Gov. Evers calls for mental health funding, sending $150 checks to residents during State of the State address

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Governor Tony Evers delivered his annual State of the State address Tuesday, Feb. 15, announcing plans to invest in mental health, education, and also urging lawmakers to vote on his surplus plan to send $150 checks to residents.

Evers made a return to the Assembly floor to deliver his address after the event was held virtually last year due to the pandemic. During his speech, Evers pitched investing millions to boost mental health services for veterans, schools and universities.

"Our kids need more mental health support in our schools, and this pandemic only made those needs more urgent," said Evers.

Evers also announced the creation of a new commission to study and find solutions to address issues facing veterans such as employment, job training, housing, and access to health care.

The governor also said he wants to use $25 million in federal pandemic relief aid to cover the costs to keep the UW System tuition freeze in place. Republicans who control the budget committee approved lifting the tuition freeze but didn't provide funding to pay for it during the 2022-2023 school year.

He also made a reelection pitch to voters by touting his surplus plan, which includes sending every Wisconsinite a $150 refund check, boosting education funding and providing aid to families to offset the costs of child care.

"Under my plan, if you’re a family of four, you would receive $600 to help provide a little more wiggle room and hopefully a little less stress about making ends meet," Evers said. "This is the people's money. Let's get it back to them."

Evers announced he will call a special session to try and force Republican lawmakers to vote on his plan that would use a portion of the projected and unprecedented $3.8 billion surplus.

GOP leaders are unlikely to convene to vote on the plan and called Evers' speech an election year gimmick. They've also said they'd rather issue tax cuts with the surplus when they craft the next state budget.

"What we saw tonight was the exact same empty rhetoric and campaign promises that are nothing more than focused on his 2022 reelection and not on the real needs of Wisconsin," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

In 2018, former Gov. Scott Walker sent checks to taxpayers when he was up for reelection, which Republicans didn't oppose then.

Republicans also slammed the governor for not addressing the rise in crime or proposing solutions to address the worker shortage.

"Governor Evers refuses to act while people around the state suffer. That is not the strong leadership Wisconsin needs," Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said.

During his speech, Evers said a shortage of workers has been going on for years and called to find "innovative, long-term solutions to address workforce challenges."

He touted his investments to expand apprenticeship programs for high school students, training for skill workers and launching 12 regional programs across the state to help people get back in the workforce.

Wisconsin's unemployment rate currently sits at 2.8 percent, which is the lowest it's ever been.

Other takeaways:

  • Evers announced a proposal to allocated $5 million to the Wisconsin National Guard to provide counseling, suicide prevention services, health screenings and crisis intervention programs.
  • Wants to send $30 million to fund local governments to help pay for rising costs of medical services, rural health care
  • A new $15 million program to help schools with mental health services
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