SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, in a fight for his political career, used Illinois’ economic problems as a “contrast” Tuesday to bolster his chances in a June recall election.
The Republican made no secret of the fact that his speech before business leaders in Springfield was sending a message back home.
“If voters in our state want to know the difference between going forward or backwards, they need only look at the mess that you have in state government here in Springfield to know what it would be like if the recall ultimately prevailed,” Walker told reporters after giving the keynote speech for “Illinois Employer Action Day.”
Walker incensed public employee unions last year by restricting collective bargaining — the primary thrust behind the June 5 recall election — and has angered Illinois Democrats by criticizing their economic policies and encouraging businesses to move to Wisconsin.
He faced a receptive audience that gave him two long standing ovations while he criticized the Prairie State’s multibillion budget deficit, underfunded pension system, last year’s 67 percent income tax increase, a call to cut Medicaid and a higher unemployment rate than Wisconsin’s.
“I know how important that is, because at the same time we’re at 6.9 percent, Illinois is still at about the same spot it was last year, at 9.1 percent,” Walker said. “Is it any wonder? It’s because of the choices made right here in the state capital.”
Protesters crowded the streets outside the hotel where Walker spoke, carrying signs urging him to get out of Illinois and stop trying to weaken unions. “Today it’s our fight, too,” said one sign.
Springfield police said the crowd was between 3,500 and 4,000 people.
Walker appeared the day Illinois lawmakers returned to the capital for the final six weeks of their spring session to grapple with the crippling problems.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s office put out a fact sheet criticizing Walker’s record. The Democratic governor, in Chicago to announce a concrete maker is moving its headquarters to Illinois, shot back at Walker’s remarks about Illinois by pointing out problems in Wisconsin.
“They have the worst job record in the whole country. Dead last. We certainly don’t want to follow his prescriptions when it comes to economic growth.”
Doug Whitley, president and chief executive of the Illinois Chamber, said the state’s overall tax picture is better than Wisconsin’s and businesses here are turning the corner after recession. Still, he said Walker’s message is a “challenge” to Illinois officeholders to encourage pro-job policies.
“I definitely am excited about the new flavor, the new spirit and the new message that’s coming out of Wisconsin,” Whitley said.
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