MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Tony Evers gave his fourth State of the State address on Tuesday night, Feb. 15.
The governor was back inside the Capitol for the address after it was held virtually in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tackling challenges from that pandemic was an underlying theme of his speech.
"If we’d had our way, we would not have faced the worst pandemic in a century," Evers said.
Evers highlighted the way he was able to lead the state – expanding high-speed internet access, reaching pre-pandemic unemployment levels and distributing pandemic-related aid.
"As a share of the federal aid our state has received, Wisconsin ranked second in the country for aid we’ve directed to economic development, and we ranked first in the country in aid we’ve allocated to businesses," said Evers.
Evers' announcements, spending plan
Looking to the future, Evers has a plan on how to spend a portion of the state's projected $3.8 billion surplus, which would mean Wisconsin residents getting $150 along with investing in child caregiver tax credits and public schools.
"Let’s help address rising costs, let’s help make sure folks can afford to join our workforce, and let’s do what’s best for our kids," said Evers.
Evers also announced a number of future investments – including millions of dollars for emergency response providers and mental health services in schools and University of Wisconsin System campuses.
The election for governor is on Nov. 8.
Minutes after Evers' address, the other side of the political aisle delivered comments of its own.
"Has Joe Biden or Tony Evers done anything to make your life better, or has about everything they touched gotten worse?" said Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg). "Runaway inflation, rising crime, closed schools, supply chain disruptions, restrictive COVID rules that no longer makes sense."
Republicans reiterated after the speech that the $150-for-residents plan is dead on arrival and a special session Evers announced Tuesday will almost certainly come and go without the Democratic governor getting what he wants, much like others he has called over the past three years.
If she has her way, Rebecca Kleefisch, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and former lieutenant governor, will be giving the next State of the State address herself.
"Tonight, Tony Evers gives his final State of the State address," Kleefisch said in an Instagram video. "Our economy is unaffordable, our children are in failing schools, and violent criminals are out on our streets."
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester):
"When Governor Evers talks about his campaign promises, little or no action was actually taken by the governor to get these things done. The majority of promises were delivered because of billions in federal dollars or from good policy decisions by Legislative Republicans.
"Governor Evers has failed to address the biggest issue facing our state – the workforce crisis. My colleagues and I will again lead on another issue by passing a Stronger Workforce Initiative this spring to help get more people back into the labor force who have otherwise checked out of job searching.
"During the final months of session, Republicans will continue to block Governor Evers’ liberal agenda, strengthen our election integrity, and ensure the state moves forward without expanding welfare, overspending or raising taxes."
State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee):
"Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Wisconsin has made it to the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in a stronger position than when it started nearly 2 years ago. Unemployment and labor force participation are the best they’ve ever been, wages are rising, and Governor Evers deserves a substantial amount of credit for his steady hand through historically rough waters.
"In tonight’s State of the State Address, Evers reflected on our achievements over the past year, while outlining an ambitious and hopeful vision for our future. That future, according to Governor Evers, starts now. By using some of our record $3.8 billion projected budget surplus to provide direct relief to every Wisconsinite, build our workforce, expand childcare opportunities, and fund public education to the level our children deserve, we can build a brighter future today.
"Republicans have signaled they want to wait until the next budget cycle to tap into our record surplus. It’s the same tactic of delay and defer that they’ve used throughout the pandemic. As Governor Evers said, ‘indifference in this building is getting expensive.’
"Let us not forget that Republicans have done everything they can to slow down federal pandemic relief, putting politics ahead of the people of Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Evers has allocated $1 billion in federal aid for small businesses and our farmers, invested $100 million to expand broadband across our state, and put forward the most progressive state budget proposal in our history, only to have it rejected out of hand by a gerrymandered majority more interested in scoring political points than helping our neighbors in need.
"Wisconsin is on the right track thanks to Governor Evers’ steady and compassionate leadership. I look forward to working with him in 2022 and beyond to fully fund our schools, invest in higher education, protect our shared environment, and defend our democracy against those who seek to cast doubt and undermine the very basic principle of one person, one vote.
"As the Governor said, ‘democracy is not a prophecy...we must choose every day to affirm the certainty of this legacy for future generations.’ I couldn’t agree more."
State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills):
"If Governor Evers didn’t steal Republican ideas, he wouldn’t have much of a speech at all. The governor is trying to rewrite history and take credit for Republican successes including a budget that delivered the largest tax cut in state history. He doesn’t want you to remember that his plan raised taxes by more than $1 billion during a pandemic, eliminated key reforms, and borrowed too much.
"The truth is, Governor Evers’ record isn’t good. He failed Wisconsin workers when they were laid off after the Governor shut down businesses. The Governor made families wait for months for their unemployment checks. A non-partisan audit showed the Governor’s agency couldn’t even be bothered to answer 93% of the calls from desperate workers.
"The most disappointing part of his speech was that the Governor failed parents and school children in our state. He offered no plan to reform our education system. More than 50% of kids in our state are failing in math and English language arts. That should alarm the ‘education governor.’
"If the Governor needs some more ideas to take credit for, my colleagues and I released a series of common-sense education reforms that put parents and children first. I hope he signs them into law."
