United States

Schools, mental health lead Evers’ second term spending initiatives

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, in his Tuesday evening State of the State address, laid out a plan to spend $2 billion more for public schools, and $1.3 billion on new mental health programs, a statewide PFAS testing program, and workforce training.

Republicans in the Legislature were less than pleased with his plans. It’s a starting point of sorts as the foundations for the state budget negotiations begin and pick up pace next month with Evers’ plan and that crafted by the Legislature with Republican majority.

“We’re now expected to end the current biennium with about $6.5 billion in our state coffers and over $1.7 billion in the ‘rainy day fund,’” Evers said in his speech to lawmakers. “And that’s great news, Wisconsin. It means we can continue our progress making the wise investments we’ve long needed to – and not because anyone wants to make government bigger, but because Wisconsinites want a government that works, and works better.”

Among those critical was Brett Healy, with the conservative think tank MacIver Institute, said the governor started his speech by promising not to grow government, and then spent the rest of the night pitching a plan to do just that. He said the budget surplus represents “over taxation.”

“In a time of generationally high inflation, when consumers are paying more than $5 for a dozen eggs, the governor, and far too many elected officials along with him, are salivating at the prospect of spending those dollars that would make a world of difference in family budgets,” Healy said.

Evers said the funding system for schools is not sustainable.

“For years, communities have raised their own property taxes to keep their local schools afloat,” he said. “And while some school districts have successfully passed referenda to help keep the school lights on, many have tried and failed. This system means drastic differences in outcomes for our kids – creating winners and losers, haves, and have-nots.”

The PFAS testing plan comes as federal and state officials are learning more about forever chemicals, and potential health impact.

PFAS, an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time. Studies vary on their harmful effects; more is known about their impact on animals than on humans. PFAS, the Environmental Protection Agency says, “are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation” and throughout the world.

The November election winner, who clipped Republican Tim Michels by just over 90,000 votes for a second four-year term in Madison, also pitched a plan to send millions more to local governments in so-called shared revenue.

“The bottom line for me has always been making sure our communities have the resources they need to meet basic and unique needs alike,” Evers said. “But there are a lot of different ways we can find compromise to achieve that goal, and together we will.”

He is proposing to send 20% of the state’s sales tax revenue to local governments. Republicans are expected to put that figure at 1%.

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