Republicans are criticizing Democratic Gov. Tony Evers over recommendations issued May 2 by a group he convened to address health disparities, which they say prioritize partisan issues and ignore matters that affect all Wisconsinites, such as inflation, crime and education.
Evers created the Health Equity Council though an executive order in March 2019. In the group’s final recommendations, released last week, it called for the state to mitigate health disparities by creating an Interagency Council on Transgender Health and Safety and an Office of Environmental Justice, and implement a guaranteed-income pilot program for disadvantaged communities.
Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Anna Kelly described the effort as cynical and dishonest and “trying to make the extreme left-wing agenda for big government and social engineering more palatable by trying to pass it off as health care.”
“While Democrats push for taxpayer-funded offices for ‘transgender health and safety,’ ‘environmental justice’ and government handouts, Republicans are focused on uplifting all Wisconsinites by lowering costs, prioritizing public safety and giving parents a voice in our education system,” Kelly said.
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But Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback said fixing health disparities and addressing inflation and crime aren’t mutually exclusive, and she said Evers is doing all three. Cudaback said Evers appreciates the council’s continued work and looks forward to reviewing the council’s future work in the coming months.
“In the meantime, and even as legislative Republicans have concluded their regular work for this calendar year, Gov. Evers will continue to be focused on addressing the pressing issues facing our state, including lowering rising costs at grocery stores and gas pumps, working to eliminate health disparities, supporting small businesses and our state’s economic recovery, and making our streets and our communities safer,” she said.
In March, Evers provided $50 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to police, the state public defender’s office and other agencies to improve public safety and address workforce shortages. That was after he set aside $45 million in October to support crime victims and bolster violence-prevention efforts.
On inflation, Evers called for the Legislature to convene in a special session and pass legislation to provide $150 checks to Wisconsinites to alleviate some pressure from rising costs. But Republicans called the effort meaningless in the long term and adjourned the special session almost immediately after it began. Additionally, the state’s 2021-23 biennial budget that Evers signed includes over $2 billion in income tax cuts. But Republicans have criticized Evers — who had initially called for $1 billion in tax increases, mostly on the wealthy and businesses — for taking credit for cuts they added thanks to record surplus projections.
Evers established the Health Equity Council to “improve health outcomes and reduce disparities,” he said. It includes more than 30 members, including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Department of Health Services Interim Secretary Karen Timberlake.
In his executive order establishing the council, Evers noted that Wisconsin earned a “D” for its health disparities in 2016 from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. In that report, researchers highlighted disproportionate fatality rates among Black and Native American infants, children, young adults, working-age adults and older adults.
The 20 recommendations aren’t binding. But the council suggests, for example, that the transgender health and safety council would provide “trainings, technical support, analysis and recommendations to address the unique health and social needs of transgender persons.” The environmental justice office would design and advise on “inclusive and equitable climate policies,” the recommendation states.
Other council recommendations include creating a tax credit for employers who employ formerly incarcerated individuals, providing an initial payment to all babies born in the state and making the Health Equity Council permanent through statute.
“These proposals, if enacted, will have significant positive effects on our ability as a state to combat historic and pervasive health disparities across race, economic status, education, geographic location and history of incarceration,” according to a statement by council chair Gina Green-Harris, who directs the Center for Community Engagement and Health Partnerships at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which has actively opposed efforts to address racial disparities through programs that benefit one racial group over another, also voiced skepticism about the effort.
“The order creating the council does not itself do anything, but its rhetoric suggests both a skepticism of individual agency and support for programs that treat persons differently based on race,” he said. “We’ll be monitoring it closely.”
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“The order creating the council does not itself do anything, but its rhetoric suggests both a skepticism of individual agency and support for programs that treat persons differently based on race. We’ll be monitoring it closely.”
Rick Esenberg, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty