Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, in his first State of the State speech Tuesday, called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to scale back a corporate tax credit program to pay for middle class income tax cuts, “sacrifice” to find a bipartisan solution for road funding and work together to bolster spending for schools to help close the achievement gap.
“The realities we face are bigger than me or any political party,” Evers said in his speech as prepared for delivery. “The magnitude of our challenges requires us to put people first because, as I’ve said, that is the promise of our service.”
Evers said he expected solutions addressing the issues to pass “with broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship.”
That doesn’t appear likely with Republican leaders calling the speech “disappointing.” They vowed to oppose some of Evers’ top priorities, including expanding Medicaid and paying for the income tax cut by capping corporate tax credits.
“I am disappointed by today, but hopefully tomorrow he begins the process of actually looking at the areas we could work together on,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.
In a move causing further unrest, Evers sent Attorney General Josh Kaul a letter withdrawing the authority given by former Gov. Scott Walker to have Wisconsin join a multistate lawsuit seeking repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Evers’ order appears to fly in the face of a Republican-passed law during last month’s lame-duck legislative session that requires the Legislature to sign off on leaving the lawsuit. Evers did not explain in the speech how his order would be lawful.
Kaul, who applauded when Evers announced the move in his speech, was noncommittal after the address. Kaul said he would promptly respond and “take action consistent with the law.”
Vos said it would be illegal for Kaul to withdraw from the lawsuit without approval of the Legislature.
The governor also called for expanding Medicaid coverage to about 76,000 more poor people, relying on federal money to save the state about $180 million a year. Republicans have long opposed accepting the federal Medicaid expansion, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Evers should “give up on it.”
Both Evers and Assembly Republicans have proposed cutting income taxes by 10 percent, but they disagree on how to do it. Evers wants to scale back a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit program Republicans support. GOP lawmakers instead want to tap reserves to pay for a tax cut targeting the middle class.
Evers said the Republican approach was unsustainable.
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep, and I’m not going to propose things that we can’t pay for,” he said.
Republicans said they liked the proposal to cut income taxes but wouldn’t pay for it the way Evers wants.
“He has a lot of good ideas that we’d like to do,” said Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee. “The issue is how are we going to pay for it?”
Evers also called for increasing the state’s share of funding for K-12 schools to two-thirds of costs. That would require an increase in funding of $1.4 billion over the next two years, but Republicans have balked at the price tag.
Evers said his budget would include $600 million for special education funding. He also pledged to “get to work” on closing the achievement gap for low-income and non-white students.
On transportation, Evers called for “sacrifices and compromises to find a long-term, comprehensive solution that works for everyone.” He has yet to propose a plan or amount of funding, but he has previously said he is open to raising gas taxes.
Evers also pledged to tackle lead drinking water lines, saying he will soon sign an executive order to designate a person within the state Department of Health Services to take charge of the issue and to help secure federal funding for prevention and treatment programs.
The Democratic governor and the Republicans who control the Assembly 63-35 and the Senate 19-14 have gotten off to a rocky start.
Republicans met in a lame-duck special session last month to weaken Evers’ powers before he took office, a move Evers and other Democrats decried as a power grab.
GOP leaders, in another move designed to reduce Evers’ control, are also talking about breaking with tradition to write their own state budget instead of working off what Evers will propose, likely in late February.
Evers said he wants lawmakers to take up his version of the budget rather than create their own. He has said he would consider vetoing the entire budget if Republicans summarily reject what he proposes.
Fixing the economy is also a priority, Evers said, and he referenced his calling on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to create an innovation and entrepreneurship committee to work with entrepreneurs and support innovation. He said Wisconsin has fallen behind on broadband internet expansion, small-business creation and keeping health care costs down.
Evers campaigned on dissolving the economic development agency created under Walker, but since his victory, he has reversed position and said he won’t propose any organizational changes.
Tom Eckert recalls a time when he was recuperating from surgery at home.
Sister Lauretana Gorman of Janesville’s St. John Vianney Catholic Church invited him on a day trip to boost his spirits.
The two drove to Sister Lauretana’s motherhouse at Sinsinawa Mound in southwestern Wisconsin.
“We had a chance to talk about prayer, life and what was going on in our lives,” Eckert said.
He was not surprised that Sister Lauretana invited him, a longtime member of the church, to accompany her.
“She just does stuff like that,” Eckert explained. “She’s a great listener. It’s a gift that she has.”
Like Eckert, many parishioners have stories of kindness about Sister Lauretana.
So it is no wonder she will be deeply missed when she retires at the end of January. One parishioner called her “the glue that holds together the parish family.”
Sister Lauretana will be leaving after more than 62 years of consecrated religious life as a Sinsinawa Dominican.
Almost 24 of those years were as pastoral minister at St. John Vianney.
Sister Lauretana spends her days visiting people who are ill or confined to their homes, the hospital or nursing homes. She talks to them, listens to them and brings them Holy Communion if they wish.
“I know several people whom she visits on a regular basis, and they have expressed to me how much they will miss her,” parishioner Joan Prendergast said. “There are a lot of people who really love her. She has a big heart.”
Prendergast once shared office space with Sister Lauretana when Prendergast worked for the church.
“We became very good friends,” Prendergast said. “I feel blessed to have known her all these years. She’s going to be really missed by our church community.”
