Walker won't reveal stand about casino

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Austin Montgomery/Beloit Daily News (From left): Prent Corp. workers Chris Johnson, Erik Meyer and Stephen Sommer speak with Gov. Scott Walker during a campaign stop Tuesday morning in Janesville.

JANESVILLE - With no imminent movement from the federal government on the Ho-Chunk Nation Beloit casino-resort plan, Gov. Scott Walker declined to tip his hand during a Tuesday morning campaign stop in Janesville.

Walker said his focus is elsewhere less than three weeks before the Nov. 6 general election.

He said the Ho-Chunk would need to meet criteria previously outlined by his administration, and only then would "give it serious consideration, but there's no sign yet."

"We've heard it's been imminent since I've been governor and it hasn't been imminent since, so certainly our focus is not on something unforeseen," Walker said. "Our focus is on helping make sure that in Janesville and Beloit and all through Rock County that we give them the right economic tools."

The proposed $405 million casino, resort, water park, convention center and retail development is projected to create over 1,500 jobs if built.

Walker spent the majority of Tuesday morning's campaign stop at Prent Corporation lashing out against Democratic opponent Tony Evers while touting economic growth and increased school funding since his election in 2010. Walker appeared along with Bryan Steil, the Republican candidate in the 1st Congressional District race against Democrat Randy Bryce.

Evers said in a Feb. 8 interview with the Beloit Daily News he would approve the Ho-Chunk plan.

Walker previously denied a similar casino development plan in the Kenosha area.

No information has come down regarding the Beloit casino plan since August, when an internal federal meeting with the Bureau of Indian Affairs was called off. The U.S. Department of the Interior said after the summertime announcement the department would "not be making any announcements of each phase of a package in the review process."

The project must be placed on the federal registry to progress, or face being placed on hold pending further review.

The BIA also would need to publish a notice of availability on the draft environmental impact statement followed by a public hearing regarding the tribe's plan.

To come to fruition, the Ho-Chunk plan would need a favorable recommendation from the federal government before the Wisconsin governor would make a final up-or-down decision.

Ho-Chunk officials did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

City of Beloit Strategic Communications Director Sarah Millard said the city has no update on the status of the project, but remains committed to the development.

At Tuesday's rally, Walker took Evers to task over his proposed 10 percent tax cut proposal. Evers has called for tax cuts for individuals making $100,000 or less, and for families making $150,000 or less. Evers pledged to reduce income taxes for middle- and low-income families, paying for it by scaling back tax credits granted for businesses and the wealthy.

Walker said Evers' plan was a distraction from the state schools superintendent's overall effort to eventually raise taxes. Evers' campaign has not ruled out a proposed gas tax increase.

Walker also discussed his proposed two-thirds funding model for schools - a similar plan was proposed by Evers in August - while highlighting the state's three percent unemployment rate, and what he said was a period of the highest wage growth rate in the nation.

Unemployment in Beloit has dropped from 18.5 percent in 2010 to 4.5 percent this year, according to the Department of Workforce Development. The state unemployment rate peaked at 9.3 percent in 2010 and currently sits at 2.9 percent, according to DWD figures.

According to the Associated Press, Wisconsin last paid two-thirds of school costs in the 2002-2003 school year, a year after former Gov. Tommy Thompson left office. Just under $7 billion was approved for 2018 for school funding, with an additional $130 million needed to reach the two-thirds threshold.

Walker also said Tuesday he would not remove pre-existing conditions as part of health care protections, something Evers said Walker was lying about at a campaign stop earlier this week. Walker has yet to remove the state from a multi-state lawsuit that would repeal the Affordable Care Act and its guarantees of insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

"Scott Walker spent the last eight years putting his political ambitions ahead of the working families in Wisconsin," said Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Alex Japko in an email to the Beloit Daily News. "Walker is trying to run from his disastrous health care record, yet he is still suing to gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Wisconsinites have had enough of Walker's divide and conquer politics. It's time for a change."

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