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Chatting with the governor

Chatting with the governor Chatting with the governor

Evers claims he moved his agenda forward despite GOP resistance

Education, roads and healthcare — those three items were on Gov. Tony Evers to-do list when he took office last January.

During a stop at the Medford Cafe on Monday afternoon, Evers said he was proud of the work done to advance those goals through the state’s budget process in his first year of office. He noted that while he was not able to get everything he asked for in the budget, that securing an additional half-billion dollars of resources for Wisconsin schools in the budget was a major achievement.

He said the state also made strides on transportation and healthcare fronts which he said he hopes will lay the groundwork for the future.

He explained that before preparing his budget last year he listened to groups of residents to find out what was important to them.

At the same time the budget tops his list for achievements in his first year in office, it was also the place that he said he wished more could be done particularly when it came to healthcare.

Evers has sought to expand the Medicaid program by tapping into approximately $1.6 billion in federal funds available to the state in order to reduce premium expenses for lower income residents and provide healthcare access to 82,000 state residents who are currently uninsured. Republicans in the legislature pushed back against that proposal and got it removed from the budget.

“That was a disappointment,” Evers said.

As far as transportation, Evers said they saw modest gains, but strongly feels that the best mechanism is to have a gas tax that is indexed to inflation in order to maintain the revenue needed to keep roads and bridges in good repair.

“You can’t just double fees every two years,” Evers said, objecting to the registration fee increases favored by Republicans in the legislature.

Looking ahead to his second year in office, Evers highlighted criminal justice reform as a place where he would like the state to focus efforts. Evers said he would like the state to switch the focus from incarceration to rehabilitation when it comes to those who have committed crimes.

He said there are successful models in other states that were put in place by Republican leadership there and hopes to bring these ideas to Wisconsin. The programs focus on preventing young people from becoming career criminals to ensuring those released from prison have the job skills and opportunity to reintegrate with society. He cited studies showing that every dollar spent on rehabilitation saves $9 on incarceration.

“We are spending more on criminal justice than we are on the UW System,” Evers said.

Another key goal in the coming year will be to continue to push for “fair maps.” Evers was critical of Wisconsin’s currently gerrymandered legislative districting maps. Wisconsin as a state is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans but the legislative maps drawn after the last census favored the Republicans who were in power when the maps were made.

He said rather than having legislators picking their voters, it should be voters picking their legislators. He said he does not have much faith that his own party would do a better job in drawing maps that were fair and instead favored a model used by states such as Iowa where a nonpartisan commission sets the district boundaries.

Evers also touched on the state’s economy including what needs to be done to address the workforce shortage that is inhibiting growth in the state.

“It keeps me up at night,” Evers said of the lack of workers. He said the state needs to look at addressing multiple areas such as reversing the trend of having young people leave the state for work elsewhere and instead have them come back and raise families in the state.

He said there has been some uncertainty that has kept people from moving to the state in the past, but says the state needs to work on its image and focus on the high quality of life that appeals to people. He noted that when he was running for office, he would make a point of asking Millennial-aged people, especially in rural areas, why they chose to live here. Across the board, he said the answer was quality of life. He said Wisconsin has good schools and great communities and people need to know that.

A third tier in addressing workforce population in the state needs to be federal immigration reform. Immigrant workers are important for agriculture and food service industries, he said immigration reform cannot be just about if a wall should be built.

Evers said the state’s economic development arm, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, has focused in the past on major projects like Foxconn and others, but he said they are working to also look at what is happening on Main Streets with smaller businesses especially in regard to succession planning.

Succession planning, he noted was just one of the many challenges facing the state’s dairy farmers. He said past policies encouraged milk production to the point where the state has more milk than there are markets to take it. This is keeping prices low and hurting farm families.

The number of dairy farms has declined dramatically in the state taking with it Wisconsin’s rural heritage. Evers said agriculture has always had an important place in Wisconsin’s economy and the life of rural communities. He said the state has worked to help farmers through additional programs approved in the 2019 state budget including additional resources to help with mental health services to address the spike in suicides among farmers and ways to help farmers diversify into things such as hemp or other crops.

As much as has been done, Evers said more must be done to ensure that agriculture in Wisconsin remains strong.