MADISON, Wis. (AP) - As provided to Action 2 News:
Honorable Supreme Court Justices, tribal nation leaders, Constitutional Officers, Major General Dunbar and the members of the Wisconsin National Guard as well as active and retired members of our armed forces, Senate President Roth, Majority Leader Fitzgerald, Minority Leader Shilling, Speaker Vos, and Minority Leader Hintz, cabinet members, legislators, distinguished guests, and, most importantly, people of Wisconsin: welcome, and thank you for being here.
Before we get started, I also want to recognize someone else who’s here with us tonight. He’s a Wisconsin institution and embodies both the soul of our campus and the spirit of our state, marching band director and director of bands at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Mike Leckrone.
This year marks The Professor’s 50th and final year leading UW’s marching band as he will be retiring at the end of this year. He’s directed halftime shows for nearly half of Camp Randall’s existence and has seen coaches and chancellors and band members come and go. But even more than the “stop at the top” or the 5th Quarter post-game routines, The Professor will be remembered for what a remarkable leader, teacher, and inspirer he’s been, not just for his students, but for people across our state. So, tonight, we honor The Professor and thank him for his service.
I’d also like to introduce my former junior prom date, Kathy, who’s up there in the gallery tonight. My daughter, Katie, is also here tonight, and my other kids are I’m sure watching from home with my grandkids who are going to be up way past their bedtime. Thank you for supporting me — I love you all.
I’m Tony Evers, and I’m incredibly honored to be here tonight as the 46th governor of the great state of Wisconsin to say the state of our state is that we’ve got work to do, and we’re ready for bipartisan solutions.
You know, a few weeks ago, I stood just outside of here where I took the oath of office and delivered my inaugural address. And I remind you today, just as I did weeks ago, of the spirit of our service, of the power that we have, and the responsibility that we bear.
We are a state forged by the Wisconsin Idea -- the notion that education informs our public policy and that knowledge should embrace the communities we're called to serve. But today, we are also a state among the worst to raise a black family, and we are a state that’s spending more on corrections than our entire UW System.
We are a state that once cultivated new technology -- from typewriters to automobiles, we’ve led the nation in innovation. But today, we are a state that’s behind on broadband expansion, and we trail the country in start-ups and small business creation.
We are a state that was the birthplace of BadgerCare, and we’ve been a laboratory for democracy. But today, we are also a state where it’s become cheaper to get healthcare by driving across the Mississippi River.
The realities we face are bigger than me or any political party. The magnitude of our challenges requires us to put people first because, as I’ve said, that is the promise of our service.
So, tonight, I’m asking you to join me in making good on that promise by moving forward, together.
Fixing our economy remains a priority. That’s why just last week I directed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to create an innovation and entrepreneurship committee focusing on supporting our small businesses, seeding capital funds, and technology development.
But there is more to an economy than counting job creation. And the state of our state is more than just our unemployment rate.
The opportunity we have to offer is not just the number of jobs we create; it’s counted, too, by the number of workers who will work forty hours each week and still won’t make enough to keep their family out of poverty.
The strength of our success is not found solely in fiscal surplus; it’s defined, too, by the number of our kids who will go to school hungry tomorrow.
The metric for our posterity is not just what we keep in the coffers for a rainy day; it’s measured, too, by the quality of the natural resources we’re leaving behind for our kids and their kids after them.
The state of our state is the work of Lisa, who is also in the gallery tonight. Lisa is the Founder and President of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness. The Foundation serves more than 1,000 women and girls working to eliminate health disparities affecting Black women, their families, and their communities. Thank you, Lisa!
The state of our state is also the story of Jen, who grew up in Cashton. Because of the Affordable Care Act, Jen has access to comprehensive, patient-centered care that is tailored to her needs. Being able to afford services and insurance has allowed Jen to take control of her health from preventative to reproductive to behavioral healthcare. Jen is also here in the gallery tonight.
The state of our state is the story of Jose who came to Abbotsford, Wisconsin, from Mexico with his parents when he was twelve years old. Jose learned English through Abbotsford’s English as a second language program and gained a sense of community when he signed up to play baseball in high school. Jose decided to stay here in Wisconsin. He still lives in Abbotsford where he’s raising his sons, Marco and Nickolas, and coaches their baseball team, the Broncos. And he’s become a naturalized citizen. Jose and his son Marco are up in the gallery tonight. Thanks for being here, Jose and Marco.
