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DSC_6564In advance of an expected bid for president, Governor Scott Walker spoke to a sold out crowd at Festival Hall at the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce annual meeting where he touted his pro-business platform.

Walker focused much of his speech on how he saved state taxpayers $2 billion over the past four years, reduced property taxes, gave tax credits for businesses, and reduced the overall corporate tax rate. This has set the stage for attracting companies to expand and move to Wisconsin. And as the economy has started to recover, this has translated into job growth, he said.

“If we want to create jobs, the best way we know to do that is give you more money to re-invest in your company,” Walker said.

The Big Deal About Taxes

Walker likened his fiscal policy — which relies heavily on reducing taxes — to buying frugally in a retail store using coupons.

“So how do companies like Kohl’s make money? They make it on volume, right?” he said. “They lower the price and they broaden the base. The next thing they know their making money on the volume. That’s the way I feel about your money, your tax dollars.”

Walker told the audience he prefers to lower the tax rate on businesses so “more people could participate in the economy.”

And while he joked that he wouldn’t be making any big announcements about his potential bid for the presidency, Walker has become “an early favorite in Iowa” for the presidential primary, which has largely come from his stance on taking on public employee unions, according to a story by the Washington Post.

“Walker often started his stump speech with a dramatic retelling of how he took on the powerful unions in Wisconsin in 2011 and endured nasty protests and death threats against his family. That ordeal has defined Walker’s time as governor, catapulting him onto this national stage,” the story reads.

Building A Better Workforce

During Walker’s speech Wednesday, he pointed to the state unemployment rate being at 4.6 percent in March, the lowest it’s been since June 2008, and under the national average of 5.5 percent. However, Racine’s unemployment rate — while decreasing compared to a year ago — remains 6.6 percent.

“I think, when it’s appropriate, government should be a better partner, particularly when it comes to building a better workforce,” Walker said.

Walker said he’s expanded apprenticeship programs and worker training programs for businesses.

“We need to get more people into the workforce to get more people trained and into manufacturing and into other jobs out there,” Walker said.

But in Racine, recruiting people into apprenticeship programs has been an issue, said Ola Baiyewu, president and executive director of Human Capital Development Corp. Inc.

Baiyewu has to recruit 300 people to fill a class of 50 to 65 people for a six-week construction training program. They enroll 85 to 90 people, and of that 50 to 65 people complete the training. The reasons: most either don’t meet the academic need of 10th grade reading and arithmetic or pass a drug test.

“Those who do not meet our academic requirement of 10th grade in Reading and Arithmetic are referred to Workforce Development Center for academic remedial,” Baiyewu said. “Some do and some don’t. We drug test every individual prior enrollment which is first day of class. Those who fail it are referred for counseling and are randomly tested during the 6 weeks of class.

“If they fail the test on the last day of class, they are not awarded a certificate of completion but participation. These individuals cannot get assistance for job placement.”

Barriers To Employment

But under Walker‘s proposed budget, the Racine Unified School District will see a reduction of $3.1 million in state funding, which the Racine Unified School District says is being used to fund a statewide private school voucher program and is “the main threat to RUSD’s continued progress.”

In his speech, Walker said more work needs to be done in helping students develop career plans earlier on in their schooling, which is an initiative RUSD is starting to implement.

But in an interview after the speech, Walker said he’s helped address the issue of drug use by requiring recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and some residents collecting unemployment to pass a drug test as part of the benefit eligibility requirements.

“Some people thought this was punitive, but it’s not punitive at all… we actually put in assistance for people who have an addiction because our ultimate goal is to get people off of assistance,” he said.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.