Gov. Scott Walker delivered his State of the State address Wednesday night, emphasizing his efforts to create jobs and balance the state’s budget during his tenure as governor.
Upon entering the Assembly, legislators on the Assembly floor and observers in the gallery greeted Walker with a mix of boos and cheers. Periodically throughout the 45-minute long speech, police escorted five people out of the gallery for shouting anti-Walker phrases during the speech.
Walker began the speech saying his administration had created thousands of new jobs, balanced the state budget without raising taxes or “budget tricks” and put more than $12 billion of new state money into state Medicaid programs.
The first area of the state economy Walker addressed was job creation. He said after three years of losing 150,000 jobs, Wisconsin actually added thousands of new jobs in 2011. He also said the state’s unemployment rate is down from a year ago.
“Today, 94 percent of our job creators believe Wisconsin is headed in the right direction,” Walker said. “That compares to just 10 percent who thought the same thing just two years ago, and a majority of these employers say they’re going to grow in 2012.”
Walker also spoke about his efforts to balance the budget, which he said could be addressed by cutting through the red tape of government to help businesses.
During the speech, Walker announced his plans to add new members to the Small Business Regulatory Review Board that will work with government agencies to remove unnecessary regulations that pose a threat to creating jobs.
Walker also announced his plan for the Waste, Fraud and Abuse Elimination Task Force, which he said will focus on finding more savings for taxpayers.
The governor concluded the address by talking about education reform and thanked the teachers and public servants of Wisconsin. Walker added he was glad Wisconsin avoided the massive layoffs that government employees experienced in other states.
Walker also highlighted his “Read to Lead” plan, which aims to improve reading skills early on in the education system, citing a report in April that showed that students are four times more likely to drop out of school if they are not reading at a grade level by the time they leave third grade.
Rep. Mark Pocan, a Madison Democart and a current candidate for Congress, issued a statement rebuking Walker’s claims of job creation in the state.
“The governor used the word ‘jobs’ 32 times in his speech this evening, which is more jobs than he’s created in the last six months,” Pocan said. “The fact that Wisconsin has the worst record on job growth in the nation in the last six months, with six consecutive months of job loss, is a sad testimonial to Walker’s record.”
The United Council of University of Wisconsin Students also released a statement responding to Walker’s speech and said for the second year in a row, Walker failed to address or even mention higher education in Wisconsin in his speech.
In the statement, United Council Government Relations Director Analiese Eicher, who also serves as a Dane County supervisor in District 5, said students were optimistic at this time last year. She said with the massive budget cuts leading to classes, programs and student services being cut on University of Wisconsin campuses, that optimism has been hard to retain.
“It is hard for students to believe that the governor’s reforms are working when it is taking them longer to graduate, when they are graduating with more debt and when they do graduate, facing a job market that has been in decline for six straight months,” Eicher said.
In an email to The Badger Herald, UW political science professor Barry Burden said he found the atmosphere in the Assembly to be uncomfortable, with Walker and Democratic lawmakers barely making eye contact with one another and several protesters disrupting the event.
Burden said all of this indicates how much Wisconsin politics has changed in the past 12 months.
He added it was also notable Walker did not mention collective bargaining or his goal of 250,000 jobs, because both of these items will be a significant part of the recall election.
—This story was edited to corrected style errors.