By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican candidates for governor made bold promises but outlined few details about how they would follow through with them Wednesday in the final debate before the Sept. 14 primary.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann promised to use $810 million in federal stimulus money coming to Wisconsin to build a high-speed rail line on tax cuts instead, even though the money can’t be used for that or anything other than the train.
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker also promised to stop the train and said he could add 250,000 jobs within four years because that’s what former Gov. Tommy Thompson did in the 1990s.
“I know we can do it because we did it before,” Walker said.
Neumann said he could add 300,000 jobs by having the University of Wisconsin System work more closely with businesses to create research hubs similar to what is being done in North Carolina.
Neither candidate spelled out in any detail how they will balance a state budget already projected to be about $2.7 billion short. And both have promised to repeal about $1.8 billion in tax increases that targeted, in part, large multistate businesses and couples earning more than $300,000 a year.
Despite being pressed in the debate at Marquette University Law School to explain how they would achieve their plans, both Walker and Neumann seemed content to stick to well-heeled talking points used for months on the campaign trail.
Both said they would root out government waste and
fraud, streamline regulations, make the state more business-friendly and cut spending. Walker said he believed the popular BadgerCare program, which provides health insurance benefits to the elderly and other needy populations, had become bloated and should be cut.
Both candidates said they would prioritize education and public safety.
Neumann defended his plan calling for homeowners not to pay property taxes next year if they promise to pay the taxes monthly starting in 2012, calling it the largest tax cut in state history.
Walker said it was nothing more than a tax shift because the taxes wouldn’t be cut, the deadline for paying them would just be moved.
“You can’t cut taxes unless you cut spending,” Walker said.
Neumann, in perhaps the tensest moments in the otherwise collegial debate, said he understands how property taxes work because he is a real estate developer. “I understand you don’t get it, Scott,” he told Walker.
Neumann referred to his 26 years in business as a real estate developer at least seven times during the hour-long debate broadcast across the state on several television stations. Neumann also frequently held up the book he wrote during the campaign, which was largely a compilation of his press releases on a variety of subjects.
Walker, who captured the Republican Party endorsement with more than 91 percent of the vote in May, said he has a proven record of being a reformer and he’s the best candidate to deal with the budget problem.
Walker, 42, has been in elective office since he was 25 serving in the state Assembly for nine years and as county executive since 2003.
Neumann, who served two terms in Congress in the 1990s, said his experience balancing the federal budget during that time makes him the better choice.
The winner will advance to meet expected Democratic Party nominee Tom Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor who faces only token opposition in the primary.
Barrett supports the high-speed rail line connecting Madison and Milwaukee. State transportation officials say by the end of the year $300 million of the $810 million coming to the state will have either been spent or obligated. Once built, the line is expected to cost state taxpayers up to $10 million a year to operate it.
Walker said that money would be better spent improving Wisconsin’s existing roads and bridges.
“People of Wisconsin will not see high-speed rail if I am governor, period,” he said.
Neumann boldly promised to use the federal money for tax cuts without ever saying how that could be done.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen at this point in time with that money,” Neumann said. “If we do get it, it’s going to tax cuts.”
Barrett, during an appearance earlier in the day in Middleton, said the real question is whether Wisconsin wants to give up the money that would then go to another state to build a rail line.