Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 15, 2021
By CJ Szafir, President of the Institute for Reforming Government.
Missed the State of the State on Tuesday night? No problem. We’ve got you covered. Here is the good, the bad, and the bizarre.
Gov. Tony Evers started his speech by acknowledging the over 5,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in Wisconsin, a humbling reminder that the global pandemic of 2020 hasn’t left us.
The benefit of doing the State of the State virtually with no lawmakers meant no applause — which meant that the speech was significantly shorter! A big win for staffers, pundits, and reporters.
Wisconsin, which had the largest racial achievement gap before COVID, is seeing its biggest school districts remain in full virtual education. What is the plan to re-open our largest school districts? Or is the governor content with them staying virtual, even though they are approaching the 12-month mark of being closed? Low-income, minority students may never recover from this.
In what is increasingly becoming the biggest story in Wisconsin, we are lagging behind other states in usage of vaccines, ranking 40th among states in vaccines administered. The governor is blaming the federal government but more than 418,000 doses of vaccines had been shipped to Wisconsin and only 135,261 had been used, as of this week. Wisconsin needs to follow Florida’s lead by loosening the restrictions on who gets access to it to ensure that those over the age of 65 – those who are high risk – receive a vaccine as quickly as possible.
And perhaps take former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s offer to utilize the UW system as a place for injections.
“It’s the economy, stupid.” What’s the state of the Wisconsin economy? Our bars, restaurants, and small businesses are in a crisis. Economists at the University of Wisconsin Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy estimate that foot traffic is down 28 percent in the past year. What is the plan to produce a policy environment that will help businesses re-open and grow?
The Blame Game. The governor blamed the legislature for inaction. He blamed the Republican reforms on the Unemployment Insurance backlog. He blamed the feds for the slow vaccine distribution. He blamed the courts for taking away his tools for emergency powers. As Assembly Majority Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) tweeted: “Apparently the motto that sits on @GovEvers desk reads something like ‘The buck stops….somewhere else.”
The downside of a virtual SOS was that viewers were forced to watch multiple videos throughout the speech that resembled political ads. AFP Wisconsin Director Eric Bott said it “bordered on being a political attack ad against the legislature” and called it “unprecedented” and “troubling.”
Evers dubbed 2021 as “the Year of the Broadband.” The governor is pitching a $200 million statewide broadband initiative in his upcoming biennial budget proposal. While I’m in favor of smart investments in infrastructure, let’s be clear – 2021 is the “Year of Re-opening.” And that is where lawmakers need to focus.
Lastly, what exactly is the State of the State? No seriously, what is it? Gov. Evers never actually laid out his opinion of the condition of Wisconsin.
CJ Szafir @cjszafir is president of the Institute for Reforming Government, a think tank based in Madison dedicated to advancing free market, limited government, and education reform policies. To sign up for updates on their work, please go here.