State of the State: Walker emphasizes recovery, accomplishments

Governor cites improved employment numbers and tax cuts

Scott Walker
Gov. Scott Walker

In the wake of his failed presidential bid, Gov. Scott Walker emphasized Wisconsin’s economic recovery and favored describing past accomplishments over proposing future plans Tuesday while briefing state lawmakers in his annual “State of the State” address.

Scott Walker
Gov. Scott Walker

“State finances are stable; our school students are doing well overall; college tuition is frozen; and property and income taxes are down from 2010,” Walker said during his speech (full text here). “The Wisconsin Comeback is real.”

Walker cited several employment and economic figures to make his case, including a labor force participation rate of 67.8 percent, which would put Wisconsin more than 5 points ahead of the national average, and what he referred to as the state’s “lowest unemployment rate since 2001.”

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate in November 2015 was 4.2 percent, which was the lowest it has been since April 2001.

“Not only are more people working, new business formations were up 3.6 percent last year,” Walker said. “The economic impact of tourism increased 5.5 percent.”

Walker said owners of a median-valued home in Wisconsin paid $116 less in property taxes in 2015 than they did in 2010.  He also said median-income families will receive a four-year income tax reduction of $916.

Regarding the future, Walker proposed addressing student loan debt by allowing for full deduction of student loan interest on state income taxes. He also proposed expanding state grant programs for technical college students and creating more internships for students in the University of Wisconsin System, but did not use any specific figures.

Democratic leaders issued responses following the address that were mainly at odds with Walker’s record on economic growth, job creation and education.

“Over the last five years, we’ve seen deep cuts that have limited economic growth, stifled innovation and denied thousands of families the opportunity to get ahead,” said State Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). “Democrats continue to believe that the best way to move our state forward is by restoring investments in our schools, infrastructure and worker training programs.”

“In tonight’s State of the State address, Governor Walker should’ve apologized for saying Wisconsin is open for business while ushering in a five-year high of private sector layoffs,” said State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). “Governor Walker should’ve also apologized for saying we should transform education, yet making the largest cuts to public education in the history of Wisconsin that led to poor literacy rates and a drastic drop in ACT scores.”

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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