The Associated Press asked Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke for their responses in 130 words or less to the same 10 questions in advance of the Nov. 4 election. What follows are their responses.
Question: How would your plan for creating jobs and improving the economy be better than your opponent's?
Walker: Our plan focuses on helping small businesses grow in the state — as well as helping people start their own businesses. Instead of the top-down, government-knows-best approach that our opponents promote — we want organic growth that comes from the ground up. Our plan helps to lower the costs of doing business in Wisconsin and removes the barriers to starting and growing a small business. In contrast, Mary Burke said she supported Jim Doyle's policies "entirely." These are the same policies that led to double-digit tax hikes, multi-billion dollar deficits and significant job loss. The only time during the past 25 years that the unemployment rate in Wisconsin was worse than the national rate was during the three years Mary Burke worked for Jim Doyle as the head of economic development.
Burke: My approach, based on my career in business, is laid out in my jobs plan, "Invest for Success." It's the playbook I'll use the day I'm sworn in as governor. I outline five core strategies to ensure Wisconsin's economy is in the top 10 in the country. We need to focus on the issues, create strong partnerships and put the politics aside. I don't care if ideas are Republican or Democratic, just whether they will work or not. Our challenges are enormous but so are the opportunities. We have lagged the Midwest and the U.S. and it is time to take a businesslike approach to driving Wisconsin's economy forward.
Question: If elected governor, how many private sector jobs do you believe will be created in Wisconsin over the next four years under your leadership?
Walker: Wisconsin lost 133,000 jobs and 27,000 businesses during Jim Doyle's last term. When I was running for governor, I saw the impact it had on real families across the state. I heard about the stress each month when the mortgage was due. With that in mind, I set a big goal of 250,000 jobs because I know that the people of Wisconsin can do great things. We set big goals. We met most of them. But we're not done yet and we will not rest until everyone who wants a job, can find a job.
Burke: My goal is to make Wisconsin a thriving, top 10 economy. Governor Walker's refusal to accept accountability for his failure to create the jobs he promised is disappointing, but not surprising. Under Governor Walker we are last in the Midwest in private sector job growth. I believe that how we track progress matters, and I will insist on accountability, just as I've done at Trek, the Department of Commerce, and in the education program I founded. In business, that's how leaders are judged — by their results. That's why my jobs plan not only lays out the five core strategies I'll use to make Wisconsin a thriving, top 10 economy, but the measurements by which my administration — and the people of Wisconsin — can follow our progress and make sure we're on track.
Question: Are Wisconsin's taxes too high? If so, which ones and what do you plan to do about it?
Walker: When I travel the state, I don't hear people say that they don't send enough money to Madison. They don't say that taxes are too low or even that they are just about right. They tell me that if we want to continue to build the Wisconsin Comeback, we need to put more money into the hands of the people who earned it: the hard working taxpayers. I agree. We've lowered taxes on hard working people and employers by some $2 billion. If I am re-elected, I have a plan to make property taxes lower four years from now. I promised to cut taxes every year we are in office. I kept that promise and plan to do it again if I have the honor of serving another four years as governor.
Burke: As governor, my goal will be to lower the tax burden and ensure our taxes are competitive with our neighbors — and with the nation as a whole. My focus would be on tax cuts targeted at the middle class and working families through tools like the college tuition and student loan deductions I propose in my jobs plan, "Invest for Success." In particular, property taxes are too high, and I am committed to reducing them without short changing local governments. Cutting taxes for the middle class ensures that working families have more money in their pockets to put back into Wisconsin's economy, which in turn will create more jobs. That's how you lower taxes responsibly, by creating more jobs and growing the economy overall.
Question: What is the biggest challenge facing the state and how would you deal with it?
Walker: The policies during Jim Doyle's last term got this state into a pretty big hole. Our policies got us out of the hole. The biggest challenge for the state now is to climb out of the hole and to help our fellow citizens who got in a hole during the recession get out and move forward. To help people keep more of their paycheck, we will lower property and income taxes — as well as continue to freeze UW tuition so more college students and working families can afford school. To help people earn more, we will help them learn more through our targeted investments in technical colleges and apprenticeship programs and do more to expand flexible options in the University of Wisconsin system.
