By Scott Bauer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — When Gov. Scott Walker delivers his seventh State of the State speech next week, standing before the largest Republican legislative majorities in decades, don’t be surprised if he busts out a pair of sunglasses.
And he may also break into his favorite song of late: “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.”
But also don’t be shocked if he avoids saying much about his plans for the next two years.
Walker delivers his annual State of the State speech Tuesday before a joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly. If he keeps with past practice, the speech will be short and bereft of details about his upcoming two-year state budget, which will include the proposals that will drive debate in the Legislature this year.
Walker is known for State of the State speeches that hit on broad themes with little news of new initiatives or proposals. In his first, in January 2011, Walker made no mention of his upcoming targeting of public workers’ collective bargaining rights that he released just nine days later, setting Wisconsin into political chaos and catapulting the new governor onto the national stage.
Given that history, observers should not expect expect to hear anything particularly earth-shattering this time around.
There’s an expectation that the budget won’t be as polarizing as the last — in which Walker proposed a $250 million cut to the UW System. With his eye on re-election in 2018, and his approval rating around 40 percent, Walker is expected to dodge — for now — anything that would generate a large public outcry.
Walker has spoken in general about what proposals will be in his next budget — more money for K-12 schools and the University of Wisconsin, perhaps some camping and state park fee increases, no gas tax or vehicle registration fee hikes, new efforts to help put more people to work.
He’s also talked about coming up with ways to help everyone — including the disabled, drug addicts, ex-inmates and veterans — find work. He’s been quoting the 1980s song by the homegrown band Timbuk3 as a metaphor for the state’s bright economic future — even though Walker admits to knowing it’s really about a pending nuclear war.
When speaking to Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce he brought out a pair of sunglasses to bring the point home. In the Wisconsin Bankers Association speech earlier this week, Walker referenced the sunglasses but didn’t wear them.
His underlying point is that with a state unemployment rate at its lowest point since 2001, among other positive economic indicators, Wisconsin is on the right track.
Walker has also expressed optimism about working closely with the incoming Donald Trump administration. His State of the State may include references to requests he’s already made to the Trump administration to allow the state to drug-test food stamp recipients, receive federal money for schools, Medicaid and transportation in block grants and have more control over the resettlement of refugees from countries like Syria where terrorists are known to operate.
There’s also the large looming question of how the state will react if the federal health care law is eliminated. About 234,000 Wisconsinites purchased their health insurance through the law known as Obamacare for this year.
Walker and state lawmakers don’t know yet what those federal changes may look like, so don’t expect the State of the State to offer up any details about what’s in store for Wisconsin.
And that’s just another reason why Walker’s State of the State is unlikely to be all that surprising.
Unless he breaks out a new pair of sunglasses.