MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced during his state of the state address on Tuesday that he is extending the University of Wisconsin tuition freeze for another year.
As he prepares for re-election, the first-term governor also said he would call a special session to pressure Republicans who control the Legislature to pass his plan to use a planned surplus to give each Wisconsinite $150. Republicans want to wait until after the November election to pass permanent tax relief.
A special session will force legislative leaders to act, but they can quickly overthrow his plan with a couple of hammer blows, as they have repeatedly in his first three years in office.
While Republicans can easily block those plans, they haven’t been able to stop him from deciding how to allocate billions of dollars in aid that Congress has made available to the state to fight the pandemic. of coronavirus.
Evers has made it clear that he will continue to use those funds as he sees fit, including keeping in place for another year the tuition freeze in effect at schools in the UW system since 2013.
Evers and lawmakers agreed last year to give the Board of Regents the power to raise tuition fees, but the board kept the freeze in place for another year. Evers said Tuesday he is providing the system with $25 million in COVID funds so it can keep the freeze in place for the academic year that begins in the fall.
Evers invited members of the Wisconsin National Guard to be guests of the speech in the Assembly Hall, praising their work in helping the state navigate the pandemic entering its third year.
“These people have stepped up to serve our state time and time again during one of the most dire times in our state’s history. And their service has not been free – emotionally, physically and mentally,” said Evers said.
Evers said he would dedicate $5 million in COVID funds to expand mental health services to members of the Guard. The announcement comes after a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found little had been done to respond to a spate of suicides in a Guard unit.
Following:Four Wisconsin National Guardsmen went to Afghanistan together. All returned safe and sound. Within months, all of them committed suicide.
“Our effort to invest over $3 million in expanding the Guard’s wellness program was drained from my two-year budget. This would have increased access to important mental health and well-being support. -to be over 9,000 members of the Guard,” he said, referring to the Republicans’ budget. action. “Well, tonight I’m announcing that I’m going to do it anyway.”
He said he would propose continued funding for the program in the next state budget if re-elected.
Republicans reacted to his speech vehemently, refusing to applaud when he mentioned the state’s budget surplus, low unemployment rate and tax cuts that Republicans drafted last year.
“Tonight, what we heard, was another example of revisionist history,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters after the speech. “Governor Evers talked about all the money he allocates, most of which is borrowed from our grandchildren through federal government spending.”
Vos lambasted Evers for touting the tax cuts Republicans drafted.
“That’s what we did in our last budget, that he took most of the evening taking credit for the one act he was in, which was the final signing, which took about two minutes.”
Governor announces $30 million for local governments
Evers said he would send $30 million in additional funding to local governments to pay for emergency medical services, citing a decade-long trend of declining state aid and rising costs. Most of the funds will go to rural areas, Evers said, “for the help they need most.”
“Between these rising costs and the lack of available personnel, some have even gone without ambulance services, having no choice but to hope and rely on neighboring providers,” he said.
Evers announced a new $15 million program to provide schools with mental health services to help them deal with the effects of the pandemic.
“Each public school district can choose to receive these funds, whether large or small,” he said.
Vos dismissed the plan as a “political statement”.
“Even the idea that he had money for mental health in schools, which of course we need, comes to about $20 per child,” he said. “Over the past three years, Governor Evers has never really led on a single topic.”
The speech gave Evers the opportunity to tout the state’s record 2.8% unemployment rate and defend a projected surplus. The state is expected to receive $2.9 billion more than expected through mid-2023.
Evers wants to spend $750 million of that on education and use another $816 million for tax refunds of $150 per person. Republicans declared those ideas dead when they arrived, but will now have to consider them at least in a proforma session because of his call for a special session.
They can do without such sessions in seconds. Evers urged them to act, saying the state should not let its surplus swell to $3.8 billion as people grapple with rising inflation.
“Indifference in this building is expensive, folks,” he said.
“Don’t sit here in a white marble building with state coffers full and tell the people of Wisconsin who work hard every day that we can’t afford to do more. That’s bullshit. bullshit.”
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke of Kaukauna said he didn’t like Evers’ plan because it included a one-time break.
“It seems what the governor is doing is trying to condition people to get checks from the government,” he said. “And what we’re looking at doing is making sure people keep their own money, not give it to the government and the government sends pennies back.”
Evers and Republican leaders rarely talk, but have landed on the same page about some past tax cuts. Last year, Evers endorsed a Republican-drafted plan that cut taxes by more than $2 billion.
Evers said the deal helped him cut middle-class income taxes even more than he promised when he ran in 2018. Republicans rejected that characterization, saying he didn’t deserve no credit for a tax cut they designed.
Three Republicans are vying to challenge Evers – former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, management consultant Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Tim Ramthun of Campbellsport. A primary on Aug. 9 will determine which of them will face Evers in November.
The three Republicans have focused on the 2020 election. Ramthun has sought to revoke the state’s 10 electoral votes for Joe Biden, which nonpartisan lawyers in the Legislative Assembly have said is impossible. Kleefisch and Nicholson have said they want to disband the state’s bipartisan election commission and hand its functions over to partisan elected officials.
Evers backed the commission, which consists of three Republicans and three Democrats. Evers planned to allude to his differences with Republicans at the end of his speech by noting that he was speaking on the evening of the spring primary.
“As I conclude my fourth State of the State Address, I want to acknowledge that it is a privilege for us to be here together tonight – and on Election Day, no less – to participate in an enduring but profound function of our democracy,” he said. “One that looks a lot like the peaceful and respectful transfer of power or the basic right to vote.”
There is irony in the position of the candidates. Republicans voted to create the commission in 2015, saying at the time it would ensure fairness. Democrats have denounced the decision, arguing that an evenly divided panel would create a non-stop deadlock.
Republicans have argued that Evers isn’t doing enough to tackle violent crime or tackle inflation.
“We hope Governor Evers enjoys delivering his State of the State address tonight, as it will be his last,” Maddie Anderson, spokesperson for the Republican Governors Association, said in a statement.
Evers delivered his speech after three years of relentless battles with the Republicans who sat before him. He sought to appeal to Wisconsinites who might be tired of intense partisan fighting.
“As I deliver my fourth State of the State address to you tonight, I recognize that there are those who would have said that I was unlikely to become governor,” Evers said. “I was a skinny kid with big glasses growing up in Plymouth – it’s the cheese capital of the world, by the way. I raised hell and played bass guitar in a rock band in high school.
“I haven’t spent years yearning to run for this office. And I would much rather spend time listening to others than talking about myself – what I discovered is not something I have in common with most politicians,” Evers said. . “I guess in many ways it was maybe unlikely. But you might not have known how close I was to finding myself on a very different path.
Evers detailed his initial plans to attend medical school in Austria and how his first child with wife Kathy prompted the couple to drop the idea and return to Wisconsin to work for Kohler Corp.
Just before starting this job, Evers received a letter telling him that he had been accepted to UW-Madison for its Master of Education program. Evers went on to become a teacher, district superintendent and, years later, superintendent of public schools.
“That letter changed my whole trajectory,” Evers was to say. “Thanks to this letter, I became a science teacher.”
Later, Evers became district superintendent and eventually superintendent of public schools.
Evers alluded to his decisions to navigate the pandemic that have since drawn heavy criticism from Republicans, saying he told the letter’s story “because this job has always been a responsibility and an obligation. which I have fulfilled without regret or reservation – to do what is needed to be done, to do what I must with what has been given to me, and to always try to do what is right.”
“Not because it was perfect. It rarely is. Not because it was always easy. But because, however different things may have ended for me, I never doubted that I was where I needed to be because I welcome the duty to do the right thing when it matters most.”