft says this fourth edition will have November’s gubernatorial election in mind.