The state of our state is the story of students like Alex from Boyceville Middle School. Alex’s teacher describes her as having the drive and passion that make her excited to come to work every day. Alex has worked hard to turn things around at school and is now passing all of her classes, has no missed assignments, and has gone above and beyond to help other students, too. And it’s also the story of students like Diamond from Parker High School in Janesville where the school nurse describes her as the strongest young lady she has the pleasure of knowing. Diamond’s family has had some tough times, but Diamond has persevered, is excelling in school, and has dreams of becoming a pediatrician or pediatric nurse. Diamond is here in the gallery and tonight I’m excited to announce Alex and Diamond are the first-ever recipients of the Star Student Award in Wisconsin.
When I stood before you just a few weeks ago to deliver my inaugural address, I said it was time to get to work. And we have.
But the real work—the hardest work—is yet to be done.
Last month, Mandela and I traveled across the state listening to Wisconsinites talk about their values and their vision for our future. We talked about policies and solutions that connect the dots.
And I keep saying that -- connecting the dots -- and I’ve been asked several times what I mean by that -- it’s about seeing a forest through the trees.
It’s about seeing the connection between how lack of access to affordable housing affects kids in the classroom. It’s about seeing the connection between drug and alcohol addiction and our burgeoning criminal justice system. It’s about seeing the connection between a budding entrepreneur who wants to start their own business and how the rising costs of health insurance might push that dream out of reach.
The budget that I’ll be introducing in the coming weeks is about connecting those dots. And to no one’s surprise, it begins—as it always has for me—with education.
Connecting the dots means recognizing that what’s best for our kids is best for our state. The investment we make in our kids today will yield dividends for generations. That’s why our budget reaffirms our state’s commitment to our kids by returning to two-thirds funding for schools across Wisconsin.
I was pleased to learn that the Speaker has encouraged his members to support this provision in our budget, and I hope that I can count on your support going forward.
In addition to two-thirds funding, we’re also going to make sure that we have resources to support our kids with special needs. For the past decade, we’ve not only cut funding for public schools, we've failed to fully fund services for special education. This has forced local school districts and taxpayers to squeeze resources from other areas to provide these critical services. Our budget will provide an unprecedented $600 million-dollar increase in special education funding. That means our school districts will have enough to allocate the resources they do have to other areas of high need.
And we’re not just going to increase support for our kids with special needs. We’re going to get to work on closing the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color. Our state’s achievement gap is among the highest in the nation in reading and math scores. As State Superintendent, I submitted proposals that would’ve helped address our state’s achievement gap.
Unfortunately, most of these proposals never made it through the Legislative process. I believe this is the year they will. And my Urban Initiatives programs will also empower minority students in our state’s highest-need districts by expanding early childhood education and summer school grant programs.
It is urgent that we increase support for our low-income students and students of color. The longer we wait to invest in closing our achievement gap, the wider the gap will get, and the more it will cost us in the long-run.
Finally, we’re going to propose a five-fold increase in mental health programs for K-12 students across our state. But funding mental health programming in our schools is not enough; so tonight, we renew our commitment to making sure everybody has access to quality, affordable healthcare.
We’ve already started working to make sure healthcare in Wisconsin is affordable and accessible. We signed executive orders creating a Healthy Communities Initiative and calling upon the Department of Health Services to prioritize these goals. We also called upon our state agencies to connect the dots and work together on how we can protect healthcare coverage for people in our state.
But our work can’t stop there. That’s why our budget will also seek to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, this will enable an additional 76,000 Wisconsinites to have access to affordable healthcare. This would also save Wisconsin taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, allowing us to reallocate those cost savings to other critical programs.
We have a real opportunity here, folks. At the end of the day, Mr. Majority Leader and Mr. Speaker, healthcare should not be a partisan issue -- Republican states like Kentucky, Nebraska, and Idaho have expanded Medicaid, and so have Democratic states like Washington, California, and Minnesota. We should be able to get it done here, too.
