MADISON — In Tuesday evening's State of the State address, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said much of his 2021 plans would focus on some of the major issues exposed by last year's pandemic.
In his speech, Evers highlighted three items of focus for his campaign this year—access to broadband, the unemployment system and gerrymandering.
Evers declared 2021 the "Year of Broadband Access." He shared that according to the FCC, more than 430,000 people who make up 25 percent of the state's rural population lack access to high-speed internet. That puts Wisconsin at 36th in the country for accessibility in rural areas.
"We are reminded now that in the fight for progress and prosperity we each share responsibility. And it begins with broadband," Ever said. "This pandemic has underscored—and in some ways, exacerbated—the digital divide that exists across our state. This pandemic has shown us firsthand that lack of access to high-speed internet continues to be a setback for kids, families, and businesses across our state."
Evers said his 2021-23 biennial budget will invest nearly $200 million over the biennium into broadband, five times the amount invested in the 2013, 2015 and 2017 budgets combined.
"It’s 2021, folks—having access to high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity," he said. "Every Wisconsinite across our state should have access to reliable, high-speed internet. Period."
Evers announced that he will be calling a special session of the legislature to discuss plans to modernize the unemployment system to ensure nothing like 2020 happens again.
"The fact of the matter is that previous administrations and more than a decades’ worth of legislators have known this system was outdated and couldn’t handle an economic crisis like the one this pandemic presented, and they never took the time to fix it," he said. "To make matters worse, the Legislature spent the last decade passing laws deliberately making it even harder for people to access these critical supports when they need it the most, exacerbating the problems with our already-outdated system.
"This past year brought to bear the inaction of my predecessors and members of this and previous legislatures who avoided their responsibility and duty for far too long," Evers continued. "Well, I’ll tell you this: it’s gone on long enough. It ends tonight."
In last year's address, Evers began the People's Maps Commission, a nonpartisan redistricting committee from each congressional district to draw fair maps based on the 2020 Census.
"Now, Republicans in the Legislature said right away they’d ignore any maps the Commission created," he said. "That’s not a surprise given that in 2011 the Legislature hired private attorneys to draw our maps in secret and behind closed doors. And because the Legislature wrote themselves out of Wisconsin’s public records law, they were able to destroy many of the public records from that process."
Evers said that moving forwarding, he is going to ensure maps are drawn in the public eye and with public input.
"We’re also going to prevent the Legislature from destroying records from the map-drawing process because the people of our state deserve to know how these maps are drawn and by whom," he added. "Finally, and most importantly, we are going to require the Legislature to take up The People’s Maps, which will be drawn not by any political party or high-paid consultants, but by the people of our state."