Governor Evers’ State of the State address came as Wisconsin sits at a particularly high fiscal point.
According to the nonpartisan state agency that provides fiscal analysis to the state legislature, Wisconsin’s budget surplus has grown once again to over $7 billion dollars. That’s in addition to another $1.7 billion dollars in the state’s rainy day fund.
And last night, Governor Evers outlined several proposals to use the state’s extra cash.
The education governor – and former high school principal – kicked off his address to the legislature last night with, what else? Education funding.
“I’m proposing a pathway to get experienced educators back into the workforce to make it easier for school districts to hire retired teachers and staff, and we’re going to invest $20 million to retaining, developing, and recruiting teachers and student teachers, including $10 million for our local, home-grown educators to bolster our educator pipeline and ensure it is sustainable for the future,” Evers says.
After promising increased funding for public education, Evers then labeled 2023 the year of mental health. He says that his next budget will invest in making sure every county has enough mental health professionals.
“We are going to invest in robust prevention strategies to reduce suicide, self-harm, and other mental and behavioral health related injuries,” Evers says. “That includes state resources to support 988 the new suicide and crisis hotline which went live in 2022 thanks to our Senator Tammy Baldwin, as well as increased support for peer-run and community-based services across the state.”
Evers’ proposal to spend around $500 million to expand access to mental health services has already drawn the ire of his legislative opponents. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, tweeted last night that expanded mental health services is “not going to happen.”
Evers then took on the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, which have been linked to a slew of negative health outcomes.
Evers says that he wished he didn’t have to continue to have to convince GOP legislators that water contamination from PFAS is one of the most pressing issues facing Wisconsin.
“I’m proposing to invest over $100 million to take a three-pronged approach to confronting PFAS across the state,” Evers says. “We are going to increase PFAS testing, monitoring, and sampling statewide so that we can find these contaminants, and get them out of the water. We are going to make more resources available to on-the-ground partners to respond to PFAS contamination when it happens. We are going to work to increase awareness about the dangers of PFAS, so folks can take steps to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”
Evers ended his speech last night by announcing a new plan to increase shared revenue with municipalities across the state. According to the nonpartisan research group The Wisconsin Policy Forum, local government debt rose over 5% in 2020, reaching the highest level on record. Their November 2022 report listed the need to replace aging infrastructure, rising interest rates, and inflation as the main sources.
Evers announced his plan to help out municipalities last night by sending up to 20% of the state’s total sales tax revenue back to communities.
Evers also blasted Republican’s plans to change Wisconsin’s income tax to create a flat tax, which would reduce tax rates for the top earners in Wisconsin.
“Spending billions on a flat tax is not a workforce plan or an economic development plan,” Evers says. “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.”
But GOP leaders in the legislature fired back at Evers’ ideas for the budget, with Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu calling his proposals irresponsible.
“We understand that there are inflationary pressures on education and local governments, and we are willing to address those, but we are not just going to, because we have around $7 billion, just overspend in all areas of government,” LeMahieu says.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says that Republicans intend to toss all of Evers’ ideas, and start the budget over from scratch.
“Wisconsin Republicans will not raise your taxes, and we won’t pass a budget that doesn’t have significant tax reform,” Vos says. “We will not grow the size of our government beyond our ability to pay.”
Evers will release his proposed 2023 budget in the coming weeks, where it will then head to the Republican-led state finance committee, who will add to, revise, and remove from the budget as they see fit.
Photo courtesy: Wisconsin Eye