MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker began his term as Wisconsin’s 45th governor Monday facing a $3 billion budget shortfall and asked the new Republican majorities in the state Legislature to start work immediately on proposals to improve the state’s economy.
The oath of office Walker took Monday from Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson was ceremonial. He had already been sworn in Thursday by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen so there would be a seamless transition when his term began at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The 43-year-old Republican succeeds Democrat Jim Doyle, who served as governor for eight years but decided against seeking a third term. Walker and Doyle, who attended the ceremony, met briefly in the governor’s office before the inauguration ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Van Hollen and Treasurer Kurt Schuller also were sworn in Monday. Secretary of State Doug La Follette, whose term also began Monday, was not present.
Newly elected members of the state Senate and Assembly were to be sworn in Monday afternoon. Republicans will hold a 60-38-1 majority in the Assembly and a 19-14 majority in the Senate following large GOP gains in the November midterm elections.
Walker said he would declare an economic emergency immediately and call on the Legislature to pass a series of proposals including cutting taxes on small businesses, repealing the tax on Health Savings Accounts, replacing the Commerce Department with a public-private hybrid, and giving the governor more power over the enactment of state agency rules and regulations.
But Democrats said Walker and Republicans were also intent on pushing a conservative social agenda. Democratic state lawmakers circulated e-mails from Republicans who were seeking co-sponsorship of bills that would allow off-duty police officers to carry guns on school property, eliminate same-day voter registration and disqualify equipment used for embryonic stem cell research from a property tax break.
Protesters held two rallies around the Capitol on Monday to protest Walker’s decision to turn down more than $800 million in federal aid for a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee that was expected to create thousands of jobs.
“Mr. Walker, we ask you to take a good look at what’s happening in our city and our state. It’s dying,” said protester Luther Wray, a bartender at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel. “We need help.”
Liz Sauer, 26, a former UW-Milwaukee graduate student who now works for the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association, held a sign that read “Forward Not Backward,” a play on Wisconsin’s “Forward” motto. She said she showed up to send a message to Walker that she’s watching how many jobs he creates. Walker has promised to create 250,000 jobs over four years but hasn’t detailed exactly how he will do it.
“We’re promised good jobs by Mr. Walker and we expect good jobs,” she said. “We’re going to hold him accountable.”
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