State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee):
"With his State of the State address this evening, Governor Evers made it very clear that Wisconsin is in good hands under his guidance. Thanks to Governor Evers’ steady hand, Wisconsin has made huge strides in recovering economically from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic - less than two years ago, countless Wisconsinites were out of work, small businesses were struggling, and altogether too many people in our state did not know how - or if - they’d be able to bounce back.
"But thanks to the Governor’s foresight and wise use of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, our state is experiencing as strong a recovery as anyone could have hoped for: Governor Evers has made hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in all corners of our state, helping businesses and families alike while also investing in our future in order to ensure that this recovery persists well into the years ahead. And our economy has responded incredibly well to the Governor’s critical investments and excellent stewardship - unemployment rates have fallen to a historic low of 2.8% (even lower than they were before the pandemic), and our state is projected to end the fiscal year with a budget surplus of $3.8 billion dollars, on top of a historic $1.7 billion already in the state’s ‘rainy day fund.’
"Despite yet another year of Republican obstruction and through difficult circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Evers has once again managed to deliver win after win for Wisconsinites across our entire state. I am grateful for his leadership, and I am happy to declare yet again that, under Governor Evers, the state of our state is strong."
State Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison):
"Governor Evers has kept his promise to the Wisconsin people and delivered results. Unlike my Republican colleagues, Governor Evers is not here to play political games or score political points—he cares about Wisconsin and her people, and has continued to put them first.
"It’s no secret that we live in a time of political division, but Governor Evers has worked to bring our communities together through compassion, kindness, and respect. These last few years have been particularly challenging, but Governor Evers has continued to focus on health, safety, and prosperity for all of us.
"From investing in our small businesses and family farms to improving our infrastructure and transportation systems, Wisconsin is in a better place because of Governor Evers’ unrelenting commitment to our state. We’re seeing the results. Over thousands of miles of highways and bridges have been fixed. Broadband has continued to be invested in. Wisconsin is projected to have the largest surplus in state history, as well as a record low unemployment rate.
"The issues that matter the most to people of Wisconsin are the same priorities as Governor Evers: we need childcare to be more accessible and affordable, to support our Main Streets and local economies, to invest in our schoolteachers and public education, and to work for greener and more sustainable environmental practices. It’s clear that the governor and his administration are not only prioritizing the issues facing Wisconsin right now, but are working hard to build a better Wisconsin for generations to come.
"Wisconsin works best when our government and elected officials work for us. My Democratic colleagues and I join Governor Evers in working hard to ensure that this vision for a better Wisconsin becomes a reality for today, tomorrow, and the future. I applaud Governor Evers for his dedication and leadership."
UW System President and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, UW Regent President Edmund Manydeeds III:
"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. It will make a difference for the students and families we serve."
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler:
"Governor Evers has spent the past three years doing the right thing to move Wisconsin forward. As he highlighted in his State of the State address, Wisconsin is stronger and better than before he took office. That’s thanks to his steady leadership and investments in our kids, our small businesses, and critical industries like agriculture and tourism. And while Republicans were doing everything they could to block progress and slow down our economic recovery, Governor Evers was hard at work getting relief out the door to those who needed it — already supporting 100,000 small businesses. With record low unemployment and a record budget surplus, our leaders have the opportunity to do even more for our state, starting with Governor Evers’ plan to return taxpayer funds back to Wisconsinites to help fight rising costs.
"Families need relief now. A family of four would receive $600 back — that’s real money to help cover daily costs like gas and groceries. Instead of letting this money collect dust in Madison, Governor Evers is committed to getting it back to where it belongs: with taxpayers. The $600 is on top of the $450 million tax cut for businesses and the 15% tax cut for working families that the Governor signed into law last year. Governor Evers has put Wisconsin first, in every decision, and it’s paid off for our state, for our small businesses, for farmers, and for working families. Wisconsin Democrats are energized to re-elect him in 2022 so that we can continue to move Wisconsin forward."
State Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa)
"I applaud Governor Evers’ steady leadership, which resulted in a record low unemployment of 2.8% and an historic projected $3.8 billion surplus that he proposed be used to help families with the costs of childcare and caregiving, and invest in our schools to help kids and educators and families succeed.
"This follows Governor Evers’ hard work making sure that Wisconsin residents receive the support they need, when they need it. Using federal pandemic aid, the Governor has invested $1 billion to support our small businesses, farmers, tourism, lodging, and entertainment industry. Under his leadership, Wisconsin is one of the top states nationwide in allocating funding and investments for small businesses.
"Tonight, Governor Evers announced the ‘Get Kids Ahead’ initiative, which would invest $20 million in additional mental health services in our schools and universities. This initiative would increase funding for critical mental health resources for kids and students across the state– access to mental healthcare is the number one priority for many constituents in the 14th Assembly District and I strongly commend Governor Evers for listening to the people of Wisconsin.
"Over the last year Governor Tony Evers has led Wisconsin forward, with careful consideration to the needs of Wisconsinites statewide, and with his unique brand of kind and steady leadership. COVID-19 has endangered the lives and livelihoods of our state, and our Governor has worked to balance both, so that when we move forward as a state, we move forward together."
State Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo)
"Throughout his time in office, Governor Evers has worked tirelessly for the people of Wisconsin. I appreciate his leadership to bring our state’s unemployment rate to the lowest point it has ever been in the history of the state – 2.8 percent. In addition, our state enjoyed a historically large General Fund balance of $1.18 billion at the end of the 2020-21 Fiscal Year with a projected balance of $3.8 billion at the end of the 2021-22 biennium. Governor Evers has a plan to use these funds where they are needed most – for education, to meet raising costs, and to reduce barriers to work.
"I support Governor Evers’ special session calling for the Legislature to take up his surplus plan so that every Wisconsinite receives relief. Governor Evers knows that an investment in education is an investment in our future, so he has proposed using $750 million of the surplus funds to improve our schools all across the state.
"I am also encouraged to see Governor Evers’ continued investment in Wisconsin’s infrastructure such as broadband and roads. My constituents consistently write to me about the need to improve these areas in the state. Governor Evers has directed an additional $100 million for broadband expansion which is projected to improve internet for more than 110,000 Wisconsinites. Through past investments since 2019, Governor Evers has helped more than 300,000 households and businesses improve their internet connection. These investments are essential to improving our state and expanding opportunities for all Wisconsinites.
"I congratulate Governor Evers on his address and look forward to his continued leadership moving forward."
Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Rebecca Kleefisch:
"Tony Evers didn’t mention increasing violent crime in his State of the State Address because he doesn’t have a plan to keep Wisconsin families safe. In the past year we watched our communities ripped apart by violence and destruction and Tony Evers can’t be bothered to even acknowledge it. Clearly the Governor is more concerned with his election year bribe than dead children on our streets. Tony Evers may be too weak to stand up to criminals, but I’m not."
State Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison)
"Tonight Governor Evers has shown us exactly what the benefits are of leading with competence, empathy, and respect. When we focus on lifting each other up, we lift ourselves as well. Investing in our communities and investing in each other makes Wisconsin a better place to live and work for everyone.
"Thanks to Governor Evers’ administration, our share of federal aid has increased and we have succeeded in putting that money to work. By directing it towards economic development and support for small businesses, our communities are set to succeed. In addition, Governor Evers announced his ‘Get Kids Ahead’ initiative, which will provide $20 million to our public schools to support the mental health of our students. I applaud Governor Evers for putting the people of Wisconsin first, and directing funding to where it is needed most.
"This administration has shown that we can do great things when we take action. Our state’s $3.8 billion surplus can make a huge difference in the lives of Wisconsin families. Governor Evers’ surplus plan to give every Wisconsinite a surplus refund, invest in education, and provide a caregiver tax-credit will be a game-changer for our state.
"I am proud to have a Governor that continues to fight for the families of Wisconsin. I urge our legislative leaders to take the Governor’s call for a special session seriously, vote to bring relief to Wisconsin families. Together, we can build a better future for generations of Wisconsinites yet to come.
"This will be an exciting year for Wisconsin and I look forward to building off of this success. I am proud to say that our state is heading in the right direction and that there is so much potential for progress."
State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine)
"It was like Déjà Vu all over again. The speech could have been titled ‘Thank you, Republicans.’
"Everything Tony Evers took credit for was something he either initially opposed, like broad income tax cuts, or previously vetoed, like letting you keep your money in your pocket right now. Otherwise, it was passed by the Republican legislature without his input, and often with him standing in the way.
"Evers once again failed to address the real issues facing Wisconsinites- rising crime in their neighborhoods, rising inflation and economic uncertainty. If Evers thinks a one-time rebate of $150 will help with inflation, he hasn’t been to a grocery store, hasn’t bought gas, or frankly, hasn’t bought anything in the last year.
"While crime is skyrocketing across the state, he has no plans to make us feel safer in our homes. He lamented his inability to accomplish "justice reform," another way of lamenting that Wisconsin isn’t more like Illinois, California and New York. The solution isn’t weaker criminal penalties, defunding the police, prosecuting fewer crimes, or eliminating cash bail. We’ve seen the disaster "justice reform" has taken in those states. We don’t need it here.
"I, for one, believe that solving our economic and crime problem needs bold leadership, not whatever Governor Evers is pretending to push. We want real, permanent tax reform, not one-time rebates. We want people to feel safe in their homes, not fearful that police are too busy to help them because more criminals are on the street.
"And if Tony Evers ever left the Madison bubble and talked to people across the state, he’d want that too."
State Rep. Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield)
"Wisconsin is better off today thanks to the bold and thoughtful leadership of Governor Evers. While we are still recovering from a global pandemic, there are small businesses open today, roads and bridges updated, more money in the pockets of Wisconsinites and so much more thanks to the smart investments made by the administration. From farmers to child care workers, the people who make everyday life in our state possible have not been forgotten.
"I would be proud to partner with Governor Evers in continuing to build a strong economy while taking care of the most vulnerable. The governor has shown us how to be a leader who cares and plans for a better future."