MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is eyeing a presidential run, said in his State of the State speech Tuesday that his home state can be a leader in making government more efficient and better-working, while giving few details about plans for solving a looming budget shortfall that could sidetrack or delay his tax cut promises.
The speech, delivered just over a week into Walker’s second term, comes amid growing speculation about his intentions for seeking the White House. Democrats criticized the address as nothing more than another platform for Walker to start mounting a national campaign.
Walker defended his record - pointing out that unemployment is lower now than when he took office and taxes have been cut by $2 billion - while also contrasting Wisconsin with Washington, in the brief 25-minute speech.
“Some in Washington believe government should play a growing role in our lives and rarely question its expense,” Walker said. “Others have such disdain for government that they attempt to keep it from working at all. Instead, we have a chance to lead here in Wisconsin.”
Walker is proposing merging two agencies charged with economic development into one and combining two other agencies that oversee financial institutions and professional services.
He also dipped into foreign affairs, calling on Republicans and Democrats to stand together to denounce terrorist attacks such as the ones in France that included shootings at the newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
“We need to proclaim that an attack against freedom-loving people anywhere is an attack against us all,” Walker said. “And we will not allow it.”
Walker, who said he’s seriously considering a presidential run, recently hired a veteran national political consultant and he’s scheduled to join other potential GOP hopefuls at a conservative event in Iowa later this month.
Walker’s potential run got a bit easier on Monday with news that his friend and fellow Wisconsinite U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, was not going to seek the presidency in 2016.
But others are taking bolder steps. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he would be launching a fundraising operation and former GOP nominee Mitt Romney has been telling supporters he is seriously considering running.
Democrats say that Walker’s presidential consideration is distracting him from problems back home.
“Listening to our governor tonight, I got the sneaking suspicion that Iowa voters will hear a similar speech soon,” said Democratic state Rep. Andy Jorgensen. “But, in focusing on his political future, Gov. Walker is not putting Wisconsin families first.”
Walker argues that if things aren’t going well in Wisconsin, he’ll have no shot at the White House.
Walker used his speech to call on the Wisconsin Legislature to pass a school accountability bill. Republicans have introduced contradictory proposals in the Senate and Assembly, one of which would force failing public schools to turn into independent charters while the other would not.
Walker also said he wanted to make sure that no school be required to use Common Core academic standards. Schools are not currently required to adopt the standards, although most have because statewide tests are based on them.
The looming $2.2 billion budget shortfall is Walker’s biggest immediate problem.
Walker has promised to lower property taxes in the next budget, but has backed off talk of lowering others such as income taxes. In his speech, he only said he would make property taxes lower in four years than they are now.
He balanced a roughly $3 billion budget shortfall in 2011, in part by effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers and forcing them to pay more for their pension and health care benefits.
That fight resulted in weeks of protests and spurred the recall effort against Walker in 2012 that he won - making him the first governor in U.S. history to survive such a vote.
Now Walker is telling Republicans who support making Wisconsin a right-to-work state to hold off, saying another fight with unions would be a distraction from his agenda. But he’s also not promised to veto such a bill, should it pass.
He didn’t mention that issue in his speech.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP .
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