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What To Expect At Walker’s State Of The State Address

Speech Will Likely Focus On Surplus, Ignore Jobs Numbers

Above, Gov. Scott Walker at last year's State of the State.

Editor’s Note: Gov. Scott Walker gives his State of the State speech on Wednesday night. The most attention will be paid to a recently-discovered billion-dollar surplus in the state budget and what to do with all that money.

WPR state government reporter Shawn Johnson spoke to Terry Bell about how the state ended up with a billion dollars more than first estimated.

Shawn Johnson: I think the short answer is that it was just a bad estimate. When the Legislative Fiscal Bureau comes out with these estimates — it’s not to put it on them, exactly — they use numbers from a national firm, Global Insight. It’s the same firm that other states use, and Global Insight looks at a variety of factors.

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Global Insight said in its latest forecast that the economy is actually going to grow a little faster nationally than it had predicted in its previous estimate. And so you see not only Wisconsin adjusting its forecast: You see other states adjusting their forecasts too, based on this new information. I think another way of looking at it is, it’s hardest for budget forecasters to look at when an economy is going into a recession or out of a recession. We’ve been technically out of the recession for a few years now. But the economy is starting to pick up more now. It’s harder to peg that for a forecaster, and so you see this big error.

Terry Bell: OK, so we have this big error in our favor. The governor wants a tax cut, Democrats want spending on job creation and social programs, and many Republicans want to be cautious about whatever they do. How do you see this debate playing out?

SJ: I think what’s likely to happen is, the governor’s going to set the table on this. He’s going to lay out what he wants to do in the State of the State address, and he’s going to get most of what he wants.

I think you also have to look at the fact that we’re in an election year this year. And so if you’re a Republican, where do you need to have the most focus? Or, where are you most at risk of potentially losing power in state government, because you have it all right now. I think the top of that list is the governor’s seat. So, whatever he comes out with is essentially going to be part of his re-election platform, and who are legislative Republicans to doubt that?

I think potentially, the state Senate could be more cautious about things, and if there’s going to be changes, I think they’ll be insisted upon by senators who’ve been around for a while, some of whom also face election this fall, they might want to see the state be a little more cautious.

TB: Gov. Walker’s no doubt going to accentuate the positive; all governors do in their State of the State speeches. What do you think he’s not going to talk about — and what do you think his political opponents are going to want to talk about?

SJ: They’re going to want to talk about job numbers as they compare to other states. So Wisconsin is adding jobs, but those job numbers have consistently trailed not only Wisconsin’s Midwest neighbors, but also the nation as a whole, especially in terms of percentage of private job growth. So I wouldn’t expect him to highlight those numbers — he’ll talk about the unemployment rate, which is lower here than at the national level.