Walker calls for swift, bipartisan action on agenda

January 25, 2018

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker arrives for the State of the State Address Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 in the Assembly Chamber of the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.

MADISON, Wis.  Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday urged Republicans and Democrats to unite to quickly approve a $100-per-child tax credit and a host of other election-year priorities, including guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Walker issued the call during his eighth State of the State address, which came at a time of record-low unemployment in Wisconsin and with more than a dozen Democrats vying for the chance to deny the Republican governor a third term in November.

"These are not Republican or Democrat issues. These are just Wisconsin issues," said Walker.

The child credit Walker is proposing would equal $100 for every child living at home under age 18 payable in cash this fall. There are about 1.2 million children in the state in 671,000 households. The $122 million cost would come from a state budget surplus.

Starting in 2019, it would be a refundable $100 per child tax credit included in state income tax returns.

Republican legislative leaders quickly embraced the idea, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos saying he was "very confident" it would pass this year.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker after finishing the State of the State Address Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 in the Assembly Chamber of the State Capitol in Madison, Wis..

Other initiatives Walker touted include overhauling the state's welfare system, bolstering the private insurance market to lower rates and investing more in rural schools and in rural economic development.

Walker also heralded the Foxconn Technology Group's plans for a massive manufacturing complex, which could result in a $10 billion investment and the creation of 13,000 jobs, in what he's calling an "amazing" and "historic" year.

"We are getting positive things done for the people of Wisconsin," Walker said.

But Democrats said Walker was moving to the center to bolster his re-election chances.

"Wisconsin residents will not be fooled," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. "This election year, enlightenment has shown that he has failed to deliver on his empty promises of the past and his misguided priorities have taken the state in the wrong direction."

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz faulted Walker for the Foxconn project, which could cost state and local taxpayers $4.5 billion, and the failure to enact a long-term plan for road funding and prior cuts to K-12 education.

Democrats have long called on Walker to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison north of Wausau in Irma that's been the subject of federal lawsuits alleging inmate abuse by guards and an ongoing federal investigation.

Walker is proposing replacing juvenile inmates with adults and moving all male juveniles into five new regional prisons. He initially called for the Legislature to take up the idea in 2019, but under pressure from Democrats he's now calling for action this year.

Walker thanked Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke for his advocacy on the issue, saying "much of our plan parallels his work."

Walker is also seeking a federal waiver to allow Wisconsin to offer a reinsurance program to the roughly 200,000 people in Wisconsin who purchase health insurance on the private marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Reinsurance, which has bipartisan support, basically sets up a pool of money for the government to cover the cost of insurers' most expensive cases.

The governor estimates that the program would cost the state $50 million if the federal government pays for $150 million.

Walker also called on the Legislature to pass a law guaranteeing that no one with pre-existing conditions is denied coverage.

On welfare, Walker is asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to force parents on food stamps with school-aged children to work or be in job training, and to increase the work requirement already in place for childless adults. He's also calling for mandating photo identification for food stamp recipients, a move long opposed by Democrats and others who say it's an impediment to poor people getting food.

Walker is also calling for passage of a proposal in the Legislature to boost aid for rural schools and allow low-spending districts to raise their property taxes without a vote, similar to a change he vetoed from the state budget.

Hours before his speech Walker proposed spending $50 million more each year on programs targeting rural economic development.

Walker proposes $50 million in rural economic development

MADISON Gov. Scott Walker is proposing a new $50 million annual investment in rural economic development projects.

Walker announced the proposal Wednesday, hours before he was to deliver his State of the State speech. He says the new money would primarily be used to stimulate private investment, improve productivity and fill open jobs in rural parts of the state.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation would be in charge and the money would be distributed through existing programs. Eligible projects would have to be in counties with a population density of less than 155 people per square mile. Walker says 56 of the state's 72 counties would meet that criteria.

Walker also announced creation of a $200,000 scholarship fund to encourage students to take agriculture courses at a state technical college or the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture.

Associated Press