Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday that while new Republican majorities in the state Legislature will make things easier procedurally, he believes his agenda will gain bipartisan support next year.
Walker was in La Crosse to deliver the keynote address at his second annual small business summit, where he told some 300 business and community leaders that the best things the state can do to help them grow is get out of the way and be a better partner.
“The goal is to make government customer-friendly and to treat you like customers,” Walker said.
To that end, he had brought his cabinet secretaries and representatives from state agencies to listen to business concerns and offer expertise.
Speaking to reporters beforehand, Walker said he doesn’t expect anything in his 2013 agenda to be as controversial as the collective bargaining reforms of 2011 that set off massive protests and sparked recalls that unseated three Republican senators — including Dan Kapanke of La Crosse — and forced Walker to run for re-election just 18 months into his term.
Republicans regained control of the Senate on Tuesday and strengthened their majority in the Assembly.
Walker said the focus of the next session will be job creation, and he expects Democratic support for measures including tax cuts, regulatory reform and even a mining bill.
The last one might not be so easy.
A mining reform bill — designed to ease the way for a proposed $1.5 billion iron ore operation in northern Wisconsin — failed to pass when Sen. Dale Schultz broke ranks and sided with Democrats who wanted a bill with stricter environmental protections.
Walker said he doesn’t expect a bill to pass “on the first day” but that one will likely emerge by spring that will include safeguards for “clean air, clean land and clean water” — a mantra he repeated several times during the summit.
“I think there’s a reasonable way to streamline the process,” he said.
Networking, seeking cooperation
Many of the questions and comments during a panel with cabinet members were directed at Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp.
Though he said small business owners value clean air, clean land and clean water as much as anyone, Walker said “all too often the regulations don’t pass the common-sense test.”
Walker said he’s working to change the culture of the DNR and to put more carrot and less stick into regulatory enforcement. Doing so is not only easier for businesses, he said, but cheaper for the state.
Several dozen La Crosse business leaders attended the summit at the La Crosse Center. Many said they came out of curiosity or the hope of networking.
Cliff LeCleir, CEO of Central States Warehouse, said he likes the spirit of cooperation he sees from state officials — and wishes he could see more of it at the city level.
Jay Pampuch of Classon Buick-GMC was looking forward to a session with the Department of Workforce Development where he could learn more about ways to find skilled mechanics and auto body specialists.
Others were there with concerns about the skills gap.
Jim Freeman is the president of Helicopter Specialties, a 12-year-old Janesville company that specializes in medical helicopters. After creating 30 jobs over the past decade, he was concerned about the prospect of his local technical college shutting down its aviation program.