The people of Wisconsin voted for a change this November and asked us to stop playing politics with their health care. That’s why I’m announcing tonight that I have fulfilled a promise I made to the people of Wisconsin by directing Attorney General Kaul to withdraw from a lawsuit that would gut coverage for the 2.4 million Wisconsinites who have pre-existing conditions. I’ve said all along that I believe the best way to maintain protections for healthcare here in Wisconsin is to stop trying to dismantle those protections at the federal level.
In addition, we’re also going to address Wisconsin’s transportation funding crisis.
I appointed Secretary-designee Craig Thompson because I know that he will work on both sides of the aisle for a solution that works for Wisconsin. I fully expect that he will be approved with consent of the Senate.
I’ve said all along that I believe we have to bring people together to work on this issue, and I believe Secretary-designee Thompson can get it done. In the coming days, we’ll be announcing a task force of stakeholders to get to work on proposing a bipartisan policy solution to be included in The People’s Budget. The task force will solicit feedback from key partners from all regions of the state, all sectors of the economy, and users of all different modes of transportation.
And while I know that caucus members in both houses support different approaches to solving our transportation funding crisis, it’s going to take sacrifices and compromises to find a long-term, comprehensive solution that works for everyone.
But roads and bridges are only a small part of the infrastructure challenges facing our state. That’s why I’m also declaring 2019 is the Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin.
According to the Department of Health Services, 1.7 million Wisconsinites depend on private wells for water, and 47% of these wells do not meet acceptable health standards. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we have an estimated 176,000 lead service lines across our state. Removing lead service lines could cost over $2 billion. But Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that for every $1 we spend on replacing lead drinking water lines, we will see a 133% return on our investment in higher lifetime earnings and better health outcomes.
That’s why, in the coming weeks, I’ll be signing an executive order to designate a person at the Department of Health Services to take charge on addressing Wisconsin’s lead crisis and to help secure federal funding for prevention and treatment programs.
Finally, we’re going to cut taxes by ten percent for everyone making up to $100,000 and families making up to $150,000. But we’re not going to do it by spending money we don’t have or that might not be there in two years. I don’t make promises I can’t keep, and I’m not going to propose things that we can’t pay for. So instead, we’re going to fund tax relief for hard-working families by capping a corporate tax credit, 80% of which goes to filers making more than $1 million a year.
An economy that works for all of us, healthier communities, more money for our kids and our schools, better roads and infrastructure -- that is what the people of Wisconsin expect from us, and that is what the people of Wisconsin deserve.
Given the challenges we face, I expect the Legislature will focus on these important priorities instead of being distracted by division and preventing us from working together to get things done.
You know, in the Governor’s conference room inscribed on the ceiling is a phrase that reads, “The will of the people is the law of the land.”
The will of the people is the law of the land.
That means I expect legislation arriving on my desk will be passed with broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship.
That means instead of taking up an entirely new budget of its own, I expect the Legislature to take up the budget I crafted by and with the people of our state.
I’ll tell you today as I told you a few weeks ago that I have never been more hopeful about our state and our kids’ future. I have no doubt that there will be issues on which we disagree. I have no doubt that there will be times when we will be frustrated by the deliberative process of democracy. But we will engage civilly. We will have discourse and dialogue, but it will not devolve into disrespect. And we will govern with a humble appreciation that the will of the people -- our people -- is the law of the land.
Now, let’s get back to work. Thank you, and On, Wisconsin!
Republican Response from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester)
As provided to Action 2 News
I’m Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. I’m honored to give the Republican response tonight.
As I’ve travelled our great state this past year, I’ve seen Wisconsin at its best. Our state and its people are thriving. In northeastern Wisconsin, Marinette Marine is expanding and building the future of our nation’s naval fleet. Outside Lambeau Field, the Titletown development is taking shape and attracting visitors, even, in the off-season. In Milwaukee, the Fiserv Forum is having an amazing inaugural season especially with the Milwaukee Bucks having the best record in the NBA. Throughout Wisconsin, many farmers had their first growing season of HEMP in more than 70 years. Business owners across the state are increasing pay to meet the demand in our competitive market place. Wisconsin now has more jobs than people to fill them. It’s clear: the state of our state is strong.
