The following is Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ response to the State of the State address given by Governor Tony Evers on January 12. The remarks below are as prepared by the Speaker for delivery.
The Assembly will come to order.
I would like to welcome and thank everyone who’s joining us across Wisconsin.
I’m Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and I’m honored to deliver the Republican response from the chambers of the Wisconsin State Assembly. Joining me in the chambers are legislators representing every part of Wisconsin – from the beauty of the Northwoods to the banks of the Mississippi to the neighborhoods of suburban Milwaukee and all the dairy farms in between.
Tonight I want to begin by saying thank you to the people of Wisconsin. These past 10 months have been anything but easy. The coronavirus pandemic and the response to it have presented unbelievable challenges. And Wisconsinites, true to form, met these challenges head-on.
Parents became teachers, business owners struggled to stay afloat, hospital staff and first responders worked long hours.
Unfortunately, too many of you lost a loved one. Hearing the stories of people who weren’t able to hold the hand of the person who they love the most in the world is heart-wrenching. Please know that our prayers and condolences are with each and every one of you as you grieve the loss of that special person.
To the health care workers, first responders, National Guard members, frontline workers, and every person who went above and beyond this past year, we are incredibly thankful for your sacrifice and service to your neighbors during this difficult time. So on behalf of the state of Wisconsin, thank you for going above and beyond.
While we have had much to celebrate due to the sacrifice of those who I just mentioned, unfortunately, there have been some major missteps during this pandemic that need to be solved and a sense of urgency to do so.
The tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, had to wait weeks, even months for their Unemployment Insurance benefits.
A legislative audit found that in the pandemic less than 1 percent of the calls to the state hotline were answered. Another audit found DWD had the information to clear the pending claims, but didn’t act.
These failures brought unnecessary hardship to Wisconsin families. The Evers administration owes these families answers and in many cases, an apology.
Even today, people are still waiting; 9,000 cases are in adjudication. These are not just numbers; these are real people trying to pay their bills. Just this past week, my own office got three new calls from constituents who were desperately looking for answers with their unemployment. According to recent data from the federal government, Wisconsin continues to rank in the bottom of Midwestern states in getting first payments to people.
Wisconsinites deserve better.
What’s even more concerning is the governor’s COVID vaccine distribution plan, or the lack there of. A recent report showed Wisconsin ranked 10thout of 12 Midwest states for vaccine distribution. Wisconsin doesn’t have a comprehensive rollout plan; few know where and when they’ll get a vaccine. With lives literally on the line, this is unacceptable. 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.
Wisconsin is an embarrassment compared to other states. Arizona is ramping up its vaccine rollout by opening a 24/7 distribution center at its State Farm Stadium. West Virginia has one of the best per capita vaccination rates in the nation and reportedly the first to vaccinate all that state’s nursing home residents and staff, as well as assisted living facilities. New Jersey is planning to open six vaccine “megasites” and a number of states have adopted drive thru clinics.
What is happening today in Wisconsin? The subcommittee decided prisoners should get their vaccines before your 65-year-old grandmother. That recommendation is available for public comment. I hope people e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know what you think of the plan.
Governor, if you need help, there are offers on the table from the UW System and just today the federal government. The vaccine distribution effort should be an “all-hands-on-deck” operation. There’s no room for delays or excuses. We MUST prioritize the elderly and individuals with health complications. I join many others, including a newspaper editorial board and a Wisconsin congressman, when I say: Governor Evers, do your job.
The Assembly Committee on Health will be holding a public hearing on Thursday to get to the bottom of the vaccine issue. I encourage everyone to listen in and send your questions our way.
While we have many concerns on the vaccine rollout, there is some good news to share. Today, the Wisconsin Policy Forum announced that the tax burden on Wisconsinites is at the lowest level since 1970. Governor Evers can try to take credit for it; but credit goes to the Republican leaders of this state over the past ten years. During that time, Republicans have reduced taxes by more than $13 billion. That’s more than $2,000 for every man, woman and child living in the state of Wisconsin. Because of our commitment to conservative budgeting, cutting taxes and focusing on pro-growth reforms, our state is in better financial shape than many of our neighbors.
In fact, the current state budget is projected to have a surplus; the rainy day fund is at a record high; and the state pension is fully funded. Governor Evers didn’t intend it to be that way. His first budget proposal, two years ago, was a massive tax-and-spend wish list that would have grown the size of government, expanded welfare and increased the GAAP deficit by more than $2 billion. Fortunately, legislative Republicans rewrote the spending plan, removed the liberal policy items and made the right priorities to keep Wisconsin moving in the right direction. Unlike the governor’s proposed budget that raised taxes by more than a billion dollars, our final budget cut taxes by more than $400 million.
To those listening at home, I promise you: Republicans will fight for another conservative budget, keep spending in check, continue our successful school choice programs, protect the unborn, reduce taxes even further and ensure that free speech still exists in the Badger State moving forward.
Republicans will continue to fight for an exceptional education for every single child in Wisconsin. For far too long, many of the chairs in classrooms around the state have remained empty. Why aren’t we following the science when it comes to educating our kids? Scientists across the globe including Dr. Fauci say the best place for students is IN the classroom. Let’s bring students back to school.
The COVID-19 Relief Bill as approved by the Assembly last week addresses growing concerns that we have heard from our constituents. We won’t turn our backs on families whose children are falling behind because in-person education is determined at the whims of teachers’ unions and liberal school boards. We won’t turn our backs on Wisconsin businesses who are at the mercy of public health officials who make blanket closures. We won’t allow anyone to mandate vaccinations on our citizens. And we won’t allow the executive branch to continue to fail by spending federal assistance without public input.
Late last year, we spent time negotiating with Governor Evers and our Senate colleagues to find common ground. It seems some would think the only way to find common ground is to cave into the governor’s demands. We will continue to work to reach a consensus as equals, but never compromise our conservative ideals. We look forward to bringing everyone together to support a more comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill, one that protects places of worship, limits government overreach and allows for more public input.
As President Ronald Reagan once said, “As government expands, liberty contracts.” He also said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Republicans will never forget Ronald Reagan’s sentiments. We won’t let government grow out of control and we won’t let socialism take root in our state.
In closing, let me reiterate tonight what Republicans are going to work for over the next two years. We will work to help the state recover and heal from the pandemic. We will approve a balanced budget that doesn’t raise taxes. And we will move Wisconsin forward.
Thank you for joining us and God bless the state of Wisconsin.