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Walker focuses on filling open jobs during seventh State of the State address Submitted: 01/10/2017
MADISON - Inside a full Assembly chamber, Gov. Scott Walker noted the job market is filled with opportunity.

"You see, without a doubt, Wisconsin is working," Walker said.

Walker focused heavily on employment through his 40-minute State of the State speech at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon.

"Wages are up,more than 50,000 new businesses have been created, and our unemployment rate, that's down to 4.1 percent," Walker said.

This coming session, filling those jobs is a priority. Walker admitted the state Workforce Development website has 80,000 openings. Meanwhile, five Northwoods counties (Oneida, Vilas, Forest, Florence, and Iron) have some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, including state Sen. Janet Bewley's Iron County.

"We've gotta make sure we're looking at the actual quality of life of people who do have jobs," Bewley (D-Delta) said. "Just because you have a job doesn't mean you're not poor."

Walker hopes to better prepare workers for those jobs by re-filling public schools with more funding.

"I want great schools for every student in the state," Walker said. "Our budget will include a significant increase for public schools. We will also help rural schools that have unique challenges such as transportation costs, broadband access, and declining enrollment."

Walker pledged $35.5 million more to help schools upgrade technology like fab labs, while promising to cut college tuition for all state undergrads.

Lincoln County Rep. Mary Felzkowski (formerly Czaja) thinks investing in schools will have a positive effect on the job market.

"We're going to be bringing in more employers," Felzkowski (R-Irma) said. "They're going to start looking at Wisconsin because we are leading the way."

As for getting to those jobs, Walker drew the lightest applause of the afternoon for his stance on filling an estimated $1 billion transportation shortfall standing by his word to not raise the gas tax or registration fees.

"Whether you agree with me or not, I hope you can respect that I keep my word," Walker said.

"If he is not going to raise revenue from some other place, he is going to cut something," Bewley said. "Soanother ax is about to fall and he didn't give us a clue as to what it's going to be."

State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) agrees with Felzkowski's take on transportation: wait for an audit for the DOT to come in first before making any funding decisions.

"I'm not quite in as firm a position as the governor, but I do believe we need to use the dollars we have most effectively first," Tiffany said.

It's a battle Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) admits many Republicans don't agree with the governor on. But he says that, by and large the governor s priorities on jobs and schools are his.

"All of [today's speech focus] goes together, and hopefully those people will come and stay and hopefully those kids stay here and raise their own families," Swearingen said.

Those are families that Gov. Walker sees getting back to work.

"Wisconsin's future is bright, but there's more work to be done," Walker said. "We're not done yet."


Story By: Lane Kimble

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