Evers focuses on mental health, workforce, child care during State of the State address
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Governor Tony Evers proposed investing millions of dollars to address the workforce, mental health, PFAS contamination and child care costs during his fifth State of the State address.
During his primetime address, Evers laid out his vision for the state by stressing how crucial it is to invest in public schools, suicide prevention, local governments and clean drinking water.
Evers declared 2023 the "Year of Mental Health," and called the current situation a "burgeoning crisis" in Wisconsin. He warned without action "it will have catastrophic consequences for generations if we don’t treat it with the urgency it requires."
Evers proposed investments in behavioral health and suicide prevention to address mental health needs across the state.
It comes as Wisconsin heads into the upcoming budget cycle with a record $6.9 billion projected surplus. That's in addition to the over $1.7 billion in the state's rainy-day fund.
Evers announced plans to spend millions of the surplus in his upcoming budget proposal, including $190 million to bolster the workforce, $300 million in effort to reduce child care cost, and $100 million geared towards tackling PFAS contamination. In total, his priorities would cost upwards to $1 billion.
"Just because we’re in the greatest fiscal position in state history doesn’t mean we can afford to be careless," Evers said during his speech. "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."
With an unprecedented amount of money at lawmakers' disposal, Evers will have to work with the Legislature to get his agenda passed. Next month, Evers will elaborate on his spending priorities during his biennial budget address Feb. 15.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oosberg) said while they agree with some of Evers' priorities, they criticized how much of the surplus Evers proposed spending.
"Pretty much everything he proposed today was a government expansion. So, I would assume that most of those are DOA [dead on arrival]," Vos said.
LeMahieu added, "Boy, he sure is trying to spend a lot of money. We'll see in a month what his budget all entails, but I was trying to add up the numbers going along, and he's trying to spend a lot of the hard-earned taxpayer money of Wisconsin."
Before Evers' speech, Vos (R-Rochester) said the Republicans will start from scratch while crafting the state budget and will remove Evers' spending priorities, a move Republicans have done the last two budget cycles.
Continuing on his messaging from the inaugural address, Evers also expressed a desire to work with top Republicans, despite their policy differences, to find compromise.
One area both sides of the aisle agree on was investing more money in local governments. Evers proposed using 20% of the state sales tax to increase shared revenue.
GOP leaders said they are also working on their own plan but have yet to finalize it.
Vos has also floated changing the way the state shares funding with local governments. He too suggested using 20% of the state sales tax to revamp the share revenue formula.
Evers took aim at a Republican proposal to move the state towards a 3.25% flat tax which was recently introduced by Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu.
"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," Evers said.
LeMahieu argued moving towards a flat tax would make Wisconsin more competitive and attach more businesses to the state.
"We have an opportunity for historic tax reform in Wisconsin and we need to address all four tax rates," LeMahieu said.
Evers touted his accomplishments during his first term, including investments in roads, infrastructure and expanding broadband.
Since taking office in 2019, more than $340 million has been spent towards expanding high speed internet to more than 387,000 homes and businesses, the most any administration has allocated, according to Evers.
When he finishes his second term, Evers said he wants to double that number by 2026.
To help reduce the rising cost of child care, Evers proposed expanding the Child and Dependent Care credit aimed at providing $30 million in relief to over 100,000 Wisconsinites.
Evers said by providing child care support it could lead to more parents entering the workforce.
"If we want to address our state’s workforce challenges, we have to make sure child care is accessible and affordable," Evers said.