Gov. Evers lays out fiscal, social agenda in State of the State address

Gov. Tony Evers delivers the 2023 State of the State address
Gov. Tony Evers delivers the 2023 State of the State address
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 3:13 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2023 at 10:09 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Democratic Gov. Tony Evers gave the first State of the State address for his second term, talking about his plans for the future.

In a speech Tuesday night to a joint session of the Legislature, he broke down some of the biggest issues in Wisconsin, including the impact of the economy and the pandemic. He also talked about what he plans to improve in the state, touching on issues like improving education and mental health care for children and adults. He called 2023 “the year of mental health.” He also brought up PFAS and its dangers and ensuring clean drinking water.

He talked about keeping his promise to fix the state’s roads in his first term and the impact his administration’s “Main Street Bounceback” loans have had on local recoveries -- specifically mentioning the growth of businesses in the Fond du Lac area (you can read the complete text of the speech here).

But something a lot of Wisconsinites were listening for was his plans for a projected $6.5 billion budget surplus and plans to cut taxes.

“Wisconsinites want a government that works and works better. We have roads and bridges to fix, schools to fund, kids to support, communities to keep safe, water to keep clean, and a future we’ve built together after years of neglect that, today, we must work to protect,” the governor said.

The governor’s agenda is two-fold heading into his second term -- balancing his fiscal plans for a $6.5 billion budget surplus with a social agenda to restore abortion rights and boost funding for public education.

Gov. Evers spoke before a divided audience inside the state Capitol as fellow Democrats cheered his State of the State address and most Republicans, the party that controls both the Senate and Assembly, sat in silence. Immediately following the governor’s speech, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were ready to respond to what they heard.

Potential tax relief and who might receive it are the biggest issues.

“Ultimately, I think you get some kind of some kind of a tax cut but it won’t be some giant thing, because again the 6.5 billion is one-time money. It’s a sugar high that comes from all the federal money flushed into states like Wisconsin,” Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) noted.

“We know that working families are struggling to make ends meet. We need to make sure that we get as much money back into their pockets as possible. We have an extraordinary amount of millionaires and billionaires in this state -- they’re doing exceptionally well; they do not need additional revenue,” Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) said.

Democrats also applauded the governor when he called for $500 million to be spent to expand access to mental health services.

“I was really excited, again, I mentioned previously, mental health. I think he’s going to do that. Of course, our public schools really, really need it, that shared revenue. I’m sure there are a lot of county board and city council members cheering tonight,” Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton), said.

One Republican senator told us it’s also important for the state to address the ongoing nursing shortage.

“One particular that stood out to me was the workforce initiative and the funding he was talking about to get more health care providers out there. Coming from a world of nursing, I’m very excited about that. As I walk around, I hear all these different facilities saying they’re struggling with nursing. I’m hoping this funding is going to benefit the hospitals, clinics, patients here in the state of Wisconsin,” Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton) said.

The governor will provide more specifics about spending in February when he makes his budget address to legislators.

Obviously, any proposal will require both parties to compromise.

Fiscally, Evers vowed to follow through on his promises to tap the state’s record-high projected budget surplus of nearly $7 billion to increase funding for K-12 schools, cut taxes for the middle class and get more money to Wisconsin’s counties, cities, towns and villages (read all of the released excerpts, below).

“I’m really excited because the governor has four years to talk about what he’s done in the last four years. What he’s done is pretty incredible. Wisconsin has moved from 18th in school performance up to 10 again. We made historic investments in broadband. We’ve made historic investments in roads,” Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) said before the speech.

“The governor said that he’s doing a good job at putting our state and our workforce on the right track for this century. And I was just flabbergasted to see that, because none of our state agencies are working well right now,” Rep. Dave Murphy (R-Greenville) also said earlier.

Republicans control both houses of the Legislature
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers addresses the Republican-led Legislature to lay out a vision for his second term

Excerpts from the 2023 State of the State address, as provided by Gov. Tony Evers’s office:

When we began our work together four years ago, our roads and bridges were in disrepair. We’d sent back tens of millions of your tax dollars to Washington, D.C. that could’ve been used to expand high-speed internet. Our school rankings dropped to 18th in the country at one point. Support for our university system had been cut by hundreds of millions of dollars. And our state was not actively working to address climate change or invest in clean energy.

Well, I’m proud to say that the state of our state is much different today. We’ve gotten to work fixing the darn roads—I even helped fill some of those potholes myself, by the way. And as I stand here tonight, I’m proud to report we’ve worked together to repair and improve over 5,800 miles of roads and nearly 1,600 bridges across our state.

We’ve also gotten back on track preparing our state, our workforce, and our economy for this century. Over the last four years, we’ve allocated more than $340 million into expanding high-speed internet—more than any administration in state history. More than 387,000 homes and businesses will have new or improved access to reliable, high-speed internet, and I want to double that number by the end of this term. And together we will.

