by Alex Ignatowski
On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers will deliver his fifth State of the State speech before both chambers of the Legislature and the judiciary. Like many governors before him, a pronouncement that the state of the state is strong is all but to be expected. But is this truly the state of affairs in Wisconsin? Is state government serving the needs of its citizens and providing the services that we all expect? With a looming recession, is state government looking at how to help Wisconsinites — or at least not make things worse?
Here is what we hope the governor will say in his address.
We hope the governor will embrace transformational tax reform that helps all taxpayers, especially the low- and middle-income families and small businesses who are most likely to be harmed by a recession. That current $6.6 billion (and growing) surplus is an indication that all people of Wisconsin have been overtaxed and are long overdue for a meaningful change in the way we tax and spend. At a time when the economic forecast is uncertain, now is the time to allow citizens and small businesses across the state to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets. Real tax reform has the potential to make our state an economic powerhouse and create a better future for Wisconsinites.
We hope that he lays out a bipartisan plan on education reform. Wisconsin is last in the country for reading proficiency among black students. That is unacceptable, and solutions are at hand in other states. Lawmakers in Mississippi tackled the issue head-on and have completely turned reading results around in their state. Evers and lawmakers can do the same here in what would be a true showing of bipartisanship. We also need to achieve parity among independent charters, voucher students, and district schools by providing equal funding.
We hope he will work with lawmakers to find a solution to the enormous backlog at the Department of Safety and Professional Services that has left many qualified professionals out of the workforce and waiting for the agency to approve their licensure applications. This past summer the department estimated that the median wait time to process the simple paperwork of an application was 46 days. However, many can attest to the anecdotal stories of healthcare workers, tradesmen, and other professionals waiting months and in some cases, over a year for their license.
We hope that he promises to lead the effort to improve the state of our veteran homes and acknowledges that the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs has not delivered on providing the care veteran residents need and deserve. In recent years, the Veterans Home at Union Grove has been under investigation because of awful living conditions and a lack of care. Even worse, the Veterans Home at King was recently in the news after two residents died due to questionable care at the facility.
We hope the governor will discuss the issues at these agencies and emphasize the need to work with lawmakers to turn them around. As the chief executive officer of the state, the governor needs to work with the “board of directors”, the Legislature, to find solutions to these glaring issues that plague state government. We hope that the governor will say that he is directing his agencies to be transparent and work with lawmakers as they carry out their duty of providing oversight over the executive branch.
The state of the state is not what it could be. Ironically, working with lawmakers to fix these problems and pass transformational tax reform could make Wisconsin the strongest state in the Midwest. If that happens, one year from now the governor can rightfully make the pronouncement that the state of the state is strong.
– – –
Alex Ignatowski is Director of State Budget and Government Reform at the Institute for Reforming Government
Photo “Tony Evers” by Tony Evers. Background Photo “Wisconsin State Capitol” by Ander107. CC BY-SA 3.0.