Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 13, 2021
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers used his State of the State address Tuesday to remind Wisconsin of the rough time he faced in 2020 and to lay out some of his big-ticket, bigger government proposals.
But the virtual governor, delivering the annual speech virtually, spent most of his time attacking his conservative opponents, many of whom were in the Assembly chamber as Evers delivered his virtual address.
Republicans hit back in a scouring speech by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos that laid down the gauntlet of the political and idealogical battles ahead.
Evers blasted the Republican-led Legislature for legislative inaction in the months following bipartisan passage of a COVD-19 relief package in April. What he left out is that the state Legislature and the federal government gave the Evers administration more than $2 billion to effectively spend as the governor saw fit to fight the pandemic.
While the governor spoke of the challenges health care providers and small businesses faced because of the pandemic, he left out the fact that his extended statewide lockdown early on put restaurants out of business, hotels on the brink of ruin, and hundreds of thousands of people out of work.
He again blamed old technology and the Republican-controlled Legislature’s failure to replace it for a state Unemployment Insurance System that failed so miserably when a flood of claims began pouring in during the last weeks of March — claims in large part created by Evers’ ill-advised stay-at-home order.
“Our antiquated system isn’t quite as old as I am, but it has been around since Richard Nixon was president—this system isn’t new, and these problems aren’t, either,” he said.
To fix it, Evers said he’ll call a special session of the Legislature “to take up a plan to modernize our unemployment system and help ensure nothing like this happens to the people of Wisconsin again.”
It’s still happening.
Vos noted federal data showing Wisconsin still ranking in the bottom of Midwestern states in getting first unemployment insurance payments out to claimants. Some 9,000 claims recently remained stuck in adjudication.
“These failures brought unnecessary hardship to Wisconsin families. The Evers administration owes these families answers and in many cases, an apology,” the Speaker said.
Worse yet, Vos added, has been Evers’ disastrous COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan — “or lack thereof.”
The state, again, lags behind its Midwest neighbors and much of the country in percentage of residents vaccinated. And while Evers blames the Trump administration and others for delayed vaccine supply, the fact is his administration has failed to move much of the vaccine doses it has received.
“There is no sense of urgency with the Evers administration. They’ve had months to develop a plan and a subcommittee is still deciding who should get the vaccine next,” Vos said. He added that the same subcommittee on Tuesday decided prisoners will be vaccinated before many senior citizens.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services Vaccine Distribution Subcommittee recommends prisoners, child care workers, teachers and people 70 and over be the next in line. The State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee still needs to sign off on the plan. It differs from the Trump administration’s guidance, which says those 65 and older and adults with serious health problems should now receive the vaccine.
“The subcommittee decided prisoners should get their vaccines before your 65-year-old grandmother,” Vos said. He urged Wisconsinites to let the administration know what they think of the plan by sending an email to [email protected].
Evers didn’t seem to instil much confidence in a rapid turnaround.
“I know folks are eager to put this virus in the past—frankly, I am, too. I know so many are ready to get vaccinated and get back to life as we knew it, and we are working to distribute vaccine doses as quickly and as fairly as we can,” he said.
The governor did declare 2021, “The Year of Broadband Access.” He said his 2021-23 biennial budget will invest nearly $200 million into expanding broadband across the state — “five times the amount invested” between 2013 and 2017.
“It’s 2021, folks—having access to high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Evers said.
Such massive spending initiatives are unlikely to make the cut in a Republican-led Legislature and in such a challenging economic time.
Vos vowed that Republicans will fight for a conservative budget, checking spending and continuing the state’s successful school choice programs. Despite the economic uncertainties, he pledged another round of tax cuts and that Republicans will “ensure that free speech still exists in the Badger State moving forward.”
And the Speaker laid down another idealogical line in the sand which could turn out to be the rallying cry for conservatives on the road the 2022 election.
“We won’t let government grow out of control and we won’t let socialism take root in our state,” Vos said.