|Governor Walker at Forward Janesvilles Annual Dinner|
|Written by Terry Mayer|
|Wednesday, 30 March 2011 09:26|
Photography By Terry Mayer
Pessimism outside, optimism inside at annual Forward Janesville dinner
By Rick West
JANESVILLE — Forward Janesville incoming board chairman Dave Bagley described the scene outside the Holiday Inn Express & Janesville Conference Center Tuesday evening as “very surreal.”
Few inside would have disagreed.
Bagley was referring to some 1,000 sign-carrying pro-union protesters heckling carloads of people arriving at the conference center to hear Gov. Scott Walker deliver the keynote address at Forward Janesville’s annual dinner.
City police reported no problems with the shouting picketers, many of whom threatened to boycott local businesses, despite pledges to the contrary on a Facebook page that helped to organize the protest.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” hundreds shouted near entrances to the parking lot. They were not allowed to approach the conference center.
Walker, who took the stage to a standing ovation, acknowledged the protest, saying it reminded him of the atmosphere at the Capitol after he unveiled a controversial budget-repair bill that eliminates most collective bargaining for the state’s public employees.
“Actually, it kind of refreshed my memory,” he told a sell-out crowd of more than 700 people. “But it’s kind of hard to argue (the Janesville protest) is organic when there’s a big national Teamsters (union) bus parked out front.”
Walker spoke for 25 minutes, touching on many of the themes of his campaign, as well as Rock County issues.
“The message we want to make loud and clear is that Wisconsin is open for business, and we’re proving it,” he told the record crowd. “It’s not just a slogan; it’s not just a banner.”
Walker noted his administration is changing the business climate in Wisconsin by providing tax incentives for employers who create jobs while also easing their regulatory burden.
“We don’t have to wait anymore because we’re heading in the right direction,” Walker said. “We’re going to find ways for Republicans and Democrats alike to find a way to move on economic development, because the jobs aren’t Republican jobs, and they’re not Democrat jobs. They’re Wisconsin jobs.”
Walker said that some 13,000 private-sector jobs were created in January and February, including about 8,200 new jobs in manufacturing. That doesn’t include the jobs that will come with the reopening of the Stoughton Trailer plant in Evansville.
“(That will) create 302 new jobs at that plant, and on top of that, another 176 jobs in Brodhead and Stoughton,” Walker said.
He also touted the impact of his budget-repair bill, which requires increased public-employee contributions for health care and pension costs, as well as his proposed biennial budget.
“If you look at the facts here, this is one of the most stable budgets in the country,” Walker said. “Over the past eight budgets … this is the first budget that truly tackles the structural deficit.”
Walker said the budget will reduce the state’s $3.6 billion structural deficit by 90 percent.
Protesters were unmoved by such claims.
“I think he’s hurting the middle class, the union workers,” shouted Keith Stalker, a Janesville teacher from Milton. “He tried to sell his idea as a budgetary matter; apparently that’s not the case. He wants to just bust unions, which he thinks should be an advantage to the Republican Party.”
During the 2010 campaign, Walker vowed to create 250,000 jobs by the end of his first term in 2015. He told the crowd Tuesday he didn’t choose the number arbitrarily, but instead looked to the record of former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Walker said Thompson created 258,000 jobs in his first term some 20 years ago.
“I saw what Tommy Thompson did to help empower the people of this state to be emboldened, to be excited, to be motivated, to put people back to work in this state,” Walker said. “If we can do it a generation ago, not only can we can do it (now), I know we will do it.”
Many of those protesting expressed concern about their own jobs, though Walker has said repeatedly in recent weeks that his budget-repair bill provides local governments with the tools to control costs and thus minimize layoffs.
“(The governor’s) taking my job,” said an unidentified teacher from East Troy. “I’ve worked 21 years and he’s taking my job. I don’t have enough years in to get retirement money, so I have to go back and work, and because I make a little more money, they’re going to get rid of me and take cheap teachers.”
Walker, meanwhile, criticized past administrations for delaying difficult budgetary decisions by raiding segregated funds illegally and using one-time federal stimulus aid for operational costs.
“All those things have come forward now, and there’s nowhere to punt them off to — there’s nowhere to kick the can into the future. The time to stop that is now,” Walker said. “Year after year after year in the past, the expanding government has been paid for on the back of the middle-class taxpayers. It’s about time we said that’s enough.”
Walker vowed to focus on economic-development efforts in Rock County, particularly the vacant General Motors site in Janesville.
“I want to work with you here to make sure we do something dynamic about that GM plant,” Walker said. “I think there are opportunities, whether it’s large scale or dividing it up into pieces. We want to work with you; we want to be at the table.”
Walker also noted that expansion of Interstate 90/39 to six lanes between Beloit and Madison is a priority for his administration.
“You’re one of only four major projects enumerated in this budget,” he said.
Walker conceded that some might criticize him for “preaching to the choir” Tuesday as he addressed a room full of business leaders who likely supported him in 2010. He then recalled the words of a pastor he knew who was once accused of the same.
“‘It’s real simple — I want the choir to sing,’” Walker said, quoting the pastor. “My charge to you tonight,” Walker added, “is to go home and sing.”
Many in the crowd appreciated the message.
“When I came in I didn’t know what to expect,” said Kirke Plank, a dean at Blackhawk Technical College, “but I was pleased and thought it was a positive message.
“Hopefully, it will serve the residents well as we move forward.”
Bagley, the Forward Janesville chairman, agreed.
“There was a lot of excitement and optimism in the room tonight,” he said. “I think the messages given by everybody, including the governor, were right on point in terms of economic development and where we need to lead this state.”
|Last Updated on Thursday, 31 March 2011 11:26|