MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker said in his State of the State speech that the state's economy is improving because of decisions he made during his first year in office.
Wisconsin's unemployment rate has improved from 7.5 percent to 7.1 percent, and there are 13,500 more private-sector jobs than when Walker took over.
However, the state has lost jobs in each of the past six months, and Walker is far from fulfilling his campaign promise to add 250,000 jobs by 2015.
But Walker said balancing the budget last year without raising taxes or laying off workers puts Wisconsin in a good position for future growth.
"We balanced the $3.6 billion budget deficit with long-term structural reforms. We thought more about the next generation than the next election," Walker said.
During his speech, Walker asked small business owners to consider hiring more workers.
"Tonight I'm asking small business owners from across the state to consider hiring at least one more person this year. Imagine how many more people we could get working if we all pitched in together," Walker said.
Walker didn't talk about the effort to recall him from office in his State of the State speech. The word "recall" wasn't even mentioned in his speech.
Last week, petition circulators said they turned in about 1 million signatures to trigger a recall election. Those signatures are currently being reviewed.
Instead of talking about the effort to oust him, Walker instead talked about his achievements since taking office and urged civility among political opponents.
The governor was interrupted five times during his address by protesters in the gallery.
Democrats said Walker has torn the state apart and there is nothing he can say in his speech to appease those seeking a recall.
In the speech, Walker announced the creation of a new board with the authority to review every rule in place across state government.
Walker said that he will direct agencies to work with the Small Business Regulatory Review Board. He said he wants them to remove antiquated and unnecessary regulations that pose a threat to creating new jobs.
Walker said he is also appointing a special task force to implement recommendations to eliminate government waste.
The group worked last year to identify $400 million in potential savings. Walker said the new task force will have the responsibility of following through with the report.
He said eliminating waste, fraud and abuse is a top priority of his administration. Walker also asked members of the public to submit their own ideas at the website bestpractices.wi.gov.
Walker also called on the Legislature to pass a bill making it easier for an iron mine to open in northern Wisconsin.
The Republican-controlled Assembly is scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday and it is expected to pass despite Democratic opposition. They and others are concerned about the effects of the project on the environment.
But Walker said in his speech to lawmakers that it holds the promise of creating hundreds of jobs and would be good for the state's economy.
It's unclear if the bill has enough support to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.
Republican lawmakers said Walker gave a good speech that made a strong case that Wisconsin is in better shape now than a year ago.
"(There were) difficult choices, but when you look at where the state of Wisconsin was a year ago compared to now, it's in much better state of shape," said Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
Democrats Say Walker Failed To Deliver In Speech
Democrats said Walker is in denial after he said in his State of the State speech Wednesday that Wisconsin is in better shape under his leadership than before.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said Walker didn't lay out a vision for the future but instead recounted his failures of the past.
"At the State of the State, the governor lays out a vision for the future. All we heard tonight was a detailed listing of the policies that have brought us to this sad state," Miller said.
Democratic state Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee said he was disappointed with the speech and he hoped to hear Walker talk about bills that Democrats support that could create jobs.
"They promised to create 250,000 jobs. Well, we are moving backward. We did not hear any update on that promise tonight because he is so far off track in terms of accomplishing that goal," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.
Democrats haven't yet decided on a candidate to run against the governor in the recall election. So far, only former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk said she would be in the race to challenge Walker.
"This is at a time when Gov. Walker had said last spring, 'If you take the medicine, we will get better.' And now six straight months of job losses show we are not better; we are worse off," Falk said.
Protesters Gather For State Of The State Speech
Hundreds of protesters shouted and booed during Walker's State of the State speech as it played over speakers in the Capitol rotunda.
A large crowd chanted and whistled Wednesday night outside the Assembly chambers amid a heightened police presence. Their yelling continued through Walker's speech.
A pair of protesters inside the Assembly chamber interrupted Walker early in his speech before police escorted them out.
Barca called the outbursts during the address "unfortunate," saying he wished that people wouldn't interrupt any official proceeding.
Walker's speech comes about a week after more than 1 million signatures were submitted to recall him from office.
Protesters who gathered at the Capitol were sending multiple messages. At a "People's State of the State" forum Wednesday, one of the main issues was opposition to proposed mining legislation.
"You just can't put the Penokee Hills back together. It's not going to happen if that mine starts. It's just too precious," said protester Amy Owen.
The Republican bill is aimed at helping Florida-based Gogebic Taconite open an iron mine in the Penokee Hills near Lake Superior. Environmentalists and tribal leaders who live in the Penokee Hills area said they are worried about the long-term effects of iron ore mining on the pristine region.
A Department of Administration spokeswoman said four people were arrested for disorderly conduct during Walker's speech.
Outside the chamber, there were no arrests or significant problems, but there was plenty of noise. Protesters who gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday night voiced their disagreement with Walker's claim that Wisconsin was on the right track.
"I don't think it's very good. I'm afraid of what's happening to Wisconsin," said protester Margaret Rigney.
"It's divided," said protester Chris Oberly. "In general, I'd just like a little more honesty out of the government, on both sides."
"It's horrific. As a bus driver, I see it every day -- the unemployment, the despair," said protester Jerry Papa. "The recall effort will be successful. He's done. He is toast."
As for Walker's touting of a balanced state budget, protesters had a reply.
"And then you make up for it by gutting education and public workers," said protester Michael Dickman.
Governor's Agenda To Face Challenges
The governor's agenda will face challenges in the coming months as he faces a possible recall election later this year. Last year, he proposed eliminating collective bargaining rights for most state workers as part of his budget-balancing plan. This effort sparked weeks of protest at the state Capitol and prompted a series of recall elections targeting state legislators.
Recall organizers last week submitted what they said were 1 million signatures to force an election on Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Verification could take months.
Walker has said the recall is baseless and he believes voters will keep him in office.
Stay tuned to WISC-TV and Channel 3000 for continuing coverage.
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