Speaker Vos, Speaker Pro Tem August, President Lazich, Majority Leader Fitzgerald, Minority Leader Shilling, Minority Leader Barca, members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Constitutional Officers, tribal leaders, members of the Cabinet, distinguished guests, members of the Legislature, most importantly, fellow citizens of the great state of Wisconsin, it is an honor to appear before you tonight.
Before we get started, I would like to introduce the First Lady of Wisconsin, my wife, Tonette. Also in the gallery are our sons, Matt and Alex, and my parents, Llew and Pat.
Sitting next to my wife is the Adjutant General of the Wisconsin National Guard, Major General Donald Dunbar. Last Friday, General Dunbar and I saw off 522 members of the 115th Fighter Wing here in Madison. They answered the call of our nation's Commander-in-Chief, while still being fully prepared to respond to needs right here in Wisconsin. This is the strength of the National Guard. When you go to bed tonight, I ask that you keep these men and women—as well as each of the other units deployed from Wisconsin—and their families, in your prayers until their safe return.
And how about those Packers? If there is one thing that can bring together Democrats and Republicans here in Wisconsin, it's the 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.
I had plenty of fun hugging owners in the stands at Lambeau. Best of luck to the man who should be the League MVP—Aaron Rodgers—and to the rest of the team.
Much like our military and the Packers, tonight, I am proud to report the state of our state is strong.
The source of our strength is our people. I see it when I tour factories and farms and small businesses; I see it when I visit schools and hospitals and places of worship all across this great state. 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.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: more people are working, while fewer are unemployed. State government is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable, and the state's financial condition has improved. Budgets are set based on the public's ability to pay, instead of the government's hunger to spend. School scores are up and more students are graduating, and we are helping more of our fellow citizens to transition from government dependence to work.
The Wisconsin Comeback is working.
According to preliminary numbers from the Department of Workforce Development, there are now 7,600 more private sector jobs in Wisconsin than there were before the recession.
The unemployment rate that peaked at 9.2 percent in January of 2010 is now down to 5.2 percent. Trends show it will continue to drop this year.
While December job numbers for the states come out next week, the preliminary November data for Wisconsin shows we had the best monthly private sector job growth in more than two decades. Specifically, the year-over-year numbers show the creation of 51,000 private sector jobs—which is the best since the end of the 1990s.
Budget reforms over the past four years reduced the burden on the hard-working taxpayers of this state by $2 billion, and we will continue to reduce that burden every year that I am in office.
In particular, I am proud to say property taxes on a typical home were $141 lower in December of 2014 than they were four years ago. That's right; property taxes are literally lower than they were in 2010. How many Governors can say that?
If property taxes had grown over the past four years at the rate they did between 2006 and 2010, a typical homeowner would have paid $385 more in property taxes this past December. Over the last four years combined, the cumulative difference is more than $800. That's real money.
We heard you loud and clear. Thanks for all of the nice notes and emails and calls to tell us how your property taxes went down. We heard from Mike and Sherry from Sheboygan, Clint from Markesan, and Tammy from Viroqua. There was Jon and Christine from Milwaukee, Karen from Portage, and Dale from Jefferson; Karen from Oregon, Diana from Elkhorn, and Louis from Marshfield. My pledge to you is that property taxes four years from now will be lower than they were in 2014.
We reduced income and employer taxes, too. And we started taking less out of paychecks for withholding last April, so you could keep more of your hard-earned money.
On top of our economic success, we empowered local school boards to hire and fire based on merit and pay based on performance, so they can keep the best and the brightest in the classroom. And it's working.
Over the past four years, graduation rates are up. Third grade reading scores are up. ACT scores are up—and Wisconsin now ranks 2nd in the country.
Our fiscal outlook is strong, too. We finished each year with a surplus, and we will again this year. Wisconsin's pension system is the only one fully funded in the country. The state's pension and debt ratio is one of the best. Our bond rating is positive. And the rainy day fund is the largest in state history—165 times bigger than when we first took office.
While the state of state is strong, we want it to be even stronger in the future. Tonight, I will layout parts of our legislative agenda for the future of this great state. Our plan will help people get the education and skills they need to succeed. We want the opportunity to be as equal as possible with the outcome left up to each and every one of us. In other words, our plan is to help more people live their piece of the American Dream—right here in Wisconsin.
We will build off of our successes in worker training through the Blueprint for Prosperity we announced last year. So far, we helped put nearly 5,000 more students into classes at our 16 technical colleges throughout the state. Some of them are with us here tonight.
One of those is Amber Meads at Waukesha County Technical College. Amber is 24 and was on a waiting list to get into the welding program. Our Wisconsin Fast Forward grant opened up a spot for her to start in the fall semester. Amber now knows she is getting the training she needs for a high-paying career that will support her and her 5-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, who is with her here tonight.
