MADISON, Wis. - Gov.-elect Tony Evers says he'll begin his first week on the job by touring the Lincoln Hills youth prison, settling in his new cabinet secretaries and starting work on a state budget that will include a $1.4 billion increase for public schools and possibly policy items like criminalizing first offense drunken driving.
Evers sat down with News 3 for an interview Wednesday just days before he'll take the oath of office as Wisconsin's 46th governor.
In his final week before taking office, Evers says he is still finalizing cabinet appointments, including for the Department of Health Services and the Department of Children and Families, and is planning what he'll do in his first week in office.
.@Tony4WI says he will emphasize civility and compromise in inaugural address. “People may say ‘Oh my god, he’s dreaming. What has Evers been smoking?’ But the fact of the matter is we have to do things for the people of the state of WI.” #news3 pic.twitter.com/tLLkDTkA8f— Jessica Arp (@news3jessica) January 2, 2019
"We have some small executive orders that are going to be done that are sort of general in nature but the most important thing to me is to make sure that we get our cabinet secretaries off to a good start and that we have government serving the people of Wisconsin," Evers said.
Evers said the first week he intends to visit Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake schools, the state's youth prisons that have seen major issues under current Gov. Scott Walker, which he pledged to do during the 2018 campaign. Evers said he also plans to hold a number of meetings with state legislators.
"It's about relationship building, about my promise to the people in Wisconsin about Lincoln Hills and making that visit," Evers said. "We're going to be working on budget that's going to be very time consuming. But I'm going to spend as much time as I can visiting places in Wisconsin that have state facilities, making sure that the people that work in state government feel like they have a comfort level with my administration but we'll be doing outreach in other areas, the business community, and visiting schools of course."
The governor-elect calls himself an "eternal optimist" and says he does not believe residents need to be concerned about gridlock between a Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic administration.
"I think our success is based on returning to some basic Wisconsin values like being civil and having good debate, finding common ground, respecting differences," Evers said. "That's me, first of all, and I am who I am and that's the way I'm going to operate, and I believe at the end of the day the Legislature will too."
Evers says he'll address the issue of compromise and optimism in his inaugural address on Jan. 7.
"I know people may say 'Oh my God, he's dreaming. What has Evers been smoking?' but the fact of the matter is this: We have to do things for the people of the state of Wisconsin. That's what they expect government to do," Evers said. "I'll use this as a small but frankly weird example. If President Trump and Kim Kardashian can come together to create criminal justice reform at the national level, Evers and [Assembly Speaker Robin] Vos and [Senate Majority Leader Scott] Fitzgerald should be able to do that here."
Those legislative leaders ended 2018 by casting doubt about whether they will even begin work on the state budget with the one the Evers administration will introduce.
Evers says that measure will include provisions for education that he included the budget he proposed as state superintendent of public instruction.
"[A] $1.4 billion increase [for education], $600 million of that for special education kids, having a funding system that is fair and if districts have an inordinate number of poor kids or English language learners, they should get more money. That will all be a part of the budget," Evers said. "We will be putting a budget together that has a Medicaid expansion in it. We have to have that in the state of Wisconsin, that's something I ran on and hopefully we'll have a resolution on how we will look at roads and that will be in the budget too."
Republican lawmakers have cast doubt on whether they would approve a Medicaid expansion, which had been rejected under the Walker administration.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Evers said he would consider vetoing the entire state budget if they ignore his proposals and write their own spending plan.
Evers says he has not yet decided whether a gas tax increase will be included in the budget.
"One of the reasons I hired who I hired as transportation secretary, Craig Thompson, is he's knowledgeable in all the policy options here. He's worked across the aisle, [he's] someone who can convene people and reach some conclusions, so hopefully those conclusions will be reached before too long, and we've been doing that with our advisory councils and will continue doing that in the beginning part of the budget," Evers said.
In fact, Evers said he believes transportation may be one of the initial areas on which he could find common ground with Republicans.
"Its Gov. Walker's position was let's borrow our way out of this problem and there's no one else that believes that," Evers said. "Whatever solution we will come up with, we will have bipartisan support and I think we can make a change."
Also, following a number of drunken driving crashes over the New Year holiday, Evers pledged again to look at first offense drunken driving.
In an interview today following a tragic alleged drunk driving crash that killed a firefighter over the weekend, @Tony4WI says “we need to send a message”, says he will look at criminalizing 1st offense OWI or even making it a felony. #news3 pic.twitter.com/fQ7aYVezOI— Jessica Arp (@news3jessica) January 2, 2019
"We have to change. There's obviously a cultural thing in this state that we have to work on but we have to find ways to make that first offense more meaningful to the offenders so they don't offend again or don't offend the first time," Evers said. "Whether that's making it a felony or not, I'm not sure. There might be some in-between places we can be, but clearly we need to send a message to the people of Wisconsin. I mean we just lost a firefighter that was trying to help somebody out and because of a crash by an alleged drunk driver. We can't have that in the state. I know "gemuttlichkeit" is part of our culture but we can have that and not drive drunk at the same time. But we're one of the few states that doesn't take that very seriously and we have to."
When asked whether he would include a provision criminalizing drunken driving in his first state budget, Evers said he would consider it.
In an interview with Wispolitics.com, Evers said he would not propose doing away with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state's job creation agency, in his first budget.
"I just think that having more accountability for that organization and transparency, I think, is important," Evers told WisPolitics.com. "Whether WEDC stays or doesn't stay, that's something we have to look at."
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