Speaker Vos, Speaker Pro Tem August, President Lazich, Majority Leader Fitzgerald, Minority Leader Shilling, Minority Leader Barca, members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Constitutional Officers, tribal leaders, members of the Cabinet, distinguished guests, members of the Legislature, most importantly, fellow citizens of the great state of Wisconsin, it is an honor to appear before you tonight.
Before we get started, I would like to introduce the First Lady of Wisconsin, my wife, Tonette. Next to my wife is the Adjutant General of the Wisconsin National Guard, Major General Donald Dunbar. Next to him are Brigadier General Mark Anderson and Command Sergeant Major Bradley Shields.
As a kid growing up in Delavan, I started working as a dishwasher at the Countryside Restaurant. Later, I went on to flip burgers at McDonald's to save up for school. My mom was a part-time secretary and she raised my brother and me, while my dad served as a pastor in our small town.
We didn't have much money, but the best thing my parents gave us was an understanding of the value of hard work. Mom was raised on a farm where they didn't have indoor plumbing until she went to junior high school. My dad's dad worked as a machinist at a factory for most of his life.
More than anything, my family ingrained in me the idea that anyone who worked hard could go as far as their dreams would take them. It was through their eyes that I got my first glimpse of the American Dream.
Today, however, I worry that too many of our fellow citizens feel that dream has become out of reach for them and their families. The budget plan we present tonight will help restore that America Dream right here in Wisconsin.
Our plan is based on growth and opportunity—which leads to freedom and prosperity for all. Secondly, our plan will use common sense reforms to create a government that is limited in scope and—ultimately—more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the public. And finally, our plan will ensure a state where people are safe and sound in their homes and throughout their communities.
Our Freedom and Prosperity proposal is built to help working families like the VanDrisses from Pound—a small town in northeastern Wisconsin. Ken is a truck driver and Kelly works in maintenance. Like Tonette and me, they have two sons.
Trevor is studying to be a diesel mechanic in the John Deere Ag Tech program at the technical college here in town and he also works for the local dealership in Pound. Tanner is studying business communications at the University of Wisconsin in Marinette. The VanDrisses are here with us tonight.
Last year, the VanDrisses were happy to see their property tax bill go down. In fact, largely because of our reforms and the flexibility we gave to local governments, property taxes on a typical home in Wisconsin are $131 less this year than they were in 2010.
Tonight, I am proud to say that our state budget will continue those reforms, so the property tax bill on a typical home will be even lower during the next two years. Just as I promised, property taxes by the end of 2016 will be lower than they were in 2014. That means lower property taxes for 6 years in a row.
Our budget will continue the tuition freeze for undergraduates from Wisconsin at each of the UW system campuses. And we will add a tuition freeze in our technical colleges for high demand areas. That's good news for students, like Tanner and Trevor.
In addition to helping working families and students, this budget will assist small businesses and farmers, as well as senior citizens. That's good news for people, like James Booker from Plymouth.
In December, I received a note from Mr. Booker that read:
“Dear Gov Walker,
I want to thank you! I am 68 years old and have owned various homes in Wisconsin since I was 20 years old. This is the first time that I have ever received a substantial reduction in the Property Tax! I have been very angry at Wisconsin for a number of years due to the huge property tax compared to other States and have been planning on selling our home and moving to a low tax State. We have had our home up for sale for a year and took it off the market for the winter. Now I plan on not re-listing in the spring and will wait to see what happens with Wisconsin property taxes.”
Well, thank you Mr. Booker for the nice message. I'm glad to tell you that our budget will continue the property tax relief—which will make it easier for people like you to stay in Wisconsin.
And that's just some of the really good news happening in our state these days.
Last week, the federal government reported November was the best month for private sector job creation that we've had in Wisconsin since 1990. For that month, we rank 5th in the country and 1st in the Midwest for private sector job growth. We want that trend to continue as we grow the economy.
To help, our budget will merge two of our state entities that work on economic and housing issues into one highly effective organization called the Forward Wisconsin Development Authority. And the budget will add further investments into the successful Wisconsin Fast Forward program that helps people get the skills they need to succeed through technical college courses, apprenticeships, and training programs—as well as working on ways to help our military veterans find employment or even start a business of their own.
These effective worker training programs are actually economic development efforts. So many of our employers are looking for qualified workers. Increasing the ability to fill these positions will encourage employers to add more work—which obviously will lead to more jobs.
Maintaining a strong infrastructure system is another positive way to grow the economy—not only for the people who design, build, and maintain it—but because it is key to commerce in this state.
Under our Freedom and Prosperity proposal, we are investing in our transportation system, expanding broadband access, and continuing to improve the quality of health care throughout the state.
We want to grow the economy in cities, towns, and villages across Wisconsin—while not growing the size of state government.
To do more with less, we found more ways to reform government.
As I mentioned in our State of the State address, we propose that several agencies be merged and various programs be consolidated to provide better service to the customer, as well as better value to the taxpayers.
Here's a good example: for years, supporters of the University of Wisconsin system said freeing them of being directly under the state government bureaucracy would help reduce costs in multiple areas for the system. This budget includes a bold proposal to provide new governance through an authority, similar to the one used for the UW Hospital and Clinics.