Our state now has a Clean Energy Plan with strategies to help lower energy bills for working families, reduce our reliance on out-of-state energy sources, invest in job training and apprenticeship programs in innovative industries and technologies, and create an estimated more than 40,000 jobs by 2030.

[W]e convened a Blue Ribbon Commission to help develop solutions and create opportunities for Wisconsin’s veterans. And last October, we took the Commission’s recommendations and announced $10 million to support veterans’ mental health, create a rental assistance program for homeless veterans, and to expand veterans’ access to skills and jobs training.

We’ve gotten to work these last four years making smart, strategic investments—and our state’s economy shows it. Over the last four years, unemployment has hit record lows, and we had the highest number of people employed ever. Our state has a AAA bond credit rating for the first time in about 40 years—that means we’re able to get lower interest rates and save your tax dollars. Our general fund and ‘rainy day fund’ both ended the last fiscal year at the highest levels ever in our state’s 175-year history. We’re now expected to end the current biennium with about $6.5 billion in our state coffers and over $1.7 billion in the ‘rainy day fund.’

And that’s great news, Wisconsin. It means we can continue our progress making the wise investments we’ve long needed to—and not because anyone wants to make government bigger, but because Wisconsinites want a government that works, and works better. We have roads and bridges to fix, schools to fund, kids to support, communities to keep safe, water to keep clean, and a future we’ve built together after years of neglect that, today, we must work to protect.

We’ve worked to invest in public education at every level after a decade of disinvestment. We passed the largest increase in special education aid in state history. Our K-12 schools have now returned to the top 10 in the country.

But we also know our current funding system is not sustainable. For years, communities have raised their own property taxes to keep their local schools afloat. And while some school districts have successfully passed referenda to help keep the school lights on, many have tried and failed. This system means drastic differences in outcomes for our kids—creating winners and losers, haves and have-nots.

Doing what’s best for our kids has always been what’s best for our state. And, today, we can afford to do more. So, I am going to deliver on the promise I made before the election to use a portion of our state’s historic surplus to make an historic investment in our kids and our schools.

We’re going to make targeted investments to improve reading and literacy outcomes and expand financial literacy curriculum across our state. We’re going to invest $20 million to increase literacy-related programming and implement evidence-based reading practices across Wisconsin. And our “Do the Math” initiative will help ensure our kids have the tools and skills to make smart budgeting and financial decisions to prepare for their future.

The bottom line for me has always been making sure our communities have the resources they need to meet basic and unique needs alike. But there are a lot of different ways we can find compromise to achieve that goal, and together we will.

At the same time, just because we’re in the greatest fiscal position in state history doesn’t mean we can afford to be careless. Wisconsinites have worked too hard and have gone through too much for us to return to austerity. Now is the time to stay prudent, to save smart, and to be bold with reasonable investments to keep building a lasting legacy of prosperity.

When we deliver tax relief—and we will deliver tax relief—we’re going to do it responsibly by ensuring we can keep taxes low now and into the future, and we’ll do it without driving our state into debt or causing devastating cuts to priorities like public schools and public safety.

We need to bolster the middle class; we need to maintain our economy’s momentum; and we need to reduce barriers to work and recruit and retain talent to address our state’s workforce challenges.

I have a plan to responsibly address all three priorities, and we’ll begin here tonight.

Through our successful Main Street Bounceback grant program, I’m proud to announce tonight that we’ve helped more than 8,500 Wisconsin small businesses expand and move into vacant storefronts in communities across all 72 counties. If you travel around the state like I do, you can literally see the transformative impacts these investments have had in corridors and communities across Wisconsin.

ake Fond du Lac, for example, right by where Kathy and I grew up in Plymouth. Some things haven’t changed much over the years—like Edith’s right downtown, where Kathy bought her wedding dress 50 years ago. But other things have changed—even just in the last year alone.

When we began our work together, Wisconsin was among the worst states in the country for start-up creation. But, much like downtown Fondy, Wisconsin’s changed a lot since then. Since 2019, we’ve seen significant increases in business start-ups. New business formations increased to more than 71,000—that’s a 42-percent increase between 2019 and 2021.

We fueled our economic recovery by harnessing the ingenuity and homegrown talent we already have right here in Wisconsin. And it’s why our focus must continue to be building our economy from the ground up—starting with our small businesses, our Main Streets, and the hearts of our communities.

Our homegrown innovators and entrepreneurs also need homegrown talent to support our local businesses and our local economies—and that’s been a top priority for us these past four years.

[O]ur state’s Clean Energy Plan provides a blueprint for skills training, apprenticeships, and creating good-paying, family-supporting jobs by investing in new, innovative industries and technologies.

If we want to address our state’s workforce challenges, we have to make sure child care is accessible and affordable. And together we will.