Last year, we announced a new program called A Better Bottom Line that was patterned after an idea from my friend, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, when he was chair of the National Governors Association. It is about helping employers identify the unique abilities of people who are defined, by some, as having a disability.
Tonight, I want to recognize some of the people who I met this year through A Better Bottom Line. Including Spencer Kletzien of Dickmann Manufacturing in Grafton, Mary LaPointe, who uses her computer skills at her job with Beyond Vision in Milwaukee, Peter Wenzel, who works at Mosinee Cold Storage, and Dan Blomgren, who I met at McGlynn Pharmacy in Stoughton.
As part of A Better Bottom Line, we expanded programs helping transition people with disabilities into the workforce in a way that matched their skills with the needs of prospective employers. For the first time in more than a decade, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation eliminated a waiting list for employment services for people with significant disabilities. We will continue to expand these programs in the coming year.
In addition, to worker training, we will ensure every child—regardless of background or birthright—has access to a quality education. We will continue to empower families to make the choice that is right for their sons and daughters.
Tonight, I call on the members of the state Legislature to pass legislation ensuring objective information is available for each and every school receiving public funds in this state. Provide the information and allow parents to make the choice.
No need for bureaucrats or politicians to make that choice—I trust parents. Give them access to objective information and they will make the choice that is best for their children.
And speaking of what is best for our students, I call on the members of the state Legislature to pass legislation making it crystal clear that no school district in the state is required to use Common Core standards. Going forward, I want to eliminate any requirement to use Common Core.
My sons graduated from outstanding public schools in Wauwatosa and my nieces are in public schools as well, so I have a vested interest, like parents all across the state, in high standards. But those standards should be set by people from within Wisconsin—and preferably at the local level.
Looking ahead, we are proposing bold reforms to make state government more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the public.
We will consolidate several of our state agencies. While the mergers will provide savings in the next state budget, the real objective is to improve services, while being better stewards of the taxpayers' money.
Currently, the state has two different entities directly involved with economic development. One, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), was created four years ago to replace the old Department of Commerce. The other, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) was created more than four decades ago.
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. Our plan will put an even greater emphasis on working at the grassroots level with local, regional, and private sector partners on economic development.
There are also several agencies, which oversee financial institutions and professional services. Tonight, I call on the members of the state Legislature to approve legislation combining these agencies into a one-stop shop for professional and financial services. In addition, our legislative package will include several other consolidations within existing agencies—as well as further regulatory reforms. We want common sense solutions, not bureaucratic red tape.
Some in Washington believe government should play a growing role in our lives and rarely question its expanse. 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. 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. As taxpayers, we should demand that the functions that government must reasonably do, it should do well. We should demand a government that is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the public.
Top-down regulations and mandates from the federal government get in the way of innovation and growth in Wisconsin and states like ours.
Therefore, I am working with our new Attorney General to prepare a lawsuit challenging the newly proposed federal energy regulations. These proposals could have a devastating impact on Wisconsin because we are so heavily dependent on manufacturing.
According to recent reports, we could lose tens of thousands of jobs in our region, and ratepayers could see an increase of up to 29 percent. We will fight to protect Wisconsin's hard-working families.
Instead of fighting with states like Wisconsin, the federal government should work with us to find reasonable alternatives. We can be both environmentally and economically sustainable.
These are just a few of our big, bold ideas to help move Wisconsin forward. In a few weeks, we will return to these historic chambers to share our state budget proposal.
As we close tonight, let’s remember what unites us and makes us strong.
Here in Wisconsin, support for the Packers transcends political, religious, and personal differences. Heck, I was sitting a row ahead and a few seats over from a guy on Sunday who didn't care much for my policies. I told him we were all Packer fans there, and by the end of the game, we were high-fiving another Green Bay victory. Green and gold runs deep.
Here in America, support for our military transcends those same differences. That wasn't always the case, but thankfully, we learned from our past transgressions. We support our men and women in uniform and we thank our veterans. Red, white, and blue runs even deeper.
There is one more place where we must also stand united.
Last week, innocent people were targeted in France by terrorists. These cowards are not symbols of confidence. They are overwhelmed by fear. They are afraid of freedom.
They are afraid of those who have the freedom of the press. They are afraid of freedom of speech. They are afraid of freedom of religion.
Tonight, we must stand together—Democrat and Republican—and denounce those who wish to threaten freedom anywhere in this world. We need to proclaim that an attack against freedom-loving people anywhere is an attack against us all. And we will not allow it. When we take a stand, we will make it easier to work for freedom and prosperity—right here in Wisconsin.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the great state of Wisconsin. And may God bless freedom-loving people all over the world.