Burke: As governor, my top priority will be jobs because without a strong growing economy, we cannot support education, infrastructure, strong communities, reduce the tax burden and keep young people in our communities. Wisconsin has everything it takes to be a thriving, top 10 economy, but under Governor Walker, we're lagging behind. One reason is we rank 46th in the U.S. in entrepreneurial activity. I started my own business, and know that small businesses create most new jobs. We need to invest in the ideas and entrepreneurs who will create the next generation of growth businesses. So whether it is supporting new businesses or creating a climate so existing businesses thrive, I will bring leadership that knows what it takes.
Question: What are the first three pieces of legislation you would introduce as governor and make a priority in your first 100 days in office?
Walker: Prepare young people with the skills that they need to get a decent paying career. Establish high standards for students at the local and state level. Establish accountability measures for all schools that receive public funding. Provide parents with as many quality education choices as possible. Give schools more flexibility to make decisions at the local level. Target resources in our technical colleges, apprenticeship and internship sessions and all other workforce development programs. Implement a Labor Management Information system to identify unique needs by region and industry, then deploy resources to increase training to fill those needs. Help transition people from government dependence to true independence through employment training. Lower property taxes. Reduce income taxes. Continue the freeze on UW tuition. Remove the barriers to starting a new company or expanding a small business.
Burke: Wisconsin is politically divided right now, but if we put politics aside and focus on problem-solving, we can find common ground — that's who we are in Wisconsin. So on Day One, I'll start reaching across the aisle and make sure we get the best ideas on the table. I don't care if an idea is Republican or Democratic — I care whether they'll work for Wisconsin. My first priority is implementing my jobs plan, "Invest for Success." Three items in my plan that have broad support from across the political spectrum, which I believe can and should be done very quickly are 1) accepting the federal Medicaid expansion, 2) raising the minimum wage, and 3) passing the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill to lower student debt.
Question: What, if any, changes do you believe need to be made to public education funding?
Walker: Our Act 10 reforms help school districts put more of their funding into the classroom. We need to expand the ways that school board members can move to put more resources into the classroom and we need to give them flexibility to best meet local needs. In particular, that means helping schools in rural areas deal with transportation and other unique costs. We should also provide incentives for districts that collaborate on providing specific services. We want to reward high performing and rapidly improving schools. We also want to help failing schools improve their methods (too often in the past more money went to schools to support failed policies without an expectation of real change). We want to invest in success and insure that every child has access to a great education.
Burke: Our public schools are the fabric of our communities and the foundation of our economy, and I'm committed to working every day as governor to strengthen public education and improve student learning. But right now, it's clear that our current model of funding is shortchanging school districts throughout Wisconsin, particularly in rural parts of the state. There's no question we need a top-to-bottom review of the school funding formula to ensure that all children in Wisconsin, regardless of where they live, have an opportunity to succeed. Under Governor Walker we have seen the largest cuts to K-12 education funding in the history of our state. Our children's futures and our economy are too important to not invest in education.
Question: Do you support expanding the school choice program? If yes, in what way? If no, why not?
Walker: I believe that we need to give families as many high quality education choices as possible to succeed. Our reforms helped public schools improve in Wisconsin: high school graduation rates are up, 3rd grade reading scores are up and Wisconsin's ACT scores are now 2nd in the country. Our opponent wants to limit these choices across the state while I want to give more families - particularly low income families - those choices because my goal is make sure every child has access to a great education. I also believe that more quality choices will encourage more public districts to successfully use our reforms to improve their schools.
