By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday urged Republicans and Democrats to unite to quickly approve a $100-per child tax credit and a host of other election-year priorities, including guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Walker issued the call during his eighth State of the State address, which came at a time of record-low unemployment in Wisconsin and with more than a dozen Democrats vying for the chance to deny the Republican governor a third term in November.
“These are not Republican or Democrat issues. These are just Wisconsin issues,” said Walker, whose previous policies so divided the state that he stood for a recall election in 2012.
The child credit Walker is proposing would equal $100 for every kid living at home under age 18 and would be payable in cash this fall, shortly before he stands for re-election. There are about 1.2 million children in the state in 671,000 households. The $122 million cost would come from a state budget surplus.
Starting in 2019, it would be a refundable $100-per-child tax credit included in state income-tax returns.
Republican legislative leaders quickly embraced the idea. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he was “very confident” it would pass this year. Democrats dismissed it as insignificant and an attempt to bribe voters before the election.
Other initiatives Walker touted include overhauling the state’s welfare system, bolstering the private insurance market to lower rates and investing more in rural schools and in rural economic development.
Walker also heralded the Foxconn Technology Group’s plans for a massive manufacturing complex, which could result in a $10 billion investment and the creation of 13,000 jobs, in what he’s calling an “amazing” and “historic” year.
“We are getting positive things done for the people of Wisconsin,” Walker said.
But Democrats said Walker was moving to the center to bolster his re-election chances.
“Wisconsin residents will not be fooled,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. “This election year, enlightenment has shown that he has failed to deliver on his empty promises of the past and his misguided priorities have taken the state in the wrong direction.”
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz faulted Walker for the Foxconn project, which could cost state and local taxpayers $4.5 billion, and the failure to enact a long-term plan for road funding and prior cuts to K-12 education.
Democrats have long called on Walker to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison north of Wausau in Irma that’s been the subject of federal lawsuits alleging inmate abuse by guards and an ongoing federal investigation.
Walker is proposing replacing juvenile inmates with adults and moving all male juveniles into five new regional prisons. He initially called for the Legislature to take up the idea in 2019, but, under pressure from Democrats, he’s now calling for action this year.
Walker thanked Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke for his advocacy on the issue, saying “much of our plan parallels his work.”
Walker is also seeking a federal waiver to allow Wisconsin to offer a reinsurance program to the roughly 200,000 people in Wisconsin who purchase health insurance on the private marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Reinsurance, which has bipartisan support, basically sets up a pool of money for the government to cover the cost of insurers’ most expensive cases.
The governor estimates that the program would cost the state $50 million if the federal government pays for $150 million.
Walker also called on the Legislature to pass a law guaranteeing that no one with pre-existing conditions is denied coverage.
On welfare, Walker is asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to force parents on food stamps with school-aged children to work or be in job training, and to increase the work requirement already in place for childless adults. He’s also calling for mandating photo identification for food stamp recipients, a move long opposed by Democrats and others who say it’s an impediment to poor people getting food.
Walker is also calling for the adoption of a proposal in the Legislature to boost aid for rural schools and to allow low-spending districts to raise their property taxes without a vote, similar to a change he vetoed from the state budget.
Hours before his speech Walker proposed spending $50 million more each year on programs targeting rural economic development.