Gov. Scott Walker Previews Next Year In State Government | Wisconsin Public Television

Gov. Scott Walker Previews Next Year In State Government

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Premiere Date: 
December 23, 2016

Gov. Scott Walker Previews Next Year In State Government

Walker tells WPT reporter Zac Schultz he wants more control from the federal government for Wisconsin. Walker hopes Republican control in Washington will mean more state control over health care, education and the placement of refugees from “countries with ties to terrorism.” He also says he is now more likely to run for a third term in off

Episode Transcript

Zac Schultz:

Governor Walker, thanks for joining us.

Scott Walker:

Glad to have you at the residence.

Zac Schultz:

The results of the 2016 election have changed a lot of storylines for 2017, so let's start there. What does Republican control in Washington mean for Wisconsin?

Scott Walker:

I think tremendous opportunities. One of the things we hope are not on the short term, we get some of the relief we've been asking for for some time when it comes to waivers, health and human services, welfare reform, other areas, even help with the wolf population in northern Wisconsin. But longer than that, later, in 2017 and beyond, my hope is that a new president along with the House and the Senate will give greater reforms to the states. More roles and responsibilities and resources going back to states like Wisconsin for things like Medicaid, but also transportation, education, work force investment dollars, where we can make decisions at the level that's more effective, more efficient and definitely more accountable.

Zac Schultz:

Now, there's a lot of debate among Republicans in Congress about how to overhaul the Affordable Care Act including how soon, what parts may be kept, when will it go into effect. What would you like to see?

Scott Walker:

My simple goal in all this is pass, repeal and replace as quickly as possible, because I think rightfully so there's a real sentiment amongst the voters that, "Hey, this is one of the key things we asked for." It's part of the reason there was push back even over the last two years after Republicans took over the United States Senate. A lot of voters said, "Hey wait a minute. You told us you were going to put this on the president's desk right away and you didn't." I would pass it as quickly as possible, the repeal and replace. But then I think that's where the voters will say, "As long as we know you've done it, it doesn't have to be ended immediately." I think the responsible goal is to have about a three-year spread period so you don't have some of the same mistakes that were made on the front end creating it happen at the tail end when it's becoming undone,  meaning that people don't fall through the cracks. I and others have advocated as I think this administration likely will, a shift over to credits where there's incentives for people to be able to buy either through their employer or on the individual threshold be able to buy through tax credits, health insurance out there and get similar coverage to what they got before, but you need time to have that queued up so that nobody falls through the cracks.

Zac Schultz:

About 230,000 people in Wisconsin get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange. 85% of which get some sort of federal subsidy for premiums. What can you say to them about what they should expect in that process?

Scott Walker:

I think what you're going to see -- I had a plan very similar to what the president and his designee for Health and Human Services, Dr. Price, has put out, very similar to the plan I put out a year and a half ago, which is overwhelmingly driven by tax credits. These would actually help individuals be able to offset those costs much like the subsidies were during the exchange. The difference being you're not mandated to get the health insurance and you don't have to get it through the government. The credits are available and you go out in the marketplace. And then there will other changes they need to make. Things like allowing the purchase of health insurance plans over state lines. I think they're certainly things that can be put in place like making sure that people are able to get access regardless of previous health conditions. Those sorts of things I think are pretty universally felt are good reforms. They can happen. And I think people who are on coverage today will get it. They'll just get it in a way that doesn't mandate the government involvement.

Zac Schultz:

You’ve mentioned already a few of the things you'll need federal approval for, some of reforms, drug testing, things like that. Do you need a law passed or do you think you just need a president's approval?

Scott Walker:

Depends on the item. On drug testing we think the administration not just the president can sign off on that. Certainly we could use some help on the wolf population. That's something we've been working with with members of the U.S. Senate and Congress, so having the president sign off on that, on legislation would be really helpful. Other things are things again just the administration can change on. Even the perspective as to what they're going to do with refugees from places like Syria. Just changing the policy of the Department of Homeland Security so they do a better job of vetting, which is really our concern, not knowing who's coming into the state and whether or not they've been appropriately vetted to ensure the safety and security of all of our citizens. It varies by the issue as to whether or not the president does it, the administration itself does it or they'll need the Congress.

Zac Schultz:

Let’s talk about the Syrian refugees, because you said determining the country of origin and the numbers to be let in and comfortable with the vetting process. What specifics do you need to see to be comfortable?

