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Walker plan would issue checks to families

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to a joint session of the Legislature Wednesday, Jan. 24, for his State of the State speech. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Eye

Scott Walker announced plans last week to turn the state budget surplus into checks for Wisconsin families.

The Republican governor outlined that plan along with several other proposals he called on legislators to pass during his Jan. 24 State of the State speech.

Walker proposed a child tax credit that would provide families about $100 for every child under 18 living at home.

"This is your reform dividend," he said of the $122 million proposal. "You deserve it."

Sen.-elect Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, said it might not be that simple. The devil, she said, will likely lie in the details.

"It's easy to say this is this big surplus, but where is this money actually coming from?" she said.

Among other big-ticket items the governor called for in the speech were increases in sparsity aid for small school districts, expanding welfare reforms, lessening burdens on small businesses and protecting pre-existing conditions at the state level.

Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, said he's supportive of the governor's proposals. The sparsity aid would go to support small districts that struggle, especially with transportation costs, he said. Elmwood and Plum City are among districts on the list Walker would fund.

"I was happy to hear that" in the speech, Zimmerman said.

He also backed Walker's call for lessening the tax burden on small businesses. Zimmerman, founder and CEO of River Falls-based Sajan Inc., is among Ways and Means Committee members assigned to a task force developing what he called "a material overhaul of our tax code."

Zimmerman said also he likes the concept of finding ways to place able-bodied people in the workforce — and Walker's approach to it, via welfare, as the governor outlined in the speech.

"It's not to make obtaining assistance more difficult, but making employment easier," Zimmerman said.

Walker called a special session of lawmakers to tackle welfare reform, proposing "able-bodied, working-age adults to work at least 30 hours a week or enroll in job training to get assistance." People receiving public assistance must first pass a drug test, Walker proposes, with the caveat that rehabilitation options be made available to addicts.

"Because we understand that if we get them healthy, we can find a job for anyone in the state," he said.

Schachtner said the mention of "able-bodied" people rubbed her the wrong way.

"I fear that the people we're talking about are the people with mental illness," she said. "I would like it clearly defined what 'able-bodied' is."

Schachtner also wondered about the scale of Wisconsin's welfare abuse problem, considering the 3 percent unemployment rate Walker touted in the speech.

"With unemployment so low, who are you trying to kick off?" she said. "It sounds good, but who are they?"

The legislative to-do list came after Walker spent the first portion of the speech making good on his "wake-up call" tweetstorm sent after Schachtner defeated GOP Rep. Adam Jarchow in the 10th Senate District special election. Walker's tweets called on fellow Republicans to spread the word about conservative-led accomplishments in Wisconsin and not to assume voters were aware of them.

Among the items Walker highlighted were the $10 billion Foxconn investment, education reforms, a UW-System tuition freeze, transportation funding and the elimination of state property taxes.

But while Walker painted a flattering picture of the state — especially since he took office in 2011 — Sen. Kathleen Vinehout said it's a misrepresentation of what's going on in Wisconsin.

She criticized the wages, rate of business start-ups and affordability for family-based infant child care.

"The State of the State should be measured by how each of us is doing in our own lives," said the Alma Democrat who is seeking to challenge Walker in the fall. "By that measure, we are not doing well."

Zimmerman, however, said the state's 3 percent unemployment rate is deserving of accolades.

"We should pause to celebrate in a nonpartisan way the great position that Wisconsin is in right now," he said. "We're getting it right in Wisconsin."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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