The state of the state, including the truth

M.D. Kittle reports on what Tony Evers said Tuesday night:

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, surgingpersonal 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.”

Now the reality, from Dan O’Donnell:

My fellow Wisconsinites, the state of our state is strong. Not because of anything the man delivering this year’s State of the State address did, mind you.

It’s quite the opposite, actually.

The state of our state is strong because of the man he defeated and the men and women he is now pledging to oppose. The state of our state is strong because of the policies that he is promising to undo.

In fact, my fellow Wisconsinites, the best thing Governor Tony Evers can do to keep the state of our state strong is absolutely nothing. If he wants to keep Wisconsin moving forward, he can take a backseat to a Republican State Legislature that has presided over unprecedented growth.

Naturally, he won’t, but it will behoove him to at least consider how strong Wisconsin has grown over the past eight years.

The state ended the 2017-2018 Fiscal Year with a $588.5 million budget surplus and a whopping $1.53 billion in its General Fund. By way of contrast, Wisconsin ended the final year of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle’s tenure in 2010 facing a $3.6 billion budget shortfall and ended the 2009-2010 Fiscal Year with only $71.0 million in the General Fund.

Doyle’s policies were so disastrous for Wisconsin that what had been $835.7 million in the General Fund at the end of the long tenure of Republican Governor Tommy Thompson dropped a staggering 82 percent in just ten years.

When Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature took over in 2011, though, the state’s financial picture immediately brightened. Wisconsin had a budget surplus in each of the past eight years, and after eight years of Republican rule the state now has $320.1 million in its “rainy day” fund—190 times higher than the $1.68 million with which Governor Doyle and the Democratic Legislature left it.

Negligent mismanagement of Wisconsin’s finances forced the Democrats to hike taxes by $3 billion in Governor Doyle’s final biennial budget, but after eight years of Walker and a Republican Legislature, the tax burden on Wisconsinites has declined by a staggering $8 billion.

Not coincidentally, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate rose from 5.5 percent in December of 2002 (the month before Doyle took office) to 8.2 percent in December of 2010 (his last full month in office) and then dropped to 3.0 percent in Governor Walker’s last full month in office this past December.

That was the fifth straight month of 3.0 percent unemployment after state-record lows of 2.8 percent in April and May.

At no point during Doyle’s governorship did unemployment drop below 4.3 percent.

Because so many more people are working than when Doyle left office, Wisconsin’s total general purpose revenueshit $8.48 billion in 2018, compared with $6.09 billion in 2010 (even though the tax burden on individual Wisconsinites was much higher).

In 2010, Wisconsin’s poverty rate was 13.0 percent and approximately 733,000 people lived below the state’s poverty line while an additional 983,000 lived close to it. By 2018, though, the poverty rate was down to 11.3 percent and the total number of people living in poverty dropped to 639,564.

And not only are more people out of poverty after eight years of Republican reforms, people are making more money.

New MacIver Institute research finds that “Wisconsin’s private-sector wages grew on average by 5.7 percent in the first five months of 2018, according to Census Bureau data. That compares to 2.7 percent for the entire U.S. Last year alone Wisconsin median household income rose more than $1,000 to about $59,300, according to the Census Bureau. The state averaged a 3.6 percent increase in earnings, compared to the national average of 2.8 percent.”

By literally every indicator, the state of our state is infinitely stronger today than the last time a Democratic Governor was in office. And our state can remain strong if its new Democratic Governor recognizes what has worked for the past eight years and what failed for the eight years before that.

Governor Evers is now calling for what amounts to a return to the Doyle economy as he proposes the same bloated spending that will lead to the same confiscatory tax hikes that already led Wisconsin to the brink of ruin.

Yet today, the state of our state is strong, and if Evers wants to keep it that way, the best thing he can do is simply step back and let Republican policies strengthen it even further.

Evers got bad news Wednesday, reported by The Cap Times:

A legal analysis prepared Wednesday by a legislative attorney says Gov. Tony Evers does not have the authority to order the state’s attorney general to withdraw from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, despite Evers’ declaration on Tuesday that he would do so.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, requested the memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau after Evers announced in his State of the State address that he had sent Attorney General Josh Kaul a letter directing him to pull Wisconsin out of the multi-state lawsuit.

According to the memo, Kaul can only withdraw the state from the lawsuit with the approval of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Last year, then-Gov. Scott Walker authorized then-Attorney General Brad Schimel to join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Obama-era health care law.

Evers and Kaul both campaigned on a promise to remove the state from the lawsuit, but Evers’ power to do so without legislative approval was removed in a set of laws passed by the Republican-led Legislature after he was elected. A federal judge in Texas ruled the ACA unconstitutional in December, but it is still being enforced as the lawsuit is appealed.

Addressing the Legislature Tuesday evening, Evers said he had sent Kaul a letter instructing him to pull out of the lawsuit.

“I cannot continue to allow the use of taxpayer resources toward a lawsuit that could undermine the health security of the people of the state,” Evers wrote in a letter that was hand-delivered to Kaul on Tuesday.

In the letter, Evers said he is “immediately withdrawing the authority provided” by a section of state law that previously allowed Wisconsin to enter the case.

According to the LRB analysis provided to Fitzgerald, the statute Evers cited addresses the governor’s ability to request the attorney general join a lawsuit, but not the authority to withdraw. A separate statute — changed in the recent lame-duck session — previously allowed a governor to authorize such a withdrawal, but under the changes approved in December, the attorney general can only exit a lawsuit with the approval of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Asked about the memo Wednesday afternoon, an Evers spokeswoman said she had not seen it yet.

When said spokeswoman did, the Wisconsin State Journal reported:

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers Wednesday walked back a vow he made to withdraw the state from the Affordable Care Act lawsuit less than 24 hours after making the commitment in his first State of the State address.

“The governor has not directed the attorney general to take any specific course of action, he has simply withdrawn his authority for this lawsuit,” Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in a statement.

Evers’ reversal comes after the release Wednesday of a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau that splashed cold water on Evers’ plans to withdraw Wisconsin from an ongoing multi-state lawsuit seeking to invalidate the ACA.

The memo, sent to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, states there is no legal way for the new governor to fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw the state from the suit.

“There is thus no provision … allowing the governor to request, require or approve the attorney general to compromise or discontinue an action,” LRB attorney Sarah Walkenhorst wrote. “It is only the Joint Committee on Finance that has the authority to approve any compromise or discontinuance of an action in which the attorney general’s participation was requested.” …

Under previous law, Evers would have had the authority to withdraw the state from the suit. But that all changed after Republicans in December passed their controversial lame-duck law, which eliminated the governor’s ability to remove the state from lawsuits without legislative approval. …

Kaul after the State of the State address declined to provide detail on if and how he would withdraw the state from the lawsuit, except to say that the Department of Justice would remain consistent with the law.

 

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