Walker begins term facing $3 billion budget shortfall

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker began his term Monday promising to "right-size" state government and make tough but compassionate decisions to balance a $3 billion budget shortfall and create 250,000 jobs in the next four years.

Walker, in a 20-minute inauguration address delivered to a packed Capitol Rotunda, promised not to raise taxes or raid segregated state funds. Those were platforms of Walker's successful campaign that got him elected in November as Wisconsin's 45th governor.

Walker, 43, asked the new Republican majorities in the state Legislature to start work immediately on proposals he said would improve the state's economy and help him fulfill his job-creation promise.

"Our message is simple. Act swiftly. Act decisively. And pass our jobs plan by the end of February," Walker said. "Let us get Wisconsin working again."

In part, Walker wants the Legislature to cut taxes on small businesses and transform the Commerce Department into a public-private hyrbid. The exact proposals have yet to be released.

He also provided no new details Monday on how he plans to balance

Walker is expected to release his two-year budget balancing plan in late February, but he made clear that raising taxes would not be a part of it because he said that would impair economic growth.

While Walker has sworn off raising taxes, he hasn't ruled out raising user fees or requiring drivers to pay tolls if they use special lanes on the interstate designed for buses and carpoolers. He's also expected to target Medicaid and other public assistance programs, as well as higher education funding, for cuts.

He provided no new details Monday.

"We will make tough but compassionate decisions to balance the next state budget in a way that will get Wisconsin working again," Walker said. "Under our administration, state government will do only what is necessary — no more, no less."

Walker has targeted state workers and the size of state government for cuts.

And while he's already picked fights with state workers over their contracts, applauding the Legislature for not approving deals reached with the unions last month, Walker called on state employees to partner with him to ensure that government provides only essential services that citizens need and taxpayers can afford.

"Our government will not only be smaller, it will be better," Walker said. "More responsive, more efficient, more effective."

"Our rights as free people are given by our creator, not the government," he said. One of those rights is to nurture freedom and vitality through limited government, he added.

"It is through frugality and moderation in government that we will see freedom and prosperity for our people," Walker said.

Democrats said Walker and Republicans were also intent on pushing a conservative social agenda. Democratic state lawmakers circulated e-mails from Republicans who were seeking co-sponsorship of bills that would allow off-duty police officers to carry guns on school property, eliminate same-day voter registration and disqualify equipment used for embryonic stem cell research from a property tax break.

Protesters held two rallies around the Capitol on Monday to protest Walker's decision to turn down more than $800 million in federal aid for a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee that was expected to create thousands of jobs.

Eddie Tipton, a 61-year-old Milwaukee County bus driver, challenged the governor "to be a man" and come to Milwaukee to explain to him face-to-face why he turned the train down.

"When you're throwing away jobs," Tipton said, "you're throwing away people."

Liz Sauer, 26, a former UW-Milwaukee graduate student who now works for the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association, held a sign that read "Forward Not Backward," a play on Wisconsin's "Forward" motto. She said she showed up to send a message to Walker that she's watching how many jobs he creates. Walker has promised to create 250,000 jobs over four years but hasn't detailed exactly how he will do it.

"We're promised good jobs by Mr. Walker and we expect good jobs," she said. "We're going to hold him accountable."

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate promised to hold Republicans, especially newly elected state lawmakers, accountable over the next year. He said the party is launching a campaign to educate the public about the Republican agenda that will enlist the help of 15,000 volunteers and work through social media and the Internet to spread their message.

The oath of office Walker took Monday from Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson was ceremonial. He had already been sworn in Thursday by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen so there would be a seamless transition when his term began at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The 43-year-old Walker succeeds Democrat Jim Doyle, who served as governor for eight years but decided against seeking a third term. Walker and Doyle, who attended the ceremony, met briefly in the governor's office before the inauguration ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

Doyle joined four other former governors at the ceremony — Scott McCallum, Tommy Thompson, Martin Schreiber and Tony Earl.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Van Hollen and Treasurer Kurt Schuller, a Republican, also were sworn in Monday. Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette, whose term also began Monday, was in West Virginia visiting his brother. La Follette said he had taken the oath more than a week ago.

Newly elected members of the state Senate and Assembly were to be sworn in Monday afternoon. Republicans will hold a 60-38-1 majority in the Assembly and a 19-14 majority in the Senate following large GOP gains in the November midterm elections.

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov.-elect Scott Walker hopes to get off to a fast start, declaring an economic emergency and calling the Republican-controlled Legislature into special session on his first day in office Monday to take up a series of proposals.

Walker, a Republican, was inaugurated during a noon ceremony on Monday at the Capitol. He has made job creation his top priority and promised that in four years the state will have 250,000 more jobs than it does now.

A state Democratic Party spokesman says Walker is using the state's economic woes as a smoke screen to advance a partisan agenda to satisfy narrow special interests.

Walker was inaugurated on Monday afternoon, but had already taken the oath of office.

That happened Thursday and was administered by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.



 
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