Vowing to "put more money in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers," Gov. Scott Walker Tuesday night promised to push for middle-class tax cuts and double downed on his pledge to create 250,000 jobs by 2015.
Addressing the state Legislature in his annual State of the State message, Walker acknowledged that Wisconsin is still a long way off meeting the jobs goal that he campaigned on in 2010. He noted that others have pointed out "plenty of reasons" why job creation in the state has been difficult, including the slow recovery at the national level and well as ongoing concerns about the impact of the Affordable Care Act.
"But in Wisconsin, we don't make excuses... We get results," the governor said.
To move in that direction, Walker urged the Legislature to pass the a bill that would allow mining in northwestern Wisconsin. Such legislation was defeated in 2012, but state GOP leaders say it is one of their top priorities in this session.
"One of the best ways we can show the people of Wisconsin that their state government is focused on jobs is to pass a bill that streamlines the process for safe and environmentally sound mining," Walker said, adding that a mine would be a "lifeline" to residents in Iron County, which has a nearly 12 percent unemployment rate. A mine would generate 3,000 construction jobs and 2,800 long-term jobs, the governor said.
More State Investment in Small Businesses
Walker's other proposals to create more jobs include providing more investment capital to start-ups and other small businesses, and cutting red tape for businesses by modifying hundreds of state administration rules and regulations.
The governor also touted the importance of education when it comes to building a strong workforce. Along those lines, Walker said in next month's budget he would introduce a proposal to provide financial incentives to public schools that are performing at a high level or making significant progress in academic achievement.
Walker also said he would propose lowering income taxes on middle-class families in his budget, but provided no details Tuesday.
He did note, however, that state is in better financial shape now than it was when he took office in 2011.
"Today, Wisconsin has a $342 million budget surplus, property taxes on a median valued home went down in each of the last two years, and the unemployment rate—well—it's down to 6.7 percent," Walker said.
GOP Touts Walker's 'Steady Plan'
Republicans came out in strong support of the governor's address.
"In just two years, Gov. Walker has returned fiscal sanity to Wisconsin with reforms that have put the Badger state on solid financial ground," said Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Brad Courtney in a statement. "Tonight, he outlined a steady plan that will continue to provide relief to taxpayers and middle class families while giving job creators the tools they need to succeed."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, praised the speech to the Journal Sentinel, and noted Walker's decision to have workers from the International Union of Operating Engineers at the event.
"It's a clear signal of the importance that all Republicans have been placing on this jobs bill," Vos told the Journal Sentinel.
Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said Walker and the Legislature's "battle-tested leadership" turned a $3.6 billion deficit into a $342 million surplus, and that the state is poised to move forward.
"Last year we made tough decisions that addressed the root of our problems. Our hard work last session paid off, and now we can invest in priorities," she said in a statement. "Unlike the federal government and many other neighboring states, our fiscal house is in order and we have surplus. … Taxpayers in Wisconsin are breathing a little easier tonight knowing Gov. Walker and the 2013-14 state Legislature will work together to lessen the financial burden on Wisconsinites."
Democrats Rip Walker on Jobs
But Democrats aren't feeling the same way.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, took aim at the governor, posting this on Facebook: "Walker calls for more skilled workers. Too bad he cut state aid to technical colleges by 30 percent in his last budget."
And Assistant Assembly Minority Leader Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, had nothing better to say in her statement following the address, saying she disagrees sharply with the "unrealistically rosy picture" Walker painted about the state of the state.
"Especially at a time when Wisconsin lags behind most of the country in job creation, Gov. Walker remains a far cry from his 250,000 jobs pledge, and his own staff admits 'we're bad' when it comes to critical economic indicators, we need bold and immediate action on economic recovery and putting people back to work in family-sustaining jobs."
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, also took shots at the job numbers.
"Wisconsin is 42nd in the nation in job creation and at the bottom in the Midwest," he said in a statement. "Forbes Magazine predicts we will continue to lag behind much of the country for years to come.
"That is devastating for Wisconsin working families. Here in Wisconsin, we should never be content with being number 42," Barca added. "Yet, stunningly, our governor and legislative Republicans have not shown any sense of urgency on jobs."