| Walker promises major tax reforms, school funding changesWisconsin governor speaks at Reagan library
Nov. 17, 2012 MJS Daniel Bice
Speaking before a packed house at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California, Gov. Scott Walker unveiled major components of his upcoming legislative agenda, including “massive tax reform” consisting of cuts in state income and property taxes.
“We think if we want to continue the economic success we’ve had over the last year and a half, again one of the best ways to do this is to put money back in the hands of entrepreneurs, more money back in the hands of small business owners, more money back in the hands of our consumers,” Walker said Friday during his hourlong speech, a video of which was posted on YouTube.
“So we’re going to continue to lower our property taxes, and we’re going to put in place an aggressive income tax reduction and reform in the state of Wisconsin because we believe we can continue to be one of the leaders in the country, not just in reform but ultimately in results.”
Walker also said he wants to require the state’s public schools, including the technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin System, to meet performance-based targets to receive increased state funding – similar to programs in Florida and Pennsylvania. The first-term Republican governor said he will push to expand the state’s voucher program for private schools and further streamline the state’s rules and regulations.
The next legislative session convenes in January.
A Walker aide declined Saturday to provide further details on the governor’s agenda, such as whether the income tax cuts would be targeted or across the board.
“Governor Walker’s budget will be introduced early next year,” said spokesman Cullen Werwie.
State Rep. Robin Vos, the next Assembly speaker, said the proposals sound very much like the ideas Vos has been discussing with top Walker officials for the past six months – though he has yet to talk to Walker personally about his legislative proposals.
“The agenda he laid out (in the California speech) is one Republicans in the state can coalesce around and, hopefully, we can also work to bring Democrats who are open-minded about reforming our tax code and improving our state’s economy to support the plans as well,” said Vos, a Rochester Republican.
But state Sen. Chris Larson, who will lead the Senate Democrats, said he can’t believe state residents had to find out about the governor’s agenda by tracking down what he said in an out-of-state speech to “another right-wing group.” Larson said he has been trying unsuccessfully to reach out to Walker and Republican leaders about the upcoming session.
“It’s unfortunate he’s going to try to continue to go down this war path of ideology instead of actually trying to address the real problems that we’ve got,” said the Milwaukee Democrat. “It looks like he’s putting his donors above his voters.”
Walker’s high-profile appearance at the Reagan Simi Valley complex came on the heels of his numerous campaign stops around the country on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other GOP candidates.
The Wauwatosa Republican said he was invited to speak at the library shortly after the June recall election by former first lady Nancy Reagan, whom he met on Friday. The library is a traditional forum for Republicans interested in running for president. Walker has downplayed his interest in a 2016 presidential bid.
But in an interview with the Ventura County Star at the Reagan library, Walker was critical of Romney and his unsuccessful presidential campaign.
“Our future nominee needs to do a better job in articulating the views that we commonly hold as Republicans and to talk more optimistically about freedom and about prosperity, and the fact that we want every American to be able to live his or her piece of the American dream,” Walker said. He continued, “I don’t think (Romney) did an effective job, nor did his campaign of communicating that with the majority (of) voters in my state and others.”
The speech attracted a number of California conservatives, including former Gov. Pete Wilson. Walker was accompanied by Diane Hendricks, owner of ABC Supply and a major GOP fundraiser. The Beloit billionaire paid nothing in state income taxes for 2010, the Journal Sentinel has reported.
Veteran political forecaster Larry Sabato told No Quarter on Saturday that Walker is looking and sounding more like a presidential contender.
“It’s possible Walker is just staying high-profile prior to his 2014 re-election race, but I think he sees a wide open field for ’16 and says, ‘Why not me?’ ” Sabato said.
After his prepared remarks, a former Wisconsin resident in the crowd quizzed Walker about his agenda for the upcoming legislative session during a question-and-answer session. In the election earlier this month, Republicans took control of the state Senate and increased their majority in the Assembly.
Walker did not say who would get tax cuts under his reform plan. Vos said he hopes the state trims the income tax bill for all taxpayers but gives the greatest relief to the middle class.
Along with the tax cuts, Walker said he wants to require the state’s public schools – ranging from elementary and secondary schools to technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin System – to meet performance-based targets to receive increased state funding.
Following the lead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Walker said his administration began publishing report cards for K-12 public schools. He said it is now time to hold colleges and universities accountable.
“I’ll borrow a line from Jeb – Jeb says it well – ‘We shouldn’t be paying for butts in seats; we should be paying for outcomes,’ ” Walker said. “In higher education, that means not only degrees but our young people getting degrees in the jobs that are actually open and needed today, not just the jobs the universities want to give us.”
He didn’t provide additional specifics on his education reform plan, but his proposal sounds similar to the plan under consideration in Pennsylvania.
A commission set up by Gov. Tom Corbett is recommending performance score cards that would grade state colleges and universities on such items as controlling tuition costs, increasing enrollment of low-income students and tailoring programs to meet the needs of the workforce. The score cards would then be used to determine funding for postsecondary institutions.
Florida is also instituting a similar system under which $118 million in state funding is divided among state colleges and universities based on how well they perform in 40 different statistical categories.
UW System President Kevin Reilly did not return calls on Saturday.
In addition, Walker told the enthusiastic California crowd that he hopes to make Wisconsin’s voucher program for private schools available to more students.
“I want to help my traditional public schools, but I want to help my charter, my choice, my virtual schools,” Walker said. He continued, “Every child – no matter what ZIP code they come from, no matter what their parents’ background – every child in my state and in this country should have the opportunity to have access to world-class education.”
Larson, the Democratic leader, said he was most troubled by Walker’s plan to expand school choice. Larson said he believes the state should put in place better measures to ensure transparency and accountability for choice schools before opening the program to more students.
Finally, Walker said he wants to eliminate unnecessary state regulations but provided no specifics.
Vos noted that the Assembly Republican caucus has not yet gotten together to develop its full legislative agenda.
“He’s a bit early in the process,” Vos said of Walker. “But it’s perfectly fine for the governor to begin the discussion because he’s echoing themes that we’ve been saying the last six months on the campaign trail.”
Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 224-2135 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice.