Newly elected Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers delivered his first State of the State Address Tuesday evening at the state Capitol in Madison. The Democrat who defeated Republican Scott Walker in November hit on a number of areas that he has identified as critical to the residents of the state, including good paying jobs, adequately funded K-12 education, accessible and affordable healthcare, a solution to the state’s transportation funding dilemma, clean water, and a middle class tax break.
Evers will propose his own version of a state budget. Republicans in the legislature have indicated that they will prepare their own version of a two-year spending plan.
In his remarks before a joint session of the Republican controlled legislature, the Democratic governor said that fixing the state’s economy remains a priority, even as Republicans point to record low unemployment and demand by employers seeking to fill job vacancies.
But there is more to an economy than counting job creation. And the state of our state is more than just our unemployment rate.
The opportunity we have to offer is not just the number of jobs we create; it’s counted, too, by the number of workers who will work forty hours each week and still won’t make enough to keep their family out of poverty.
Evers, who previously served as the state’s elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, said he’ll submit a budget that will return to providing two-thirds state funding to K-12 school districts in Wisconsin. He’ll also include additional money — a $600 million increase — in special education funding.
Evers also said he’ll address the state’s glaring achievement gaps.
We’re going to get to work on closing the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color. Our state’s achievement gap is among the highest in the nation in reading and math scores. As State Superintendent, I submitted proposals that would’ve helped address our state’s achievement gap. Unfortunately, most of these proposals never made it through the Legislative process. I believe this is the year they will.
The governor also said he will propose a substantial increase in spending on K-12 mental health services.
On health care, Evers said the “People’s Budget,” which he developed during listening sessions around the state with Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, will seek to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin. That’s something that Republican legislative leaders have signaled is a non-starter.
According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, this will enable an additional 76,000 Wisconsinites to have access to affordable healthcare. This would also save Wisconsin taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, allowing us to reallocate those cost savings to other critical programs.
Evers also announced that he’ll direct Attorney General Josh Kaul to withdraw from a multi-state lawsuit which seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act. It’s unclear whether Kaul will be able to do that, due to restrictions on his authority passed in December by a lame duck session of the legislature.
Evers said he’ll also address the state’s transportation funding crisis, with the help of his pick to lead the Department of Transportation, Craig Thompson.
I’ve said all along that I believe we have to bring people together to work on this issue, and I believe Secretary-designee Thompson can get it done. In the coming days, we’ll be announcing a task force of stakeholders to get to work on proposing a bipartisan policy solution to be included in The People’s Budget
Thompson, a transportation lobbyist, will need to be confirmed by the state Senate.
Evers also said he’ll declare 2019 as the Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin, and designate a person in the Department of Health Services to take charge on addressing Wisconsin’s lead crisis and to help secure federal funding for prevention and treatment programs.
And Evers, who campaigned on a promise to provide a middle class tax cut, said again that he would pay for it by capping a tax break for agriculture and industry.
We’re going to cut taxes by ten percent for everyone making up to $100,000 and families making up to $150,000. But we’re not going to do it by spending money we don’t have or that might not be there in two years. I don’t make promises I can’t keep, and I’m not going to propose things that we can’t pay for. So instead, we’re going to fund tax relief for hard-working families by capping a corporate tax credit, 80% of which goes to filers making more than $1 million a year.
Republicans have already proposed using the state surplus to provide that tax break. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos provided the Republican response to Evers’ remarks.