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When Gov. Scott Walker hit the road for a "conversation" with Wisconsinites after Thanksgiving, it followed criticism that he had unveiled major legislative plans in a California speech before clueing in his home state.
Given the 18-month uproar over Walker’s surprise move to sharply curtail public-sector unions in 2011, the particulars of his rollout process for big policy changes are a sensitive topic.
The Appleton Post-Crescent wondered if Walker was more comfortable dishing to a friendly conservative audience than his own state’s residents. The Green Bay Press-Gazette headlined a story, "Walker’s California speech doesn’t play well at home." Democratic legislative leaders pounced.
This was the first question Wisconsin Public Radio host Joy Cardin read to Walker on Nov. 26, 2012, from "Jerry on Facebook":
"I would think the new plans for Wisconsin that the governor unveiled would be better announced in Wisconsin. Why did he unveil them in California?"
Walker responded: "Well, I didn’t. I actually announced the ideas on Nov. 8 in La Crosse at the small business summit."
Walker said his remarks as part of a question-and-answer session following his Nov. 16, 2012, address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum covered "essentially the same thing" he said in La Crosse.
"I literally had talked about it first and foremost in great detail at the small business summit in La Crosse, which had a great crowd, almost 400 to 500 small business leaders from across the state of Wisconsin. So I’ve talked about it before. I just can’t make the press cover it."
Walker also told Cardin he talked publicly in front of reporters about his agenda at a Republican Senate caucus meeting on Nov. 8, the day of the La Crosse speech.
Did the guv give the scoop to his out-of-state audience?
To be sure, Walker set his own bar high, saying he said "essentially the same thing" and in "great detail" in Wisconsin as he did in California.
We watched complete video from both speeches and reviewed media coverage of them. We also reviewed coverage of the caucus appearance, and watched it on video. Here’s what we found on the four main themes Walker touched on in California regarding plans for the final two years of his first term.
Walker has long expressed his support for an income-tax rate cut, dating to the 2010 gubernatorial election. He did not propose it in his first budget. He also said during the 2012 recall race that he favored a broad income tax cut.
In the La Crosse speech, Walker told business people that he’d "love" to reduce the income tax burden in the state in his next budget, and strongly hinted he meant the individual income tax rate. Local media reported the tax remarks, with the La Crosse Tribune noting that Walker "expects Democratic support for measures including tax cuts..."
In California, Walker repeated his goal, but in more certain terms, vowing to "put in place" income-tax reform in his next two years.
Most notably from a news standpoint, Walker added the ear-catching description of the income tax cut proposal as "massive" and "aggressive."
And in California, Walker added what appears to be a new element: a potential property tax cut.
He said his administration was going to continue to lower property taxes. His first budget, for 2011-’13, featured a virtual freeze on property taxes, and they actually fell for owners of a median-valued home.
We found no references to a property tax cut proposal in his appearances before the California trip.
(A footnote on taxes: Eleven days after the California speech, Walker raised the possibility of cutting just the income tax or the property tax, not both.)
Walker told the Senate caucus that his next budget might link state aid to public schools to student performance and school growth, the Associated Press reported. He made the same remarks on Nov. 12, 2012, on a phone call to the Assembly GOP caucus. Both instances were public and received media attention.
He repeated the remarks in California, saying, as he did to the Senate caucus, that he would apply the principle to kindergarten-12th grade schools, technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin system.
School voucher program
In California, Walker said he’d like to expand Wisconsin’s voucher program for private schools to more students over the next two years.
He didn’t say anything about vouchers in the La Crosse speech or at the caucus, based on news coverage and video from the speech.
This scenario rings a bell.
In 2011, Walker announced in a Washington, D.C., speech that he wanted expansion beyond students in Milwaukee, possibly to Racine and Beloit and Green Bay. That was during the 2011-’13 budget debate; ultimately, lawmakers added only Racine.
Walker’s comments in California seemed to suggest he supports a statewide voucher program: "Every child -- no matter what ZIP code they come from, no matter what their parents' background -- every child in my state and in this country should have the opportunity to have access to world-class education."
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie told us Walker’s supportive comments should not be read to suggest the governor will include such a proposal in his 2013-’15 budget, expected in February.
That, too, sounds familiar: In 2011, Walker did not include the expansion beyond Milwaukee in his 2011-’13 budget, but GOP lawmakers put it in later after Walker signalled his support.
Government regulation of business
Walker spoke extensively in the La Crosse speech about eliminating rules that fail a common-sense test, as he did in California.
So, that’s what the record shows on the key themes.
On two -- trimming regulation and holding schools accountable -- Walker clearly announced his intentions in Wisconsin first. And he did so in great detail. On income tax cuts, he strongly hinted at his intentions in the Wisconsin appearances, but his souped-up comments about the size and certainty of the cuts were first made in California.
The property tax cut he mentioned in California was new.
And on school vouchers, Walker’s talk of expansion may not be surprising, but he put it in play as a top legislative priority during his California speech -- not earlier in Wisconsin.
Walker said he outlined his agenda in Wisconsin first, in great detail, before talking about "essentially the same thing" at the Reagan Library.
There’s an element of truth here. Walker did roll out some of the issues in Wisconsin, but he left out major items he later mentioned in California, on property tax cuts and an unspecified expansion of the school voucher program.
In addition, Walker spoke with much greater clarity and revealed more about his "massive" income tax plans out west than he did back home.
We rate his statement Mostly False.
Wisconsin Public Radio, Joy Cardin show, audio archive, Gov. Scott Walker appearance, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012
Wisconsin Eye, video of Gov. Scott Walker speech at Small Business Summit, Nov. 8, 2012
Gov. Scott Walker, YouTube channel, Small Business Summit speech, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, uploaded Nov. 24, 201
YouTube, A Reagan Forum with Scott Walker, Nov. 16, 2012
Wisconsin Eye, video of Gov. Scott Walker call to Assembly Republican caucus, (17:00 minute mark), Nov. 13, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker promises major tax reforms, school funding changes," Nov. 17, 2012
Wisconsin State Journal, "Walker calls for tax cuts, more accountability for colleges," Nov. 19, 2012
WisBusiness.com, "Walker looks to boost small business in next state budget," Nov. 9, 2012
WXOW.com, "Gov. Walker Hosts Small Business Summit," Nov. 8, 2012
La Crosse Tribune, "Gov. Walker predicts tax cuts, mining bill, bipartisanship," Nov. 9, 2012
WBAY.com, "Governor kicks off ‘Talk with Walker’ tour in Green Bay," Nov. 26, 2012
Interview with Cullen Werwie, spokesman, Gov. Scott Walker, Nov. 26-27, 2012
Interview with John Johnson, Department of Public Instruction, Director of Education information services, Nov. 27, 2012
Associated Press, "Walker signals ending same-day voter registration," Nov. 20, 2012
Associated Press, in Green Bay Press-Gazette, "Walker’s California speech doesn’t play well at home," Nov. 20, 2012
Gov. Scott Walker, video, "Talk with Walker: Planning the next state budget for a better Wisconsin," Nov. 26, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker: Budget could expand school choice to other cities," May 10, 2011
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