We are turning things around. We are heading in the right direction. We are moving Wisconsin forward.
In 2011, we added thousands of private sector jobs and the unemployment rate is down from a year ago. In fact, it’s the lowest it has been since 2008.
In the past, 150,000 of our fellow citizens lost their jobs in the private sector. Two years ago, a mere 10 percent of our employers thought that Wisconsin was headed in the right direction.
In contrast, we created a better environment for job creation in our state over the past year. Now, 94 percent of our employers say Wisconsin is headed in the right direction. A majority of those employers say that they plan on growing in 2012.
To help small businesses continue to grow, our Wisconsin Working jobs plan helps connect job seekers to employers and to the skills that they need to fill those jobs. Our initiatives have broad, bi-partisan support.
To continue to grow our economy, we also needed to address the fiscal crisis we inherited. Last January, Wisconsin faced a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
We balanced that budget deficit. Unlike other states, we did it without raising taxes, without massive layoffs and without budget tricks. That allowed us to put more than $1.2 billion (one of the biggest increases in the country) into Medicaid to support programs that help needy families, children and seniors.
Property taxpayers also benefited from our reforms. For the five years prior to my talking office, the average school tax levy increased $220 million per year. Our reforms led to the first decrease in the school property tax levy in six years.
We proved that we can have great schools and protect the taxpayers. We just have to spend our money more wisely.
In the past, schools were often forced to buy their health insurance from just one company. Now, they can bid it out and school districts are saving millions.
As the father of two students in a public high school in Wisconsin, I am thankful for our great schools and outstanding teachers. That’s why I’m glad schools can now staff based on merit and pay based on performance. That means we can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms, and we can keep them there.
Looking ahead, we have a plan to improve reading in our state through our Read to Lead initiative. We want to be certain that every child is reading early so they don’t ever feel that learning isn’t for them.
We are also working with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers on a system to hold schools and school districts accountable to educators, parents, employers and each community. Our system will help replicate success and help fix problems.
Overall, we are working hard to help the people of our state create more jobs, continue to balance our budget and make sure that every kid has access to a great education. Working together, I know we can improve Wisconsin.
We made some tough decisions over the past year because I didn’t want to pass on a mess to my kids and others like them. We thought more about the next generation than we did about the next election. We kept our promises.
Thankfully, we are turning things around and are heading in the right direction. Together, we will continue to move Wisconsin forward.
Scott Walker is the governor of Wisconsin.