MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker was set to deliver his State of the State speech Wednesday night in the face of a massive effort to recall him from office and continued uneasiness about the condition of Wisconsin's economy.
Walker planned to use the speech before a joint meeting of the Legislature to talk about his successes and how he believes they have positioned the state for prosperity in the future. He also plans to make a plea for small businesses to add at least one new worker this year.
Walker finds himself in a political maelstrom a year after he shook up the state by proposing eliminating nearly all collective bargaining rights for most state workers as part of his plan for balancing a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
He argued those steps, which also included forcing state workers to pay more for pension and health care benefits, put the state on firmer financial ground and positioned it for growth in the future.
Critics said the real motive was to cripple the unions, which historically backed Democrats.
The union proposal, along with other policies he pushed like requiring photo identification at the polls and cutting state aid to schools by $800 million, helped spark the recall drive. Last week organizers said they submitted 1 million signatures, nearly twice what was needed.
But it could be months before any election is held, and Walker is not sitting idly by. He's already raised $12.1 million, more than any other candidate for state office in Wisconsin history, and has been advertising on television for months in defense of his agenda.
The speech Wednesday night will provide Walker with another chance to lay out the case as to why the changes he made are working and why he should be allowed to keep his job.
A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday shows that slightly more Wisconsin voters approve than disapprove of the job he's doing. It also showed a slight lead or a lead when compared to four potential Democratic opponents. The telephone poll was conducted Jan. 19 through Jan. 22, just days after recall organizers turned in the signatures.
Walker campaigned in 2010 on the promise that given four years in charge, 250,000 more people would be put to work in the private sector. But after one year on the job the state has added just 13,500 jobs and losses have been reported each of the past six months.
Still, Walker will use the speech to argue that the state's business climate is improving.
"Now job creators are optimistic about the future and many are planning to add jobs for the first time in years because of the fiscal certainty the governor created," Werwie said.
Walker plans to ask small businesses that are poised to grow to add at least one more person this year, Werwie said. He also plans to ask state agencies to work with a small business board to eliminate old and unnecessary regulations that hinder state job growth.
The governor will also use his speech to ask citizens to share ideas about how to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in government and encourage people to take time to help a third-grader learn how to read. Improving reading among third graders is one of the governor's top education initiatives.
He also plans to announce a new task force to eliminate waste and fraud in state government. A commission the governor appointed last year identified more than $400 million in potential savings. Walker wants the new task force to follow up.