Scott Walker:

Right now they don't give us anything. We find out after the fact. Sometimes we even find out via the media before we even get anything officially from the federal government. The idea being that refugees are different than immigrants. They're even different than people seeking political asylum. These are groups of people who by their definition are going to return to their country of origin, which begs the question about why aren't we doing more to work with our allies in the gulf to help find spots where it would be easier to return. So with people in Saudi Arabia, with some of the other allied partners we have in that region particularly because many of those are also Sunni states, much like many of the refugees. Having said that, I think really for use we want to make sure homeland security has got an aggressive and appropriate vetting process. That we have an idea who's coming in, where they're coming from, how long they're anticipating being here. Right now we don't get any of that information. And as you can imagine, it's frustrating for us.  It's frustrating for law enforcement. And it's not to say that refugees aren't legit. We've had refugees before. We'll have refugees going forward from any number of countries. We just want to make sure we can guarantee our safety.

Zac Schultz:

There's going to be a lot of people that say you're putting a religious test on this by talking about countries that have terrorist ties being predominantly Muslim at this time. How do you respond?

Scott Walker:

If there were countries that were overwhelmingly filled with terrorist organizations that were Christian or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or anything else, I think we'd apply the same standard. It has nothing to do with a religious test. There's a lot of countries--we're not talking about Saudi Arabia. We're not talking about Kuwait. We're not talking about the United Arab Emirates countries, two of the three I visited in just the last month. Those are predominantly Muslim countries too. So it's not because of that. It's because of the influence and essence of groups like the Islamic State and other radical terrorist organizations that's raises the real concern. And we've seen it unfortunately even in the year since we've raised this concern, we've seen it all over Europe. There are real problems there. And it's why even some of the countries that have had fairly loose and fairly liberal policies on this have suddenly backed up from those because of the concerns about safety of their citizens.

Zac Schultz:

Now, switching to the state budget, which is coming up, you did a series of listening sessions around the state this year, but you got criticism because they weren't open to the general public and the media. Do you think you got the full picture of what people around the state are thinking?

Scott Walker:

Well these had nothing to do with the budget. These were listening sessions for the next 20 years. No governor to my knowledge has ever done long-term planning like that. So I was really trying to meet with stakeholders. And I learned in the past when I worked at IBM and the American Red Cross, you bring stakeholders in. In those instances it was customers. It was employees. It was suppliers and others out there. What we did was go through every one of our 72 counties and hold listening sessions where we brought anywhere from 25 to 40 different people in from high school students to retirees, teachers, superintendents, mayors, sheriffs, police chiefs, small business owners, farmers, veterans, health care professionals and others purposely to try and get a sample. If you hold public hearings, which is what the legislature does, which is appropriate, that's what they do. But when they have the budget sessions they hold hearings on those and people get a minute or two to talk because there's hundreds and hundreds of people there. What we wanted was a real dialogue, a sliver of all the different elements. And people criticized it. There have been people at my events who are clear democrats, including some who were signers of the recall petitions. But we purposely invited a cross-section of every county we were at to talk about not just today or even the next two years, where do we want the state to be in the long term future. I think that was a worthwhile process. Other groups when they do long-term planning could have big, wide open listening sessions, but most of them do stakeholder groups and that's exactly what this was.

Zac Schultz:

So in regards to the budget, transportation is a big issue.

Scott Walker:

Yeah.

Zac Schultz:

There’s been a lot of talk, chatter back and forth, between Republicans in the legislature and yourself. One of the ways you said you would accept an increase in fees or revenues to the transportation fund is by offsets elsewhere. Speaker Vos said he would be willing to possibly cut income taxes. Does that look like it would work for you?

Scott Walker:

It all depends on where the money is coming from. I mean to me, my number one priority in this budget, beyond the things we have to do which is we're going to maintain our commitment to holding property taxes down, which means they'll be lower at the end of the budget in 2018 than they were when I started before  2010. Which thankfully again this year they were lower as well in 2016. We're going to maintain our commitment to Medicaid, which is needy families, children and seniors. Although thankfully it appears those costs have dramatically lowered. There's still an increase but they're less than they were before substantially, in part because the economy has improved so much in the state. But I want to put a lion's share of whatever other additional revenues we have in the K-12 public education. I made that as a commitment last year in my State of the State. I'm firmly committed to that. I want to see a significant increase over all, but particularly in the sparsity aid to help smaller, more rural school districts across the state, whether they be in farm areas or in the north woods, just because there's real costs with transportation and declining enrollment and other issues there. I want to do more for the UW system and more for technical colleges tied to performance. Then and only then, if we've hit those priorities, cause for me it's all about work force. We got to fill the work force needs that we have now and in the future. Then we can talk about some sort of an offset, but we've got to fund other priorities first.