Recently, some have raised concerns about this proposed reform. These are some of the same claims we heard four years ago when our Act 10 reforms were enacted. Today, our graduation rates are higher, third grade reading scores are better, and Wisconsin ACT scores are second best in the country.
With this in mind, I ask the legislature to give our bold reform idea a serious look. As the father of a UW student, I have a real interest in the success of our state system and I believe this will make the University of Wisconsin stronger in the years to come.
And speaking of education, our budget will increase state support for schools by providing more than $100 million annually for the school levy tax credit and more than $100 million in the second year of the budget for equalization aids—while maintaining revenue limits to ensure continuing property tax relief.
To help the needs of rural schools, we will provide additional aid for transportation and other costs. Thanks to Representative Rob Swearingen and other members of the Speaker’s Task Force on Rural Schools for their leadership on this issue.
Overall, we want to provide the best education possible for every child in this state. For many, like my sons and me, it will be a traditional public school. For other families, it will be in a successful charter, private, virtual, or home school environment.
One of those families involves a wonderful mom named Dina Lein. Last year, I had an opportunity to meet Dina and her family in Appleton. She told me about how her son was in a local public school a few years ago, but it just wasn't working for him.
Back then, his grades were low, he was being bullied, and he didn't like school very much. Thankfully, Dina's family was one of the first to sign up for the school choice expansion after the last budget.
Dina introduced me to her family and I was thrilled to hear that her son Trace is now loving 6th grade. He's in the band and plays football. And his school scores have improved—dramatically. Dina and her husband, Michael, are here tonight along with their children—Coleton, Trace, and Alexxis.
Today, I am excited to announce our plans to lift the cap on vouchers so more families, like Dina's, can have the choice to find the best school for their children. Every child deserves the chance to succeed.
And every parent deserves the ability to see objective and comparable data about their child's school. Our budget includes the tools to provide that information to every parent for any school that receives public funds. You see, I trust parents. Give them the facts and they will act in the best interest of their children.
In addition, our budget removes funding for the Smarter Balanced test, which is connected to Common Core. We also include legal language making it clear that no school district in the state has to use these standards, which are set by people from outside the state.
I want high standards—and those decisions should be made by school board members and parents and others at the local level.
Our reforms will also improve programs that provide assistance to people in times of need. Here in Wisconsin, we help folks facing financial challenges. For those who are able, however, these programs should be a temporary safety net—not a hammock.
With this in mind, our budget expands the requirement for able-bodied adults to be enrolled in an employment and training program in order to receive food stamps. Now, some might claim that we're making it harder to get government assistance. We're not. We're making it easier to get a job.
The next step is to require able-bodied adults without children to pass a drug test in order to get a welfare check. For those who fail, we will provide treatment, so we can help them get off of drugs.
Why are we doing this? Well, because we know that we can get people jobs. Each week, employers tell me that they have positions available—they just need individuals who can show up for work and who can pass a drug test.
Think about it, as of this afternoon, there were more than 72,000 job openings posted on our state website. We need more people to fill these jobs.
We want to help transition people from government dependence to true independence through the dignity of work. This will bring security to both taxpayers and—more importantly—to those who ultimately are able to take charge of their lives.
Overall, our Freedom and Prosperity proposal provides greater security for people all across Wisconsin.
This budget provides renewed financial security as it is balanced and the rainy day fund is the largest in state history—165 times bigger than when I first took office. Our retirement system is the only one fully funded in the country and our bond rating is strong.
In my predecessor’s last budget, the total bonding level was $3.6 billion. In this budget, the total level of bonding is down to less than $1.6 billion. This is the lowest it has been in a decade.
Security for our citizens is just as important. In this budget, we put more than $600 million into Medicaid to provide health care for needy families, children, and seniors. Through our bold reforms, among the states that did not take the Obamacare expansion, we are the only state in the nation without a gap in coverage, according to the respected Kaiser Family Foundation.
Beyond Medicaid, we provide additional funds for programs that help victims of domestic violence and their families. Some of our partners in the fight against Domestic Violence are here with us tonight:
Patti Seger is the executive director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. Teri Jendusa Nicolai is a domestic violence survivor, from Waterford. Roseanne Barber of Hayward is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, a survivor, and a longtime advocate for victims. Melissa Torres is a survivor of domestic violence from Madison. And Jessica Honish is an experienced domestic violence victim advocate who works at the Rainbow House in Marinette. Places like Rainbow House benefit from our investments in the fight against domestic violence.
In this budget, we also continue to improve mental health services in the state, provide more funds to help the victims of child sex trafficking, and maintain support for successful crime fighting programs, like ShotSpotter, to fight gun violence.
Earlier tonight, I introduced you to the VanDrisses. Our Freedom and Prosperity proposal is designed to help families like theirs. Our budget helps keep their property taxes down and their son's tuition frozen. Our budget reforms government, so we operate in a way that is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable.
And our budget provides more security to people like them all over the state.
Thank you. May God bless you. May God bless and protect our brave men and women in uniform. And may God continue to bless the great State of Wisconsin.