Governor Walker focuses on handful of initiatives, avoids some details in brief Stafe of State

Written by Ben Meyer, WJFW Newswatch 12

 

Madison - Gov. Scott Walker proposed a bold goal in his fifth annual State of the State address Tuesday night. He didn't seem satisfied with the $400 million in property taxes he cut in 2014. He said he wants to give even more money back to Wisconsin taxpayers. The governor introduced plans with splashy titles like Blueprint for Prosperity and the Year of a Better Bottom Line. But for Gov. Walker and his supporters, these titles represent not just examples of catchy branding, but also a promise that goes far beyond this year.

 

"My pledge to you is that property taxes four years from now will be even lower than they were in 2014," Walker said.

 

If Gov. Walker delivers on that pledge, he would continue a trend from his first term, which ended last week.

 

"Property taxes are literally lower than they were in 2010," Walker said. "How many governors can say that?"

Democrats said they heard too much talk about tax-reduction strategy in the speech and too little discussion of the governor's job-growth plans.

"It doesn't matter if someone's property tax is reduced by that small amount if they don't have a job that they can pay their taxes from," Rep. Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield) said.

"I would rather see a long-term economic plan that focuses on job growth and getting our economy back on track," Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) said.

Part of Walker's proposal for a good economy includes a healthy education system.

He hinted that stricter school accountability plans and an expansion of the voucher program--items being pushed by some Republicans--would play a major part in reforming the state's schools.

"Provide the information and allow parents to make the choice," Walker said. "[There is] no need for bureaucrats or politicians to make that choice. I trust parents."

But Shankland thinks Walker's rhetoric about the Republican-backed accountability bills isn't good for Wisconsin. "Right now, I wouldn't call it an accountability bill," she says, "because voucher schools will not be treated equally to public schools."

In general, the speech left Democrats frustrated and Republicans encouraged.

"I am disappointed for my constituents in northern Wisconsin because I didn't hear anything about their circumstances," Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) said.

But Walker touted Wisconsin's growing economy and shrinking unemployment as successes for his party, his administration and his state.

"The Wisconsin comeback is working," Walker said.

Gov. Walker avoided both hot-button issues and specific policy details in announcing his plans for the legislative session.

He delivered a brief 25-minute speech on Tuesday, while calling on the Legislature to pass a school accountability bill, merge four state agencies into two, and ensure schools aren't required to enact Common Core academic standards.

But Walker didn't say what measures he wants the school bill to include--and he didn't say how many jobs would be affected by the merger, or what savings the merger would create. Furthermore, schools aren't currently required to adopt the Common Core standards, so it's not clear how his proposal would change the status quo in that regard.

Walker also didn't say anything about how he's going to balance the budget.

That plan comes next month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.