MADISON, WI -- During his first State of the State address, Democratic Governor Tony Evers called for bipartisanship, urging the Republican-controlled legislature to focus on the issues that matter most to the people of Wisconsin.
Evers spoke a lot about focusing on important priorities like the economy and school funding, instead of being distracted by division.
He also set clear expectations about the bills that make it to his desk. Evers wants the legislation to be passed with broad bipartisan support.
“The state of our state is that we have work to do and we're ready for bipartisan solutions,” Evers said.
The governor called for lawmakers to reach across the aisle early on in his address.
“I think the governor outlined a few areas that we can work together over the next two years,” Senate President Roger Roth (R-Appleton) said. “If we can do that, it's going to be a very productive session.”
The governor's message of staying away from the divisive issues was heard loud and clear by both parties, though Republicans were disappointed with the tone at times.
“What we're going to continue to do is to look for areas that we know we can find bipartisan agreement on,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said. “His [Evers] tax cut with our surplus. The pre-existing conditions bill is taking up at least one of the things he [Evers] asked for in the bill. That's called compromise, so I think that we certainly have a good first start. I was disappointed in the rhetoric, but I guess I'm coming to realize that what they say at campaign time doesn't always match up with the rhetoric of what they hope to do inside the Capitol.”
During his campaign, Governor Evers promised to withdraw Wisconsin from the multi-state lawsuit seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That's something he still intends to make good on, regardless of the rift it's likely to cause.
“That’s why I’m announcing tonight that I have fulfilled a promise I made to the people of Wisconsin by directing Attorney General Kaul to withdraw from a lawsuit that would gut coverage for the 2.4 million Wisconsinites who have pre-existing conditions,” Evers said during the address.
Republicans say that directive goes against a law passed during the lame-duck session requiring legislative approval to withdraw.
“Of course that would be illegal for the Attorney General to withdraw from the lawsuit,” Vos said.
Some Democrats say the issue should be left to the judicial branch to sort out.
“That directive meant a lot,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said. “I think it's the most important thing we can do for Wisconsinites on pre-existing conditions and I'm hopeful it will move forward.”
Though each party has differing ideas on healthcare, tax cuts did get a standing ovation from the whole chamber.
“When the governor said tax cuts for a family [earning] up to 150 [thousand dollars] and individuals up to $100,000, the Republicans stood up,” Senate Assistant Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason) said. “They applauded. They spontaneously stood up. They liked that tax cut.”
It's issues like those that will likely be a starting point in this new legislative session.
The focus will now shift to the governor's state budget proposal, which was also outlined during his address.
Aside from his budget priorities, Governor Evers did make one other expectation clear: he wants the legislature to take up the budget he crafted with the people of Wisconsin instead of a new one.