Zac Schultz:

When it comes to transportation, Donald Trump has talked about possible a trillion dollar infrastructure spending plan. Do you support that? Does that sound like a stimulus plan part two?

Scott Walker:

It all depends on where he's getting the money from for that. I think there are legitimate transportation needs in this country. Stimulus was taking money and throwing it into projects in hopes that that would stimulate the economy. I think the economy continues to improve here and across the country, so this isn't necessarily to stimulate the economy as much as it is to fix some of the infrastructure issues. Other parts of the country are far worse off. A lot of our surrounding states, for example most of the rural roads are still dirt. We only have few, a handful of roads that have gravel. Most are paved in this state. And so for us, if you were to put more into it, certainly we'd participate in that program because we think there are legitimate transportation needs both in the state and across the country.

Zac Schultz:

Getting back to the Assembly idea of reducing taxes somewhere else to create a revenue upper, do you think that will work? Do you want to see what joint finance puts before you talk about anything?

Scott Walker:

Well it depends. Again, there's got to be a real reduction in taxes. The other option is if there's more revenue, they could either offset taxes or the option is there are ways you can take things off the transportation fund, like, this has been debated before, taking public transit, which doesn't really directly pay. Users of transit don't pay into the transportation system, so they're not a part of the fund. Maybe put that into the general fund. That's another way to free up more dollars to spend on roads and bridges. But remember in the proposal that Secretary Gottlieb forwarded to me back about a month and a half ago, he proposed, per our direction, no increase in the gas tax, no increase in the vehicle registration fee. And yet we also included the biggest increases for local governments that they've seen since the 1999-2000 state budget and the largest amount of money ever for the state highway rehabilitation program and lowest level of bonding that we've had in about a decade and a half. So we focused on maintenance and safety of the existing system without major new projects, particularly in the Milwaukee area, and that allows us to meet our objectives elsewhere.

Zac Schultz:

Moving past the budget, you've talked about the possibility of a third term. You'll wait until after the budget to officially make that decision. There's a lot of speculation that if Hillary Clinton was president you might be looking at running for president in 2020 instead of a third term in 2018. Is there any truth to those rumors and how much has that shifted?

Scott Walker:

Well, clearly I’m not going to run against Donald Trump for president. And I’ve also learned and I’ve said this a number of times since we suspended our campaign that one of the many lessons I learned is you can't run for president the same time you're governor. My detractors said, "Aha, you really focused on being governor." Yeah, as a candidate that was part of my problem. I was not willing to concede my time as governor of the state of Wisconsin. So even on days I was traveling, I was still on the phone six, seven times a day with some of my cabinet members, my chief of staff and others out there. So I just learned going forward that you can't do both. You just can't be a good candidate and so clearly I’m not going to run against a fellow Republican. If I were to run again -- and a lot focuses on Washington because one of the reasons I think I would be inclined at this time to think I might run for re-election is because of what's happening in Washington or what's about to happen. If the federal government gives more responsibility and resources back to the states, the idea that there's all these things--we could shape a Medicaid program. We could actually keep money in our state for schools and send it back to the schools instead of out to Washington. We could fix our roads instead of sending that money out to Washington. We could put in place our own worker training and work force development programs without having this whole broad spectrum of all these different programs that the federal government has mismatched with priorities in the state. That's pretty exciting to me. That gives me a newfound energy for not just the next two years, but potentially for four more after that. So I think if anything what's happening or about to happen in Washington will make it more likely I’ll run. My focus is on finishing this budget, so I won't make an announcement until after it. I do think it is exciting. Clearly because there's a Republican in the White House, I’m not going to turn around and run for governor and then run for president two years later. That's just not going to happen under that scenario.

Zac Schultz:

All right. Governor Walker thanks for your time.

Scott Walker:

Thanks. Merry Christmas to you.

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