Gov. Tony Evers pledges $500M for mental health, shared revenue and PFAS remediation in State of the State


Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday in his fifth State of the State address pledged to spend more than half a billion dollars in the next state budget on workforce development, mental health care and PFAS remediation.

He also called for a dramatic overhaul in the way the state funds local governments, a change he said would increase their funding by another half-billion dollars each year.

It was Evers’ first State of the State speech since he was elected to a second term in November, and likely heralds spending priorities that he will outline in his official budget proposal in February. But Evers, a Democrat, will also face the same GOP-led legislature that blocked  most of his policy agenda in his first term, and it is unclear how much of this vision he will achieve.

Evers’ promises on Tuesday included $270 million to expand mental health care for Wisconsin students, $50 million in grants to small businesses, and $100 million to mitigate PFAS — sometimes called “forever chemicals” — in Wisconsin waterways.

These commitments are possible because of what Evers described as a “historic” state surplus: a projected $6.6 billion in the state treasury. That’s on top of about $1.7 billion in Wisconsin’s budget stabilization fund, also known as its rainy-day fund.

“Our state has never been in a better fiscal position than it is today,” Evers said.

Evers also pledged to drive 20 percent of state sales tax toward local governments for shared revenue. That’s been a “top priority” of his administration and is the largest source of state aid for local municipalities.

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said that he does not want to see a change to how the state funds municipalities until local governments change their own budgets.

The issue has been especially acute in Milwaukee, where budget shortfalls mean major cuts to public services could be possible.

Also notable was one issue that Evers did not address on Tuesday night: abortion access. He campaigned for reelection, in part, on a promise to help repeal the state’s 1849 law that bans abortion statewide, which was triggered after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last summer, eliminating the federal right to abortion access. While abortion access for Wisconsinites was a key theme of Evers’ inaugural address, he mentioned the topic just once in his State of the State, saying he had vetoed every anti-abortion bill put forward by state Republicans.

That line got robust applause from Democrats in the audience.

Evers: 2023 is the ‘Year of Mental Health’

Citing declining mental health among young people because of the pandemic, Evers declared that this year will be the “Year of Mental Health,” and promised to put $270 million towards youth mental health.

Evers pledged to make permanent a pandemic-era initiative that put millions of pandemic relief funds toward public schools’ mental health services. The state would add $270 million to that initiative, Evers said.

Evers quoted the state Office of Children’s Mental Health’s 2022 annual report, which found that about one-third of Wisconsin kids experience sadness and hopelessness almost every day.

“The state of mental health in Wisconsin is a quiet, burgeoning crisis that I believe will have catastrophic consequences for generations if we don’t treat it with the urgency it requires,” Evers said.

That will be part of an overall expenditure of about $500 million in mental healthcare statewide, Evers said, with a focus on ensuring that communities across the state have access to mental health professionals.

Sales tax revenue could go to local governments, PFAS regulation

In what he described as a bid to “find common ground,” Evers called for an allocation of state sales tax revenue for shared revenue for local communities. He said this would raise about half a billion dollars per year.

Evers also suggested he might find common ground with Republicans in his fight to regulate the synthetic chemical PFAS. Found in firefighting foam and household products like nonstick cookware, PFAS has been found in elevated levels in Wisconsin groundwater and Great Lakes fish.

But elected officials as well as environmental and industry groups have clashed over how to regulate the chemical, even as Evers has sought to make its mitigation a hallmark of his administration. He said on Tuesday that his administration would take a “three-pronged” approach of testing for, responding to and raising awareness of PFAS contamination.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.


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