Sister Lauretana excelled in her pastoral ministry.
But she did not start out helping the sick and the elderly.
For decades after professing her vows, she was a teacher and taught in many places, including Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.
“I thought it was my first love,” Sister Lauretana said. “But my current ministry working with the elderly, sick and dying has been my favorite. I so appreciate all the people I have met.”
She is thankful to have had interactions with grieving families.
“I encouraged them to open up,” Sister Lauretana said. “I was able to pray with and be at one with them.”
She did not always know the right thing to say, but she trusted God to guide her in her words and her behavior.
“The Lord has enabled me to do what I should do,” Sister Lauretana said. “When people are sick, no one has all the answers. But I have that strong feeling that, if I am living in the moment, I will be guided in the moment by God.”
Sister Lauretana came to Janesville in the early 1990s to care for her mother, who died in 2000.
She gave up teaching at an inner-city school in Milwaukee to be a caregiver. But she found she did not have to be home all the time. Eventually, she volunteered at St. Mary School as an aide.
Later, she responded to an ad for pastoral minister at St. John Vianney and got the position.
The Rev. Paul Ugo Arinze, pastor at St. John Vianney, said Sister Lauretana’s sensitivity and presence make her well-suited for the role.
“She really understands people,” Arinze said. “She is always very present in their lives and situations. She brings hope to them as much as she brings Communion.”
Sister Lauretana said age plays a factor in her retirement.
“I’m 84,” she said. “It’s time. I’m grateful for all the blessings I have had to this point. I will miss Janesville and a lot of things I did when I was younger and more independent.”
Sister Lauretana will resign at the end of January but won’t leave to retire at Sinsinawa Mound for several weeks.
Of her many years as a nun, she said:
“It was exciting. It was enjoyable. It was hard work. I have no regrets about being a sister.”
When Johnson Financial Group regional President Larry Squire moved to Janesville 28 years ago, he came here to do banking—and to run one of his family’s pick-your-own strawberry farms in Roscoe, Illinois.
Squire’s still banking, but he no longer moonlights in the strawberry business.
Most people in Janesville aren’t aware that someone they know as a local bank vice president and community leader has a farming background, Squire said.
“You just learn the joy of hard work. You see something that you do all this work and planning, and work with a lot of people and get it to a point of success. That’s just very rewarding,” he said.
Squire will receive Forward Janesville’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday at the Pontiac Convention Center. He is one of several business leaders and companies the local chamber of commerce is honoring at its annual awards luncheon.
A Burlington native who grew up farming, Squire is regional President of Johnson Financial Group in downtown Janesville. In a letter of support to Forward Janesville, Squire’s boss, Johnson Financial CEO and President James Popp, called him “open and approachable” yet possessing a “fierce passion to succeed.”
Popp also called Squire a man of “humility, grace and class” whom others consider a role model.
Squire said the idea of receiving a lifetime achievement award is humbling. In his years as a banker—first at the former M&I Bank and for the last 18 years at Johnson Bank—Squire said he has become a community leader, but that didn’t happen without growing pains.
Squire remembers attending bank board meetings and watching the room go silent. He then realized that people were turning to him, waiting for him to speak, to take the helm. He said that was difficult at first and not something he was readily comfortable with.
Squire believes leadership in a company or community is a natural result of a collection of interactions and relationships with other people. It comes from encouraging others and accepting encouragement from them.
“You never know when the relationship you create is going to have an impact somewhere else, and is going to spawn another opportunity or relationship, or whether you’re going to encourage someone or someone is going to encourage you,” he said. “It’s just that idea that it’s an add-them-up—and a journey.”
Both Popp and Janesville Foundation President Ron Ochs, Squire’s boss at the former M&I Bank in Janesville, wrote to Forward Janesville that Squire is dedicated family man.
Squire’s favorite items in his office are the ones he has collected during family trips throughout the U.S. and abroad.
A set of miniature cars also has a special significance.
“My son went to Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. He loves cars. He wanted to sell cars. I’m not a big car guy, but I keep a few little cars around to remind me of what his dreams were,” Squire said.
Squire’s memories of his early years in Janesville include family bike rides with his children to the city’s many parks. He said he still feels proud when he drives into town on Racine Street and passes CAMDEN Playground, Palmer Park, Rotary Gardens and then a “Welcome to Janesville” sign with a tree.
More recently, he’s proud of a renaissance going on downtown—what he calls “things going on, things coming down, things going up.”
Squire has taken on a leadership role in ARISEnow, a public-private group that’s shepherding a slew of improvements planned along the downtown riverfront.
“I don’t think there is any one thing I say that paints the picture here. It’s just an energy level and the optimism. People are looking for the positive and the opportunity to find success,” he said of the downtown revitalization efforts.
In a letter supporting Squire, Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said he admires a theory Squire has talked to him about. It’s called “positive persistence.”
Squire explained the concept:
“I probably stole that from someplace. But what it means is that you don’t know when the opportunity is going to come together, and when the timing is going to be right, and when the people are going to be right. But I’m such a believer that our attitude is everything. You approach something with positive energy and stay with it, and you don’t get easily discouraged. That’s what it’s all about.”
This story has been altered from an earlier version to reflect Larry Squire's current title with Johnson Financial Group. He is the regional President at Johnson Financial, and works at Johnson Bank in downtown Janesville.