Evers calls on Legislature to approve $150 surplus check plan in State of the State address
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers called on the state Legislature to meet and approve his plan to send a $150-surplus check to Wisconsinites as he delivered his fourth State of the State address.
Last year, Gov. Evers called 2020 one of the most “unrelenting” years that people have experienced. His outlook on this year was more positive.
“Tonight, I am proud to be able to report that the state of our state is stronger and better than it was a year ago, or two years ago, or even three years ago,” Gov. Evers said at the kickoff of his fourth State of the State Address.
Gov. Tony Evers announced during the speech that he would be calling for a special session of the Legislature to take up his surplus plan, saying a report released last month projected a $3.8 billion surplus in the state’s checking account. He says the plan would address rising costs Wisconsinites are facing and as businesses face challenges in getting resources.
He stated that inaction on the plan is unfair to Wisconsinites.
“So, don’t sit here in a white, marble building with state coffers that are full and tell Wisconsinites who are working hard every day that we can’t afford to do more. That’s baloney,” Evers said.
His potential reelection looms in November and the Republican-controlled Legislature is nearing the end of its session for the year. The Democratic governor gave his speech virtually last year, as it happened just before the COVID-19 vaccine was readily available to the public.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate
Gov. Tony Evers boasted the state’s unemployment rate drop, noting it was 3.1% in January of 2019 and fell to 2.8% now.
“Today, our unemployment rate has not only returned to pre-pandemic unemployment levels, it’s better,” Evers said. “At 2.8 percent, we now have the lowest unemployment rate and the fewest number of people unemployed ever in state history.”
He also acknowledged that employers have struggled in Wisconsin to fill jobs, saying his administration has invested $60 million into 12 programs that are regionally based. The Evers Administration also put $20 million into helping workers find new jobs and train to gain new skills.
Investment in rural health care
Gov. Tony Evers announced during his address that $30 million will be set to go toward emergency medical service providers and services across the state, $20 million of which will be set aside for people in rural areas.
“In Wisconsin, we rely on nearly 800 emergency medical service providers—more than half are either operated exclusively by volunteers or through a combination of volunteers and paid staff,” Evers said. “These folks are doing outstanding work, but many have been doing it for years, and it’s sometimes difficult finding new volunteers to step into these important roles.”
“No one should be calling for an ambulance and have to wonder whether help will come,” he continued.
These funds can be used for services ranging from staffing support to purchasing an ambulance or other supplies. Every medical service and emergency medical service provider will qualify for the funds.
Mental health efforts for Wisconsin students, Wisconsin National Guard
Gov. Tony Evers noted the pandemic has amplified the need for mental health efforts in schools and he announced the new Get Kids Ahead initiative. Around $15 million will go toward additional mental health services in schools, to which every public school district can opt into.
School districts can use the funds to provide direct mental health services, hire and support mental health navigators and provide mental health first aid and trauma-based care training. Schools may also use the fund to provide family assistance.
He addressed the stresses that students in higher education face, saying $5 million will go to the UW System to fund more mental health services through telehealth counseling and mental health support staff on campuses.
Five million will also support the Wisconsin National Guard’s Compressive Wellness Office in order to expand services for members of the guard. Evers noted the Wisconsin National Guard has been essential throughout the pandemic, distributing over 80 million pieces of PPE and health equipment to agencies across the state. The National Guard has helped administer COVID-19 tests and vaccines to citizens. They have also assisted in elections to ensure Wisconsinites cast their ballots safely.
“This program will provide counseling, resiliency training, and crisis intervention and stress reduction programming, to help reduce burnout, take care of mental health needs, prevent suicide, and treat substance use disorders for our service members,” Evers said.
$25 million set to go toward UW System tuition freeze
Noting that college students face stressors that include rising prices, whether it be through gas or their tuition, Evers announced $25 million would go toward funding a tuition freeze through the end of the biennium at the UW System.
This will ensure that tuition prices for in-state students will not go up for the next two years.
UW System President Tommy Thompson and UW Regent President Edmund Manydeeds III said the funds issued by Evers will make a difference for families.
“We appreciate Gov. Evers’ commitment to public higher education and his recognition of the vital role the University of Wisconsin System plays in improving lives and communities across our state. This funding will help us keep our universities affordable and will allow us to better address the pressing behavioral health needs of our students,” the two stated.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank also thanked Gov. Evers for recognizing the financial impact the pandemic has had on the UW System.
“With continued support and investment from state leaders, UW is poised to be an engine for Wisconsin’s recovery and maintain our commitment to provide affordable education to Wisconsin residents,” Blank said.
What lawmakers wanted to hear ahead of the speech
Democratic State Sen. Melissa Agard explained what she wants to hear from Evers when it comes to the topic of inflation.
“I know [inflation] is something I know that they’re wrestling with at the federal level and I do know that the most important thing that we need to be focusing on here is that our unemployment rate is at record lows and that we have an amazing surplus as well as a very strong rainy day fund,” Agard said.
Republican State Assembly Rep. Mark Born hopes the labor shortage is highlighted in the address.
“I’m hopeful the governor’s going to talk about workforce, it’s the biggest challenge facing our state right now, worker shortage really in all sectors of our economy,” Born said.
Gov. Evers dedicated last year’s address to those who have died and the families who are mourning the loss of a loved one, calling 2020 one of the most “unrelenting” years that people have experienced.
He declared 2021 the Year of Broadband access, designating nearly $200 million into broadband for his biennial budget, and announced a special session would be held to modernize the unemployment system. He also touted the People’s Maps Commission and explained how his biennial budget would ensure the Legislature draws out new maps with public input.
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