SUN PRAIRIE, Wis.
Gov. Scott Walker said he wants lawmakers to focus like "laser beams" on putting people back to work during a special legislative session he announced Wednesday, marking the second time this year he's asked the Legislature to work solely on job creation.
Walker promised on the campaign trail to create 250,000 jobs by 2015. He called a special session on jobs the first day he took office in January, but it doesn't appear to have had much long-lasting effect.
Wisconsin has added about 30,100 non-farm jobs since he took office, according to state Department of Workforce Development data. But the unemployment rate has risen from 7.4 percent in January to 7.9 percent last month, and the state has lost 8,700 jobs since June.
The Republican governor blamed national trends, especially the political gridlock over the federal deficit, for Wisconsin's woes as he announced the session at a mechanical coatings plant in Sun Prairie, a Madison suburb.
"All the nonsense going on in Washington and the talk about the debt ... they created all sorts of chaos (and it) had an impact here in Wisconsin just like it did in other places. It slowed down our economic growth," Walker said. "We want (legislators) to be focused like a laser beam on jobs."
Conscious of a potential recall push against him next year over his contentious collective bargaining law, Walker has included half a dozen Democratic bills on the session's agenda.
But Democrats gave the jobs session a cool reception Monday. They're still stinging over Walker's choice to during his first jobs session to introduce the union measure, which strips most public workers of nearly all of their union rights -- a move Democrats maintain had nothing to do with creating jobs and was really about weakening unions.
They accused the governor of trying to rehabilitate his tarnished image, saying his agenda would do little to create jobs and amounts to paybacks for special interests.
"Well, here we go again," said Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau. "It seems to take a lot of nerve to propose this agenda ... Item after item won't help create jobs."
The special session agenda includes about two dozen bills, including legislation that would create tax refunds for investing in businesses, increase grants for technical colleges, and shrink application fees for film production tax credits.
Also on the docket is a bill that would allow utilities to offer discounted electricity to industrial customers if the new rates promote economic development. Other proposals call for relaxing highway weight limits, streamlining the wetland construction permit process, drastically limiting interest on civil judgment awards and preserving state statutes that absolve landowners of liability for trespassers who hurt themselves.
At least two major proposals are absent from the agenda: a bill that would streamline the state's mining permit process and a plan to boost venture capital for startup businesses.
The governor said he thinks lawmakers should consider those bills independently, pointing out that a special Senate committee has formed to handle the mining changes.
A special session differs from a regular legislative session in several ways. Under regular session procedures, lawmakers set a calendar and agenda. In a special session, the governor sets the agenda, special rules apply that help bills advance more quickly and lawmakers can convene whenever they wish.
The governor said the special session would begin Thursday morning and run simultaneously with previously scheduled regular legislative session days in October and November.
Walker said business leaders want the changes.
"My guess is ... you're going to see a significant number of Democrats voting for most if not all these pieces of legislation," he said. "It's about being focused on jobs and not being distracted by a bunch of other issues."