While students at UW-Madison reveled in their snow day glory Tuesday night, Wisconsin state legislators took refuge in the Capitol to listen to Gov. Scott Walker's first State of the State address. The governor used the stage to praise his legislators, promote smaller government and, of course, cheer on the Green Bay Packers.
Throughout his speech, Walker hit on similar topics and ideals that President Obama expressed during his State of the Union last week. Like Obama, Walker used his speech to unite legislators, call for sacrifices and clarify that there is a
real need for government reform.
Walker's speech was effective at bringing the legislators together, at least for one night. He stressed that job creation was his priority as governor, and that's a goal both parties can agree is worth the effort. Though there may be a lot of things Walker and Democrats do not agree on, it was nice to hear the governor go above partisanship and focus on the shared goal of helping Wisconsin get back to work.
For comparison's sake, during the California State of the State, Gov. Jerry Brown was more confrontational with his opposing party, calling Republicans out for not agreeing on a ballot measure to raise taxes. He even went so far as to tell Republicans they should be clapping more during his speech. It is good to know that Wisconsin's governor is more mature than Gov. Brown, even though he's 30 years his junior.
But if Walker's sensible tone was a strength of his speech, its vagueness was a glaring weakness. Often times he just offered ideas like frugality and moderation to help reform government. He is right to mention these ideas, especially with the state in such a dire fiscal condition. But to be honest, it got old hearing Walker drone on about these abstract concepts and not give specific details as to how he will implement them in the future.
Tuesday night was a perfect time for Walker to describe some major government cut-backs. However, he only gave one example of the government saving a considerable amount of money when he described the $600 million in saving on the Zoo Interchange project. This was a powerful example, but his point could have been even stronger if he gave other concrete plans to achieve this level of fiscal responsibility on the whole.
Walker was not light on details on when it came to reforming public employees' benefits. Like many other states, Wisconsin's public pensions are placing a burden on the state's taxpayers. It was important that Walker addressed this issue, because without some sort of reform, Wisconsin will soon be in even deeper financial problems than they are now.
Walker wisely proposed that public employees contribute 5 percent to their pensions and 6 percent more to their health-care premiums. This will reduce the stress that pensions place on the budget. This is the level of detail that would have been appreciated when he was talking about being frugal and practicing moderation.
In reality though, Tuesday night's State of the State is not what matters. Although his speech was vague and did not provide many plans or projects, his past actions have definitely spoken louder than his words.
So far, he has rejected the high-speed rail, something that would end up costing Wisconsin millions of dollars in the future. He has shown that he is truly a man of action by getting most of his business policies passed in his first two months as governor.
He's shown he can lead by working with both Democrats and Republicans to introduce tax credits for businesses relocating to Wisconsin.
So as long as Walker continues pushing for private-sector job growth, keeps making wise fiscal decisions and drafts a budget that puts Wisconsin in a good fiscal situation, I'll forgive him for having a mediocre speech with way too many Packers references in it.
Matt Beaty is a sophomore majoring in mathematics and computer science. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.