By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — When putting together talking points about all the things Gov. Tony Evers was supposedly doing to make life better for Wisconsinites, Team Evers advised omitting the fact that federal taxpayers picked up the tab for the governor’s COVID-19 shot incentive program, according to emails obtained by Empower Wisconsin through an open records request.
It’s just another example of the Evers administration Spin Room working overtime ahead of the Democrat’s re-election campaign.
In August 2021, Evers announced his Department of Health Services would hand out $100 Visa gift cards to Wisconsin residents who got their first dose of any COVID vaccine from a provider in Wisconsin. The bribe was originally slated to run between Aug 20 and Sept. 6, but the administration extended it to Sept. 19.
“It’s that simple, folks. Get vaccinated, get $100. So, head to http://Vaccines.gov today to find your vaccine and then, head over to http://100.wisconsin.gov to receive your $100 Visa gift card to your Wisconsin address,” Evers tweeted at the time.
It's that simple, folks. Get vaccinated, get $100. So, head to https://t.co/42YPbkGZ4m today to find your vaccine and then, head over to https://t.co/dyjs3CN8bx to receive your $100 Visa gift card to your Wisconsin address.
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) August 23, 2021
The incentive was funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), but DHS press releases left that fact out.
Not surprising then that Evers’ staff advised omitting the funding source when putting together talking points on how the governor was combatting the high cost of living.
An email from late December notes, “More than 142,000 eligible Wisconsinites received their first dose during the governor’s $100 COVID-19 Vaccine Reward Program period.” It’s not clear whether all of those poked took advantage of the incentives program, which would amount to north of $14.2 million in ARPA money paid out.
Team Evers stressed in the email, “do not specify CARES or ARPA,” the two main federal COVID relief sources. The governor has had control over most of the $4.5 billion or so in federal aid to the state.
Evers wanted to play the part of the hero, as he has repeatedly done at photo-ops around the state in which he’s handed out big checks — taxpayer money he’s used as a kind of re-election campaign slush fund.
The telling instructions in the staff email are part of hundreds of pages of records Empower Wisconsin received on the administration’s handling of so-called economic equity grants. Late December emails include proposed talking points about how to convey to the public that the Evers administration was doing something about the high cost of living at the time. Corissa Uselmann, who was Evers’ director of Constituent Services, insisted Team Evers had “done tons.”
Of course the high cost of living has climbed just about every month since the proposed talking points were making the rounds in Evers’ office. Inflation hit a nearly 41-year high in June, at an astounding 9.1%
It appears Evers’ COVID grant handouts may have done wonders for Uselmann. The governor’s former staffer took a job in April as operations manager with Madison-based gener8tor, a business accelerator firm. The company was co-founded by Joe Kirgues. Kirgues is an Evers’ appointee to the WEDC board, which, as Empower Wisconsin reported in January, approved a $1 million workforce development grant benefitting Kirgues’ company.
The political talking points were loaded with spin and some outright lies. They were meant for “those that reached out to our office with concerns about the high cost of living.”
Among the biggest whoppers is the administration’s revisionist history that Evers’ “2021 biennial budget provides one of the largest tax cuts in Wisconsin state history.”
The 2021-23 budget does indeed provide significant tax cuts, but it wasn’t Evers’ budget. The Republican-controlled Legislature rebuilt the governor’s proposal from the ground up, ditching the Democrat’s $1 billion tax hikes.
Evers signed a Republican budget, just as he offered COVID vaccine bribes paid for by federal taxpayers.