MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker called for shrinking the size of government in an upbeat State of the State address on Tuesday night, amid speculation that he is preparing to launch a 2016 presidential bid.
In his fast-paced, 24-minute speech, he touted the accomplishments of his first term — including his property tax cuts — and highlighted his upcoming efforts to shrink the size of government.
Walker specifically mentioned two entities focused on economic development that he hopes to combine into one — the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a public-private entity he created four years ago to replace the former state Department of Commerce, and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
“Tonight, I ask the members of the state Legislature to pass legislation combining these two into one, so resources can be shifted from overhead into economic development,” Walker said. “Our plan will put an even greater emphasis on working at the grassroots level with local, regional, and private sector partners on economic development.”
He also called on lawmakers to combine the state Department of Financial Institutions and state Department of Safety and Professional Services into a “one-stop shop for professional and financial services.”
Walker said he would call for other consolidations within existing agencies.
“I believe that government has grown too big and too intrusive in our lives and must be reined in, but the government that is left must work,” Walker said. “We should demand a government that is more efficient, more effective, and more accountable to the public.”
Walker’s speech focused on the positives in Wisconsin, and made a number of references to the much-loved Green Bay Packers.
“Forgive me tonight if I’m a bit hoarse, but like most of the state, we spent a fair amount of time cheering on Sunday,” Walker said. “I had plenty of fun hugging owners in the stands at Lambeau.”
Walker also touted the accomplishments of his first term, including his tax cuts and his controversial measure to all but end collective bargaining for most of the state’s public workers.
“The Wisconsin Comeback is working,” Walker said. “The citizens of Wisconsin are decent and smart and hard-working — and they are strong. Over the past four years, we put the power back into their hands. In turn, Wisconsin is more free and prosperous.”
Walker unveiled his union limits shortly after taking office in early 2011. The proposal, which came to be known as Act 10, drew tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol. It also spurred recalls, including one targeting Walker, which he won in June 2012 — becoming the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall.
Walker won three elections in four years, and his profile has risen steadily among national conservatives.
Tuesday’s address was Walker’s fifth State of the State address, and his first since winning reelection to a second term in November.
In his speech, Walker also called on lawmakers to pass a school accountability bill, and urged them to pass legislation “making it crystal clear that no school district in the state is required to use Common Core standards.”
Walker also spoke out against “top-down regulations and mandates form the federal government,” and said he was working with the Attorney General Brad Schimel on a lawsuit aimed at challenging federal energy regulations.
Walker’s speech came just three weeks before he is scheduled to unveil his 2015-17 budget proposal in a Feb. 3 speech.
He gave little details about his budget plans, but again called for frugality.
“Budgets are set based on the public’s ability to pay, instead of the government’s hunger to spend,” Walker said.
In advance of Walker’s address, Wisconsin Democrats accused the Republican governor of being more focused on running for president than leading the state.
“Rather than becoming distracted by Washington politics, we need to focus on the important issues facing Wisconsin families,” said state Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. “With a $2.2 billion budget deficit, a lagging economy and stagnant wages, it’s time to start putting Wisconsin families first.”
And Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said Walker needs to focus on the state rather than “pandering to primary voters in Iowa.”
“Wisconsin is in Scott Walker’s rear-view mirror as he begins his campaign for president,” Tate said. “There are real challenges facing our state but we also have real opportunities to help average working families – if the governor is willing to spend his time doing the job he was elected to do, not campaigning for the job he wants.”
But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said that he knew tonight’s speech will be all about Wisconsin.
“I’m confident that he’s going to continue to lay out a vision for Wisconsin that is broad-based,” Vos said. “I know that he is going to focus on making sure that middle-class families have an opportunity to succeed.”
Vos spoke with reporters hours before Walker was set to deliver his 7 p.m. State of the State address. He said he also hopes to hear more about school accountability, addressing concerns with Common Core State Standards, and plans for merging state agencies.
Vos also said that Assembly Republicans are “100 percent committed” to not balancing the state budget without raising taxes.
“Ultimately, I hope that he’ll spend the majority of his time talking about the vision that we’re going to show of where we want Wisconsin to go. And that’s reforming government at every single level.”
Vos added that many of the state’s agencies are decades old — or older — and can be streamlined to be more efficient and more responsive to the public.
“I think the state of the state is exciting,” Vos said. “I think we are poised for so many good things that are happening.”
Walker has acknowledged that he is considering running for president in 2016, but he has said he likely won’t decide until spring or summer.
Walker, who has become a national conservative hero in the wake of Act. 10 and his recall, is preparing to head to a Republican National Committee event in California later this week, and will speak at an event featuring high-profile conservatives, the Iowa Freedom Summit, later this month.