Gov. Tony Evers delivered his first State of the State address to the legislature on Jan. 22. In his speech, the governor said the state of the state is that “we’ve got work to do, and we’re ready for bipartisan solutions.” The speech focused on policies and solutions that “connect the dots” on issues including the economy, education, health care, and infrastructure.
On education, Evers highlighted proposed Department of Public Instruction budget provisions including returning to two-thirds state funding and a $600 million increase in special education funding, as well as Urban Initiatives and mental health programs.
On health care, the governor highlighted his recently signed executive orders on Medicaid expansion and pre-existing conditions. Evers said he would include Medicaid expansion in his budget but did not say whether he would sign the pre-existing conditions bill that passed the Assembly in a bipartisan vote earlier that day. The governor had previously indicated he wouldn’t sign the bill as-is and suggested including language covering essential health benefits and addressing annual and lifetime limits. While the amended Assembly bill addressed Evers’s concerns about annual and lifetime limits, it did not include coverage for essential health benefits.
In his speech, Evers directed Attorney General Josh Kaul to remove Wisconsin from the multistate lawsuit seeking to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The governor’s office subsequently delivered a letter to Kaul seeking to withdraw the Department of Justice’s authority to participate in the litigation. However, Evers walked back the statement after a Legislative Reference Bureau memo to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) explained that the governor does not have the authority to request the attorney general discontinue an action. Instead, the newly enacted extraordinary session legislation requires the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) to approve the withdrawal. Kaul also sent Evers a letter stating the AG does not have legal authority to withdraw from the lawsuit without JFC approval.
On infrastructure, Evers said he plans to announce in the coming days a bipartisan transportation budget task force.
Evers also declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin. Evers plans to issue an executive order designating a person at the Department of Health Services to address Wisconsin’s lead crisis, including seeking funding to replace lead drinking water lines.
Finally, Evers restated his promise for a 10 percent income tax cut for the middle class but offset the cut by capping a manufacturing and agricultural tax credit instead of the Assembly Republicans’ proposal to use surplus funds.
Evers ended his speech with a discussion of bipartisanship, asking the legislature to work off of his budget instead of taking up their own. Evers said he expects legislation “with broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship” this session.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) delivered the Republican response to Evers’s speech.