You simply can’t ignore the facts. The Wisconsin unemployment rate is at its 11th straight month at or below 3 percent. New businesses are up nearly 7 percent. We’re seeing the fewest mortgage foreclosures in 18 years. Exports have increased by 3.2 percent. Tourism spending now tops 20 billion dollars. And Wisconsin families have the lowest tax burden in nearly 50 years. Economists agree that the state economy is the best in decades.
You might ask, how did we get here? For the last eight years, Republicans worked hard to make Wisconsin open for business. We cut taxes by more than $8 billion.
We made investments in worker training, froze college tuition and made the largest investment ever in K-12 education in actual dollars. Wisconsin is on a roll and Republicans will not allow it to slip backwards. We’re committed to keeping your taxes low, the state pension fully funded and our budget balanced. We can increase our investment of K-12 education to two-thirds funding, without raising income or sales taxes.
As President Ronald Reagan once said, “As government expands, liberty contracts.” He also said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Republicans in the legislature won’t forget Ronald Reagan’s sentiments. We won’t let government grow out of control and we won’t let socialism to take root in our state.
I promise you: Republicans will fight for and protect your freedom, from unnecessary red flag gun laws to the expansion of government-run and controlled health care. We will keep spending in check, continue our successful school choice programs and most importantly, protect the unborn.
However, we know that when voters chose divided government, they didn’t choose inaction. In November, the voters said they want us to find ways to work together. That’s why only days after the inauguration, Assembly Republicans sent Governor Evers a letter outlining areas where we thought we could find agreement. It’s my hope that we focus on issues that don’t divide our state, instead we focus on issues that are easy to find common ground. The 11 ideas that we proposed in the letter aren’t meant to be an exhaustive list but a starting point. Things like enhancing internet access, preventing homelessness, improving foster care, and cutting middle class taxes should all be slam dunks. Wisconsinites want us to work together and these are shared priorities that we can begin working on.
This past week, Assembly Republicans moved forward on a middle class tax cut using the governor’s framework. Unlike Governor Evers’ original proposal, our plan doesn’t raise taxes on farmers or manufacturers. It uses the GOP surplus to pay for it. The tax cut is targeted to families making under $150,000 and individuals making under $100,000. It saves a married couple with a median income more than $300 annually. We can make this middle class tax cut a reality.
Another shared priority is protecting the insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions. Assembly Republicans promised that it would be the first bill we pass this session; and we did just that earlier today on a bipartisan vote of 76 in favor and 19 against. The Assembly approved this bill guaranteeing access to insurance for individuals with pre-existing conditions regardless of what happens to ObamaCare.
The bill also eliminates any annual or lifetime cap on health insurance in Wisconsin. There should be no reason why Governor Evers doesn’t sign the pre-existing conditions bill passed with a strong bipartisan majority or approve a middle class tax cut that he proposed and paid for by the GOP surplus.
Tonight Governor Evers said he expects the legislature to take up the budget that he crafts quote “by and with the people of our state”. We will consider the ideas in his budget but unfortunately, his ideas are only focusing on one side of the aisle and not the vast majority of Wisconsin. If his budget is merely a tax-and-spend wish list, one that would never pass this legislature, his budget would amount to political gamesmanship and the words of bipartisanship he said tonight will ring hollow. Every person who runs for public office wants to change their part of their world for the better.
One of my first introductions into politics was by my sixth grade teacher in Burlington. She told me everyone in the United States has a chance to make a difference. In our system, good people run for office because they want to do things and better the lives of their family, friends and neighbors.
Democrats want that. Republicans want that. Every Wisconsinite wants that.
That’s why I’m so worried that hate and vitriol have become far too pervasive on social media these days. I believe it discourages people from entering the public arena and fighting for their ideas. We all want what’s best for Wisconsin: so let’s do a better job listening to one another and understanding each other’s perspective.
In closing, let me reiterate tonight what Republicans are going to work for over the next two years. We will work to keep the tax burden lower and affordable for the middle class. We will protect those with pre-existing conditions. We will make record investments in K-12 education. And we will move Wisconsin forward.
Thank you for joining me.
God Bless you and your family and God Bless the state of Wisconsin.