MacIver News Service | Jan. 22, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — In his first state of the state address Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers painted a bleak picture of a Wisconsin floundering in failure, a state gripped by poverty, and hopelessness plaguing the average home.
In other words, the Democrat created an alternative universe.
He had to. The reality — record-low unemployment for the better part of a year, surging personal income, more good-paying jobs than there are people to fill them — wouldn’t do for a liberal governor pushing a grow-government agenda.
Evers certainly wasn’t going to give his predecessor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, or the Republican-controlled Legislature any credit for the state’s prosperity and manifold successes.
And while he preached cooperation and bipartisanship, he did so with a noticeable it’s-my-way-or-the-highway tone that turned off a lot of the people across the aisle he’ll have to work with if he wants to accomplish anything but saying no.
“…(T)he state of our state is that we’ve got work to do, and we’re ready for bipartisan solutions,” Evers told the joint session of the Assembly and Senate.
Missing from his progress report was the fact that the new governor has inherited an economy that has created eight straight surpluses, including the latest coming in at $588 million.
“Governor Evers takes over at one of the most prosperous times in state history. Thanks to Governor Walker and Republicans, Wisconsin is in a better place than it was the last time a Democrat controlled the Governor’s Mansion. No matter how he spins it, our economy is in great shape,” said state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) in a press release following Evers’ speech.
“Our economy doesn’t need fixing, it needs fanning,” Darling added.
Glossing over those positive facts, Evers plunged headlong into the despair narrative, lamenting a state that is among the “worst to raise a black family,” a state that spends more on corrections than “the entire UW system” (he forgets to note, however, that the higher education budget in Wisconsin from all funding sources is four times more than corrections).
He poo-pooed the surplus, and the fact that said surpluses have been created even as Republicans have cut state taxes by a combined $8.5 billion over the past eight years.
“The strength of our success is not found solely in fiscal surplus; it’s defined, too, by the number of our kids who will go to school hungry tomorrow,” Evers said, adding to his too-many-left-behind narrative.
And then he went beyond spin into fuzzy math.
“We are a state that was the birthplace of BadgerCare, and we’ve been a laboratory for democracy. But today, we are also a state where it’s become cheaper to get health care by driving across the Mississippi River,” Evers said.
It appears the governor is hanging on to the left’s blind love for all things Minnesota, and a key talking point from his campaign. It’s all part of Evers’ lambasting of Republicans for refusing to take the many-strings-attached federal money to expand Medicaid in the Badger State. Talk is cheap, but Minnesota’s Affordable Care Act bills aren’t.
The Minnesota myth, promoted by left-wing groups, fails to take into account how much taxpayer cash the Gopher State had to pump into the system to prop up Minnesota liberals’ full embrace of Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion.
Minnesota faced the fourth-highest premium spikes in 2017, expected to increase by a staggering 59 percent, as opposed to Wisconsin’s 16 percent hike. As a result, Minnesota was forced to come up with $300 million to bail out 123,000 struggling Minnesotans who did not qualify for federal Obamacare subsidies.
But Evers used the old Minnesota chestnut to make the case for a signature piece of his agenda and upcoming biennial budget proposal: Medicaid expansion.
“This would also save Wisconsin taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, allowing us to reallocate those cost savings to other critical programs,” Evers said, skipping past the mandated 10 percent the Badger State will have to kick in for all that “free money” and the connected red tape that has driven up health care costs in so many states.
Declaring that it’s time to “stop playing politics with our health care,” Evers announced he would play politics with health care, instructing liberal Attorney General Josh Kaul to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. Former Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel helped lead the 20-state suit. Last month a federal judge declared Obamacare unconstitutional, a ruling that was immediately challenged.
While he hammered home the need for the political players in Madison to find common ground, Evers laid out an agenda long on liberal policy and payoffs to political pals.
The new governor pitched another task force to deal with Wisconsin’s “transportation funding crisis,” a “crisis” bought and paid for by the road-building lobby. Evers pointed to his Department of Transportation secretary nominee, top road lobbyist Craig Thompson, who has suggested increased gas taxes are on the table, allowing his old friends to grab a bigger share of taxpayer cash.
“I appointed Secretary-designee Craig Thompson because I know that he will work on both sides of the aisle for a solution that works for Wisconsin,” Evers said. “I fully expect that he will be approved with consent of the Senate.” A number of fiscal hawks in the Senate have concerns about the lobbyist at the helm of the state transportation budget.
There appears to be lots of spending ahead in the first Evers budget, which the governor says he’d like to roll out in early March (Republicans are giving him a deadline extension to the end of February). There’s a proposed five-fold increase in mental health programs for K-12 students; an “unprecedented $600 million” increase in special education funding; the return of two-thirds state funding committed to K-12 schools.
It’s all about connecting the dots, the Democrat said.
Darling said there’s a disconnect in the governor’s message.
“The governor talked a lot about connecting the dots, but didn’t connect his ideas to how he will pay for them. He talked a lot about bipartisanship, but so far, his only answer to the legislature has been ‘no,’” the senator said.
Evers eschewed bipartisanship again when he outright rejected an Assembly Republican middle-class tax cut plan. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) dubbed it the “Tony Evers Middle-Class Tax Cut” plan because it closely resembles a proposal the governor campaigned on. But while the Republican plan would deliver targeted tax relief to the middle class using $340 million of the state’s surplus, Evers’ proposal calls for paying for his tax cut by getting rid of the popular manufacturing and agriculture tax credit.
“So instead, we’re going to fund tax relief for hard-working families by capping a corporate tax credit, 80 percent of which goes to filers making more than $1 million a year,” Evers said, spinning the facts once again.
The tax credit led to the creation of 42,000 jobs between 2013 and 2016, according to a University of Wisconsin study. More than 88 percent of tax credit recipients in 2017 were small businesses with incomes of less than $1 million — not the kind of big corporate interests the left would lead taxpayers to believe.
“More than 10,000 employees of all different sizes took advantage of the MAC (in 2017), and that has allowed them to invest more in their businesses, their workers and their communities,” Scott Manley, senior vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said in a statement last year.
Neither Evers’ plan nor the Assembly Republican tax relief package talks about trimming government expenses to help fund the tax cut.
After all that, the new governor said he expects legislation arriving on his desk passed with “broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship.”
State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) said Wisconsin is in great shape thanks to Republican reforms over the past eight years. It’s now the Legislature’s job, he said, to continue to make good fiscal decisions and remain a “watchdog.”
In other words, the battle lines are being drawn in divided government in the Badger State.
“I was hopeful Governor Evers would come to his senses and work with the legislature to return this surplus to the hardworking taxpayers,” Kapenga said in a press release. “However, after his address tonight, it’s pretty clear that he is more interested in returning to the failed tax and spend policies of the past.”