Wisconsin's Walker touts economic development package
MADISON, Wis. -- Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday a package of economic development bills the legislature will take up in coming weeks will go "an awful long way" to helping him fulfill his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs by 2015.
Walker and Republican legislative leaders unveiled eight bills they said will be priorities for the legislature to pass yet this year. The proposals, which will cost the state $8 million by mid-2015, include creating a program to help low-income people in areas with high unemployment find work and increasing spending on high school apprenticeships.
Walker said more details about other legislative priorities not related to economic development, including education and government reform, would be released in the coming days. Walker declined to take questions on other topics during a conference call with reporters.
"Overall it's a pretty aggressive plan," Walker said of the economic development bills, which he predicted would pass with broad, bipartisan support.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca dismissed the package as insignificant.
"They're mini-steps," Barca said. "It's good to take steps in the right direction. At the time we need giant steps, we're taking mini steps."
Barca said the legislature should be focused on ways to fully fund job training, and efforts that will promote manufacturing and collaborative research.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the bills amounted to "fine tuning" proposals that previously passed the legislature. He called the package "a really good start." Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the Assembly shares Walker's priorities.
Other bills in the package would invest $4 million on vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities, streamline licensing requirements for some professions, and create an incentive program designed after one in Kansas that provides money to high students who graduate with expertise in high-need occupations.
Walker was asked whether he thought passing the bills would make it easier for him to meet his jobs promise, which he first made in the 2010 campaign and reiterated during last year's recall.
"I think it goes an awful long way to doing it," Walker said. Other proposals to be introduced in the coming days, including efforts to eliminate what Walker called bureaucratic red tape, will also help meet the campaign promise, he said.
"Our focus has been, is today, and will continue to be overwhelmingly focused on how do we help the people of the state create more jobs," Walker said. "I think there's no doubt in my mind, nearly everything I do just about every day of the week is focused on hitting that goal."
Democrats and other critics have said Walker has downplayed the jobs promise in recent months. Earlier on Tuesday, during a speech at the Wisconsin Counties Association, Walker talked about how the state was rebounding from jobs lost during the recession before he took office, but he didn't mention the 250,000 jobs promise.
Through Walker's first two years in office, 62,000 private sector jobs have been created in Wisconsin, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Legislature is scheduled to return to work in October and finish for the year in mid-November.