Walker touts income tax cut, job push in speech

  • Article by: SCOTT BAUER
  • Associated Press
  • January 15, 2013 - 7:07 PM

MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker said during his State of the State speech that he's doubling down on efforts to meet his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs over four years.

Walker also touted a promised income tax cut for the middle class during the speech Tuesday night to a joint meeting of the Legislature.

The speech was short on details about what the governor's agenda will look like over the next year. The Republican says those will come in his budget address next month.

Walker says Wisconsin is moving forward "with bold vision and bright hope for the future."

Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca says Walker has shown no urgency or willingness to focus on job creation.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Gov. Scott Walker will promise a middle class tax cut in his State of the State speech Tuesday night and say Wisconsin is heading in the right direction with "bold vision and bright hope for the future."

The Republican governor released excerpts of his speech about six hours before he was due to address a joint session of the Legislature. They show that Walker also plans to advocate for passage of a mining bill to increase jobs in northeastern Wisconsin and expanding school choice.

The speech — marking the beginning of Walker's third year in office — comes seven months after he survived a recall election, the first governor in U.S. history to do so. The recall effort was sparked after Walker pushed through a law that effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers while requiring them to pay more for health insurance and pension benefits to help plug a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

"We are moving Wisconsin forward with bold vision and bright hope for the future," Walker planned to say. "We're turning things around. We're heading in the right direction."

Whether to pass an income tax cut or backfill some of the cuts in Walker's last budget is likely to be the heart of the budget debate this year. The state is expected to have about a $342 million budget surplus.

"We want to continue to put more money in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers and small business owners in our state," Walker said in the speech excerpt.

Earlier this month, Walker said he supported phasing in an income tax cut over a few years. But details won't be released until he unveils his budget next month, according to his Tuesday speech excerpts.

Walker also planned to cite, as evidence of an improving economy, that property taxes dropped in each of the past two years on median-valued homes and the statewide unemployment rate decreased to 6.7 percent in December compared to 7.8 percent when he took office in January 2011.

Although the state's unemployment rate has improved, Walker is far from meeting his 2010 campaign pledge — which he reiterated during the recall election and in the months since then — to create 250,000 private sector jobs by 2015.

Depending on the measurement used, jobs have either increased about 37,000 or 86,500 since Walker took office. Additionally, the new public-private agency Walker created to head economic development and job creation efforts has been plagued by management problems.

Wisconsin ranked 42nd in private sector job creation from June 2011 to June 2012, based on the most recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"In the 2010 campaign, Scott Walker said he should be judged on his promise to create 250,000 private sector jobs," Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said Monday. "By every measure he has failed."

Creating jobs will be Walker's top priority and building a new iron ore mine near Lake Superior would be a "lifeline" to people in Iron County, where the unemployment rate is nearly 12 percent, according to his State of the State excerpts.

A new mine could result in a $1.5 billion investment and creation of up to 700 jobs, "but the benefits will be felt all across Wisconsin," Walker planned to say.

Lawmakers couldn't agree on a mining proposal last year, but Republican legislative leaders say they hope to have a bill passed by early March. The latest proposal, which calls for changing rules and requirements for opening new mines in the state, was expected to be introduced as soon as this week and hearings could be held this month.

On education, Walker voiced support for expanding choices available to parents, including charter and voucher schools.

"Moving forward, we want to continue to dramatically improve existing schools and give parents the opportunity to choose legitimate alternatives to failing schools," Walker was expected to say.

The voucher program subsidizes private education for students in struggling school districts. The program had been limited to Milwaukee, but last year Republicans expanded it to all of Milwaukee County and the city of Racine.

Walker is expected to announce more expansion in his budget proposal.

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