Gov. Scott Walker delivered his 2018 State of the State address in the Assembly chambers on Jan. 24. Walker’s eighth State of the State focused on “getting positive things done for the people of Wisconsin” and an “Ambitious Agenda” for 2018.
Walker began his speech by highlighting successes of 2017, including Wisconsin’s record-low unemployment, increased school funding, lower taxes, apprenticeship programs, a strong health care system, investments in transportation, and economic development.
On economic development, Walker said specifically that, with the help of convention and visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce, the economic impact of tourism in Wisconsin has increased 35 percent. Walker then cited Foxconn and other business expanding in Wisconsin as evidence of Wisconsin’s business-friendly climate.
Walker then laid out his agenda for 2018, which includes education spending, welfare reforms, a small business plan, and health care initiatives.
On education, Walker endorsed Rep. John Nygren’s (R-Marinette) sparsity aid plan for low revenue school districts.
On welfare, Walker asked the legislature to pass reforms as part of the special session he called for in Executive Order 271. The bill package, authored by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) includes work requirements, drug tests, and asset limits on public assistance eligibility.
Walker then called on the legislature to pass his Small Business Plan. The plan includes lawsuit reform to reduce costs for small businesses, investment in apprenticeships, and talent attraction initiatives. Walker also proposed a $50 million Rural Economic Development Fund to support small businesses in rural areas.
In additions to these items, Walker laid out plans to reform the juvenile criminal justice system and a $100 per child tax credit.
Walker then laid out his Health Care Stability Plan to keep premiums down and create more choices for consumers in Wisconsin. The governor called on the Senate to pass a preexisting conditions exclusion bill (AB 365), which the Assembly voted to pass in June. The press has characterized this bill as codifying federal exclusions in to state law. Walker additionally proposed a $200 million reinsurance program to help keep premiums down in the individual market.
Walker also said he is seeking a permanent waiver for the state to provide SeniorCare, Wisconsin’s prescription drug assistance program. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has approved a temporary waiver for Wisconsin four times since 2002.
Walker said premiums in Wisconsin have increased 36 percent this year for people in the individual market. Walker stuck by his plan to reject the Affordable Care Act expansion, and said his market-driven approach would bring stability to Wisconsin’s health care system.
Walker also asked the legislature to pass the latest opioid legislation (LRB 5264 and LRB 5242) from the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse. Walker had issued executive orders on opioid abuse on Jan. 19.
In the minority response to the speech, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) criticized Walker for not providing long-term, sustainable reforms for Wisconsin. Hintz cited cuts to education funding, tax breaks for the wealthy, the Foxconn deal, and deteriorating roads as examples of the state’s failures under Walker. Hintz said Democrats want to focus on quality of life and environmental investments to make Wisconsin a better place to live. He proposed a child care tax credit and expanded parental leave benefits and again called on Walker to accept Medicaid expansion funding under the Affordable Care Act.