Burke: I strongly opposed the statewide expansion of vouchers and would seek to roll it back, reducing the number of vouchers overall. There is very little evidence to suggest voucher schools improve student learning, and nearly 80 percent of students receiving vouchers in the statewide program were already enrolled in private schools. In Milwaukee and Racine, where the voucher program has been well established, I will insist on greater accountability to improve student learning. Governor Walker's approach of cutting funding for public education while increasing spending on unaccountable voucher schools is the wrong way to strengthen schools. I will also seek to repeal the new $30 million entitlement program Walker supported, allowing parents to write off private school tuition regardless of their income — those dollars should be invested in neighborhood schools.
Question: What, if any, changes do you believe needs to be made to the state's Medicaid and other entitlement programs?
Walker: For the first time in the history of Wisconsin, everyone living in poverty now has access to health care through Medicaid. For those living above poverty, we help them transition into the marketplace. And the respected Kaiser Family Foundation says that Wisconsin has no coverage gap. Over the past three years, we added about $2 billion to Medicaid to cover needy families, children and seniors. We will continue to look out for those legitimately in need of our help. I will continue to work with able-bodied, working-age adults to help them transition from government dependence to true independence. That is why we invested in employment training programs for adults (without kids) on food stamps. We will give them help while they're working to get the skills they need to be employed.
Burke: First and foremost, as governor I will accept the Medicaid expansion immediately. Governor Walker's decision was fiscally irresponsible and political — accepting the expansion should have been a no-brainer. Any CEO who turned that kind of opportunity down would be fired. He cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and made health care less affordable. When people lose their health care, they don't stop getting sick — we just end up footing the bill for it. The expansion would have saved Wisconsin taxpayers $206 million in this budget and nearly half a billion dollars thru 2017, brought in an additional $2.4 billion in federal funding through 2021, and insured 87,000 more people. It's time to put common sense ahead of politics and do the right thing — that's what I'll do.
Question: Do you support raising the minimum wage? Why or why not?
Walker: Instead of making it harder (or more expensive) for employers to create entry level jobs, we want to help people learn more to earn more. Over the past year, we put more than $100 million into worker training and workforce development programs to help people obtain the skills needed to increase their worth to their current or future employers. We invested in our technical colleges as well as adult apprenticeship and youth apprenticeship programs to train more people in the areas of high demand. In the future, we will redirect even more resources into key industry clusters. I want jobs that pay two and three times the minimum wage and the best way to do that is to help people learn more to earn more as they become a more valuable asset to their employer.
Burke: I support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour gradually over the next three years and then indexing it to better allow hard-working Wisconsinites to support themselves. I've spoken with business owners, large and small, across Wisconsin, and they agree that raising the minimum wage benefits everyone, including businesses. States that have raised the minimum wage are seeing economic benefits from it — and no negative effect on job creation. People working full-time should be able to support themselves without having to rely on government assistance. At $7.25 an hour, that's just unrealistic — it doesn't make sense for workers, and it doesn't make sense from a budget standpoint. Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do for our fellow Wisconsinites, our economy, and our future.
Question: What is the best policy that has been enacted in Wisconsin since 2011 and what is the worst?
Walker: The best policy: Our Act 10 reforms took control from the powerful big government special interests and put it firmly in the hands of the hard working taxpayers. Now, schools can hire based on merit and pay based on performance, instead of seniority and tenure. It allows school districts to bid out health insurance and save millions that can be directed into the classroom. It stops overtime abuses that were costing taxpayers. It restores common sense to local government in Wisconsin. The worst policy was the one invoked by the judges in Dane County. Ultimately, the higher courts ruled that the voice of the people through the actions of the state Legislature and the governor shall be heard if the law is based on the guidelines of the Wisconsin Constitution.
Burke: The UW tuition freeze was a step in the right direction, but we need to do more to make college affordable for students, including bringing down the cost. That's why I support a plan to refinance student loan debt and would allow middle-class families to deduct more in tuition and fees associated with attending college on their taxes as a way to lessen dependence on costly student loans. The worst policy decision was Scott Walker's decision to turn down the federal money to expand Medicaid. Governor Walker's decision was fiscally irresponsible and political — accepting the expansion should have been a no-brainer. Any CEO who turned that kind of opportunity down would be fired. He cost Wisconsin taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and made health care less affordable.