TOWN OF JANESVILLE
Doug Rebout is like many rural residents. Faster internet access would help him run his business, but broadband internet isn’t available.
Rebout talked to Gov. Tony Evers about it Thursday as they stood in the sun at the Roger Rebout & Sons Farm on Mineral Point Road.
As he described the need, Rebout turned to Sen. Janis Ringhand suggestively.
“We’re trying! We’re trying!” the Democrat responded. “If we could just get the other side …” Her voice trailed off.
The other side is the Republicans who control the state Legislature, who also want to expand broadband access, but the two sides differ on specifics.
Evers has proposed $200 million to boost broadband in his biennial budget, while Republicans want to spend about $75 million less, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Republicans want to borrow the money. The governor proposes using tax dollars.
Evers said his administration funneled a lot of federal pandemic relief money to farms, and that’s one of the reasons the state is recovering so well from the pandemic.
The current state budget ends July 1, and Evers and the Legislature seem unlikely to have a new budget in place by then.
Evers said getting broadband to rural areas will take time and a lot of money, “and we need to do that as quickly as possible. It’s part of the daily work of farmers, and it’s also part of making sure that local small towns have the ability to grow, also, whether it’s small business, related to agriculture or not.”
Asked if he is talking to legislative leaders about broadband, Evers said with a smile, “Occasionally.”
Asked why talks aren’t more intense as the budget deadline approaches, Evers said, “It’s difficult when one of the main things that would frankly help farmers in the state of Wisconsin is Medicaid expansion because health insurance costs for farmers are really exorbitant.”
Republicans have refused to allow expansion, which could save the state an estimated $1.6 billion over the next two years and increase access to health care.
“(Assembly Speaker) Robin Vos said ‘no’ right from the beginning. He said no again. So the idea that I’m going to sit down and talk to him and convince him of that, I know that’s not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen,” Evers said.
“That’s why we need fair maps in the state,” Evers continued. “Their gerrymandered maps have caused this situation where people that could find common ground have no impetus to do that.”
Evers was referring to Republican-drawn legislative district lines that favor easy victories and a strong Republican majority in the Legislature, even though state residents overall are closer to 50-50 Republican versus Democrat, as evidenced by Evers’ victory in 2018 by 1.1 percentage points.
“So I’ll talk to Robin Vos any time, any day,” Evers continued. “We’ve reached out to him on a number of issues. ... I like him. He’s a good human being, but he put his line in the sand on a number of issues that frankly are important to the state of Wisconsin. So I’m hopeful we can have a good relationship in the future.”
Evers’ visit was one of several to farms this week. Thursday, he visited the Rebout partners: Dan, David and Doug and their mother, Mary Jo.
Evers said the Rebouts have found a way to work together and are a great example of what family farming is all about.
Evers appointed Doug Rebout to the board of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in May.
Evers noted farming’s importance to the state’s economy and seemingly endless crises farmers face, adding that family farms are important for more than their economic impact:
“It goes way beyond raising crops. It goes beyond whatever the farm is producing. It is around enhancing family life and the values that Wisconsinites think are important.”