• WisPolitics

Sunday, September 14, 2014

 12:01 AM 

Walker's new jobs package limits public assistance, extends tuition freeze to tech colleges

Gov. Scott Walker's new jobs package calls for drug testing of adults seeking unemployment checks or food stamps and setting new limits on public assistance for those without children.

Requiring drug testing for public assistance has been struck down in at least one other state, but Walker downplayed those concerns as he discussed the jobs plan he released seven weeks out from the election.

In an interview, Walker told WisPolitics.com he wants to cap public assistance programs at 48 months rather than the current 60 and says drug testing is a way to get people ready for work. The plan also would require childless adults receiving food stamps or unemployment benefits to participate in job training or part-time work.

“If you're an able-bodied, working age adult, particularly one without children, and you want things like food stamps or an unemployment check, we'll give you help. We just don't believe it should be permanent," Walker said.

He said the approach is better for taxpayers, employers and the people seeking jobs.

"We'll help you out, but we want something in return," he said. "What I hear repeatedly from employers are the request, 'Just send me people who are willing to work and drug free.'"

Wisconsin would join at least 11 states that have passed drug testing requirements for those applying for or receiving public assistance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A federal judge, however, struck down Florida's drug testing law late last year, ruling it violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in February.

Walker’s proposal would apply to “able-bodied, working-age childless adults.”

"We're willing to give people assistance, but we want them to be getting prepared to work,” Walker said. “And what we know is it just seems crazy that if we're trying to prepare people to work, one of the first things employers do overwhelmingly is say they want a drug test to make sure people are drug-free."

Joe Zepecki, a spokesman for Dem guv hopeful Mary Burke, slammed the package for being light on details and called it a political document rolled out in the final weeks of the campaign in the hopes of helping him "keep his job."

"The people of Wisconsin deserved a real, detailed, thought out plan from this Governor four years ago," Zepecki said. "Instead, they're left with more of the same politics first approach that has led us to where we are today -- dead last in the Midwest in private sector job growth and facing a nearly $2 billion budget shortfall."

The jobs package also restates a series of Walker goals, such as making property taxes in 2018 lower than they were in 2010. Some pieces also would extend previous Walker priorities, with the guv expanding his pledge to cut taxes each year he’s in office to now pledging income taxes would be lower in 2018 than they are now. He would extend the tuition freeze at the UW System to tech colleges, too.

But a 60-page overview is light on details for how the guv would accomplish those goals. It largely reads as a review of his first term and a contrast with the record of Dem Gov. Jim Doyle, including the time Burke served as Doyle’s Commerce secretary.

Republicans pushed through a cut in income tax rates as part of the 2013-15 budget and followed that up with a second tax cut package earlier this year that changed withholding tables and bought down $400 million of the tech college property tax levy.

Walker said he had no specific number for an income tax cut, but said he would target relief toward the middle brackets. Likewise, he did not commit to a preferred path for reducing property taxes.

Walker’s call for new tax cuts follows a projection pegging the state’s structural deficit for the 2015-17 biennium at $1.8 billion. That had led some to believe there will be little room for big spending priorities or tax reductions without cuts elsewhere or a rebound in revenues.

Walker said he’s confident revenue growth will cover the shortfall while allowing for money to be returned to taxpayers.

"Our goal is that rates across the board will be lower in four years than they are today in the same way that our goal is to have property taxes being lower," Walker said

Walker’s plan includes broad promises to provide tax relief for manufacturing and agriculture and removing barriers to starting a new company and expanding a small business.

Other goals include:

*Continuing the two-year freeze on UW tuition. Walker has previously proposed the move, though his plan would extend it tech colleges as well. The guv said the state would invest in tech colleges, “particularly in high-need areas,” to help cover rising costs with a tuition cap in place.

*Expanding the Fast Forward program to provide more customized worker training in cooperation with private employers.

*A promise to “fight ObamaCare,” though it does not say how. The guv declined federal money to expand the Medicaid program as proposed under the Affordable Care Act. He instead covered all of those below the federal poverty line through BadgerCare while pushing others who had previously received health coverage through the program into the federal exchanges.

The guv said his administration would work with the congressional delegation to seek changes to the program if Republicans win the Senate this fall.

"Outright repeal isn't likely but we're still going to push for that, and we're going to push for some additional relief," Walker said.

* See related documents

-- By JR Ross and Andy Szal

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