Newly inaugurated Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers Tony Evers used his first State of the State address to push his agenda on education, health care, transportation and the economy.
He said the state has work to do and pointed out several areas that he wants the state to do better. Evers noted, for instance, that the health of a state’s economy is not only measured by its unemployment rate but also by the number of people who work forty hours each week and are still in poverty.
He said the state is ready for bipartisan solutions, and that the building block is education “That’s why our budget reaffirms our state’s commitment to our kids by returning to two-thirds funding for schools across Wisconsin," he said. "I was pleased to learn that the Speaker [Robin Vos] has encouraged his members to support this provision in our budget, and I hope that I can count on your support going forward.”
Evers also emphasized the need to address the state’s achievement gap for low-income students and students of color and to bolster resources for kids with special needs.
Evers then moved to health care. He said his budget will include a request for Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin, which he said would give tens of thousands more Wisconsinites access to affordable health care. He said the people of Wisconsin voted for change in November, and “asked us to stop playing politics with their health care."
"That’s why I’m announcing tonight that I have fulfilled a promise I made to the people of Wisconsin by directing Attorney General [Josh] Kaul to withdraw from a lawsuit that would gut coverage for the 2.4 million Wisconsinites who have pre-existing conditions," said Evers.
At this point, it’s not clear how Kaul can act on that request to withdraw from a challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Republican leaders passed lame-duck legislation in December that weakened Evers' powers—it requires Evers to obtain pre-approval from a legislative committee before withdrawing the state from lawsuits.
Evers also focused on infrastructure challenges, proclaiming 2019 as the Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin. He said residents have issues with well water and also with lead service lines across the state, which could cost $2 billion to remove. "That’s why, in the coming weeks, I’ll be signing an executive order to designate a person at 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," said Evers.
After the speech, Republican lawmakers said that Evers’ policies will take Wisconsin backward. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that Evers’ speech had a negative tone that did not reflect the successes of the past eight years when Republican Scott Walker was governor.
But Vos did acknowledge that there are areas that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground, and approve measures they are on the agenda of both parties. "Things like enhancing internet access, preventing homelessness, improving foster care, and, yes, cutting middle-class taxes, should all be slam dunks," said Vos. "Wisconsinites want us to work together, and these are shared priorities that we can begin working on right away."
But Vos says lawmakers may accomplish those goals by working from the base budget — instead of considering the biennial budget that Evers will introduce this winter. “We will certainly consider every idea in his budget," he said. "But, unfortunately, his ideas are only focusing, it seems, on one side of the aisle, not in the middle where we think we should be. And certainly not where the vast majority of Wisconsinites are.”
In Evers’ State of the State Address, he urged lawmakers to consider his budget, which represents perhaps a Wisconsin governor’s biggest opportunity to pursue his or her agenda.
If you missed Evers' speech, you can read his prepared speech below.