Gov. Tony Evers doubled down on his call to use a chunk of the state’s projected $3.8 billion budget surplus to send a rebate of $150 to each Wisconsinite and pump more money into education.
GOP lawmakers have already rejected the $1.7 billion plan, dismissing it as an election-year gimmick. But Evers in his annual State of the State address Tuesday night announced he will sign an executive order tomorrow calling a special session in an attempt to cajole lawmakers into approving it.
Republicans have indicated they want to use the state’s projected surplus for a tax package next session, when they hope to be working with a GOP guv.
But Evers urged lawmakers to act now, saying allowing the money to sit in Madison won’t help Wisconsinites who need help buying groceries or gas and paying for child care and necessities.
“Indifference in this building is getting expensive, folks,” Evers said in the Assembly chamber of the Capitol. “And let me be frank: the people who will bear the burden of inaction are almost certainly not the people sitting in this chamber tonight.”
In the GOP response to the guv’s address, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, accused Evers of weak leadership and sought to tie him to President Biden. He argued Republican lawmakers have saved Wisconsin from Evers’ failures time and again and accused the guv of using his veto pen to hold back the state.
“Ask yourself: have Joe Biden or Tony Evers done anything to make your life better? Or has just about everything they’ve touched gotten worse?” LeMahieu said from the Assembly parlor.
Evers has been at loggerheads with majority GOP lawmakers over a series of issues since he took office.
Evers, in his first term and running for reelection this fall, also announced plans to use $80 million to put more money into the UW System, support emergency medical service providers, and expand mental health services for students and soldiers. Most of it will come from federal COVID-19 funds.
And he plans to sign an executive order creating a Blue Ribbon Commission on Veteran Opportunity to develop initiatives to support the 300,000 veterans who live in the state. Evers said he would use the recommendations in his next budget, which he’ll only get a chance to write if he’s reelected this fall.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he supported Evers’ call to support the National Guard. But he also accused the guv of overusing the Guard, leading to the strain Evers now wants to address.
Vos also called the speech “another example of revisionist history.”
“Over the past three years, Gov. Evers has never truly led on a single topic,” Vos said. “What we saw again (Tuesday night) was the exact same empty rhetoric and campaign promises that are nothing more than focused on his 2022 reelection, and not on what the real needs of Wisconsin are.”
The guv used the speech to tee up a series of issues that will be key planks this fall: tax cuts he’s signed, $1 billion in COVID-19 funds he’s directed to businesses to help them recover from the pandemic, the state’s historically low unemployment rate of 2.8 percent, and the projected budget surplus on top of $1.7 billion in the state’s rainy day fund.
Evers argued his rebate plan would still leave $2 billion in the state’s coffers to be used next session. That plan includes: $815.6 million in tax rebates, $131.8 million to boost existing tax credits, and $750 million in additional state aid for K-12, the UW System and tech colleges.
“So, don’t sit here in a white, marble building with state coffers that are full and tell Wisconsinites who are working hard every day we can’t afford to do more,” Evers said. “That’s baloney.”
Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Town of Mason, said the provisions in Evers’ tax plan to boost the credit for child care was particularly important to help people afford the service and get back into the workforce.
“I don’t know of a mom or a dad who is willing to jeopardize the wellbeing of their kid and they’ll stay home to take care of their child if they have to,” she said.
Evers’ office said his other spending initiatives don’t require legislative approval. They include:
*$25 million for the UW System to fund a tuition freeze through the end of the 2021-23 biennium for in-state students. The 2021-23 state budget returned the power to the Board of Regents to set tuition after eight years of state-imposed freezes. Evers had proposed extending the freeze in his budget, but backfilling the lost revenue with $50.4 million in additional state aid. The GOP-controlled Legislature voted to lift the freeze and didn’t include the additional funding Evers had proposed. The regents voted to keep tuition flat for the 2021-22 school year on in-state students. Evers also said tonight he’ll put $5 million into mental health services for UW students.
*$30 million to support emergency medical service providers. That includes $20 million for those in rural areas, and the money can be used for training, purchasing an ambulance, medical equipment and supplies.
*$15 million for additional mental health services in K-12 schools.
*$5 million to expand access to the Wisconsin National Guard’s comprehensive wellness office.
Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, praised the guv’s call to invest in mental health considering the impact the pandemic has had. She said those investments, along with the Blue Ribbon Commission on Veteran Opportunity, are key to helping Wisconsin move past the pandemic. And she said the guv’s tax plan would provide much-needed relief.
“We know that Wisconsinites are continuing to feel the impacts of inflation,” Neubauer said. “We think that it is essential that the legislature take action, and we really hope to be back in this body soon to move forward on that proposal.”
Watch the State of the State address.
See Evers’ release on his call for a special session.
See Evers’ release on the $30 million that will go toward EMS in rural communities.
See Evers’ release on grants to support Wisconsin National Guard mental health.
See Evers’ release on money to support mental health services for students.