After beginning introductions in his State of the State speech, Governor Walker stated: “Today, I am proud to declare that the state of our state is historically strong!” His speech illuminated Wisconsin’s current economic, education, and health care status, projecting a strong outlook for our future.
Wisconsin’s employment is at a historic high keeping unemployment at a historic low. According to the latest report submitted by the Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin’s unemployment is at 3% compared to 9.2% during Governor Jim Doyle’s last months in office.
This past fiscal year the state had over a $500 million surplus. Furthermore, Wisconsin is 1 of only a couple states with a fully funded pension plan and our rainy-day fund is near $300 million, compared to just 8 years ago when the Doyle administration and a democrat controlled legislature left us a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
Nationally Wisconsin’s long-term outstanding debt is one of the lowest. And, the State’s bond rating has been upgraded by 3 national agencies last year including a first since 1973 from Moody’s, and a first ever from Fitch and Kroll.
Wisconsin’s low unemployment numbers create new challenges. Additional steps are needed to reinforce the state’s workforce. Reforms administered in the past enabled the conversion of over 25,000 people on government assistance to gainful employment. Part of the governor’s special session on welfare reform will help more able bodied Wisconsinites acquire job training and placement opportunities.
Employers around the district constantly tell me they have trouble filling open positions with qualified workers. Therefore, it is imperative we incentivize work over government assistance programs for able bodied unemployed adults, resulting in a strengthened Wisconsin’s economy.
Governor Walker’s common sense modifications to the state’s welfare programs include; statewide work requirements for those receiving food stamps, asset testing for certain welfare programs, drug screening, testing, and treatment, and photo ID cards for food share recipients.
Nationally, Wisconsin students have among the highest ACT scores and highest graduation rates. Governor Walker stated: “We just invested more actual dollars into K-12 education than ever before – an extra $200 for every student in every school in every part of the state this year and another $204 increase for every student on top of that next year.” In total, Wisconsin taxpayers will be investing almost $12 billion to educate approximately 870,000 children from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Extra money was also applied toward transportation costs, mental health services, and new technology in your child’s classroom.
Additionally, we have taken measures to assist students advancing to secondary education. Tuition has been frozen for all University of Wisconsin in-state undergraduates for the last 6 years. The state partnered with financial institutions to aid graduates in obtaining a student loan refinance. Financial assistance for students is at an all-time high making secondary education possible for thousands of Wisconsinites around the state.
Rural schools have their own unique challenges with transportation and district size. The legislature will be going into special session this spring to address additional funding for low revenue schools and an increase to sparsity aid. Schools will see an additional $130 million in resources over the next 6 years.
Governor Walker also proposed issuing $100 per child tax credit checks. Families with minor children residing in their households will benefit from the proposal. The governor requested distributing the tax credit checks before the 2018-2019 school year in order to assist families pay costs associated with getting their children back to school.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Wisconsin’s health care systems’ quality ranks first nationally. For the first time in the state’s history, every person living in poverty is covered under BadgerCare. The U.S. Census Bureau cites the percentage of Wisconsinite’s access to health coverage is among the top 10 in the country.
In the last several years, Wisconsinites witnessed Obamacare’s failure as their health insurance premiums skyrocketed and became unaffordable. Because Congress has failed to repeal Obamacare, Wisconsin will once again lead and provide relief for our most vulnerable citizens.
Medicare, which covers most senior citizens’ healthcare in Wisconsin, is augmented with SeniorCare - a prescription drug assistance program designed to help needy seniors pay for their medication.
Since its implementation, the state was required to reapply for a federal waiver every 3 years to keep SeniorCare in Wisconsin. In order to remove any uncertainty each time the state requests a waiver extension, Governor Walker will be asking for a permanent waiver.
No one should also have to fear being uninsurable or charged excessively simply because they have a pre-existing health condition. Therefore, on June 21, 2017 I voted for Assembly Bill 365 which prohibits a group or individual health plan insurance policy from taking into account a person’s health status when setting coverage rates. In his speech, Governor Walker asked the Senate to pass the bill as well and forward it to his desk.
Lastly, Governor Walker discussed Wisconsinites who don’t get their health coverage through an employer, Medicare, nor Medicaid. He proposed a state reinsurance program to help keep their costs affordable.
The state of our state is historically strong because of tough choices and votes cast by my colleagues and me. With an aggressive spring agenda ahead, Wisconsin’s future looks even brighter.