(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s governor used his first speech of the new year to look back.
“As I stood before you and delivered my second State of the State address last year, the world and our state looked much different than it does now,” Gov. Tony Evers said in his speech Tuesday night. “Then things changed overnight.”
The governor mostly discussed the coronavirus. He said nearly 5,000 deaths in the state were attributable either directly or indirectly to the virus since March, and talked about the changes the virus forced on the state. He also addressed the massive federal investment in Wisconsin because of the virus.
“We were grateful to be able to invest nearly $2 billion in our state’s response. We distributed more than 26 million pieces of PPE and sanitizing supplies to hospitals, long-term care facilities, veterans’ homes, and frontline workers. We provided more than $379.1 million to help stabilize our economy and support nearly 53,000 of our small businesses, more than 15,000 farms, and our lodging, hospitality, and tourism industries. We invested more than $200 million in helping communities across Wisconsin recover,” Evers said. “But we know we have a long way to go to get our economy back on track.”
The governor said the challenges from 2020 will carry-over into 2021.
“I do not underestimate the challenges that this new year may bring, or the grief we’re still grappling with, the ramifications we’ve yet to fully realize, the new problems that may arise still this year,” Evers added.
Gov. Evers did spend time talking about Wisconsin’s unemployment issues. Thousands of people waited months in 2020 to have their claims processed by the state’s Department of Workforce Development. Thousands more waited months to be paid.
“The bottom line is that our unemployment system isn’t designed to handle the massive numbers of modern days, which has contributed to delays in processing claims, required more time to implement new federal programs, and made it harder to get benefits out the door,” Evers said. “Our antiquated system isn’t quite as old as I am, but it has been around since Richard Nixon was president — this system isn’t new, and these problems aren’t, either.”
The governor promised to “modernize” the unemployment system, and pledged to call lawmakers back into a special session to make that happen. Though he didn’t have specifics on how much such remedies would cost, or just how long it would take to implement changes.
“We know that replacing this system will take years — that’s why it should’ve been done sooner, but it’s also why we now have not another moment to waste. No politics, no posturing, send me the bill and let’s just get it done,” Evers said.
There was , however, no focus on Wisconsin’s slow-to-start vaccination program. Wisconsin is second to last in the Midwest in distributing the vaccine.
Republicans in Madison didn’t let that go unnoticed.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, on Tuesday called for the governor to unveil his coronavirus vaccine plan.
“The Governor has an opportunity to reassure people in Wisconsin that they will be vaccinated soon,” Darling said in a statement, “It’s time to put aside politics and start delivering vaccines to our most vulnerable citizens.”
Darling said Gov. Evers had months to prepare for the vaccine’s arrival, and has now had a month to get it out to the people.
“Governor Evers continues to try to shift blame for his troubled rollout of the vaccine.” Darling added. “The people of the state deserve answers from him.”
Wisconsin’s vaccine count on Tuesday showed 163,371 of the state’s 373,100 doses have been administered. In all, Wisconsin has been promised more than 600,000 vaccine doses.