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While many slammed Governor Tony Evers first budget, which he delivered in an address on Feb. 28, Evers pointed out, "...our budget is about putting people first."

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Brad Pfaff applauded Gov. Tony Evers for measures in his proposed state budget that will help Wisconsin’s family farmers, support rural communities, and protect the state’s environmental resources.

“I’m grateful for the Governor’s attention to the needs of the agricultural community and his understanding of the importance of that community to our state as a whole," said Pfaff in a press release. "As Gov. Evers noted in his address, we are all connected – and agriculture is one of the things that connects us most strongly. Our farmers provide food and fiber, our rural residents and urban dwellers create a market, and our transportation system serves us all. We all share the same environment and want to protect our land and water.”

Pfaff commended Evers' budget items of investments in the transportation system, broadband, increased mental health assistance and more funding for water quality initiatives. 

Evers announced, "We're making safe drinking water a priority in Wisconsin, We're authorizing nearly $70 million in bonding to address water quality, from replacing lead service lines to addressing water contamination across our state." 

Evers said lack of broadband internet service affects families, businesses, schools and hospitals.

"Not having access to broadband flies in the face of any economic development," Evers said. "We absolutely have to double down on this critically important issue."

To do that, Evers set the goal of attaining 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabit per second upload for all homes and businesses in the state by 2025. 

Beyond "just setting goals," Evers said to make sure the goals are achieved, "we're making historic investments in broadband expansion grants, increasing total funding to more than $78 million over the biennium." Evers also said those grants would be targeted to "the unserved and underserved communities who need them most."

Pfaff also commended Evers' support for farmers through increased mental health assistance. Evers claimed 82,000 more Wisconsinites will have access to affordable, quality healthcare coverage through his proposed budget. The plan would include expanding access to substance abuse and mental health treatment, intervention and stabilization "especially in our rural communities."

When Evers turned to transportation in his budget address, he said, "Our current approach to transportation is unsustainable." 

"According to a 2018 TRIP report, industries like retail stores, tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing bolster about 1.4 million full-time jobs, and they depend on our roads, highways, and bridges," said Evers. "About $580 billion in goods are shipped across our state each year. Yet, our roads rank among the worst in the nation."

Evers' "long-term solution" to the transportation issue wouldn't be a "one-time fix."

"We’re going to raise more than $600 million in new revenues to fix our roads, bridges, and highways and make sure that our transportation fund is sustainable for our future," Evers explained. 

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This long-term solution includes increasing fees for titles and heavy trucks as well as raising the gas tax by $.08 a gallon and repealing the "hidden tax that costs you $.14 for a gallon of gas. That means our plan actually makes it possible for you to pay less at the pump than you do right now," Evers said. 

Pfaff also applauded proposed grants for small dairy processors and additional resources for Wisconsin’s developing hemp industry. 

“We can’t forget that agriculture contributes $88 billion annually to Wisconsin’s economy. We are one of the top three economic engines in the state,” Pfaff said. “Gov. Evers’ budget recognizes that reality.”

While farmers have struggled under difficult circumstances recently, they've also had many opportunities, Pfaff pointed out. 

“The Governor has continued the work of Dairy Task Force 2.0 to help promote and enhance the cornerstone of Wisconsin agriculture," said Pfaff. "But we also have a strong organic sector, growing interest in grazing as an alternative, the promise of industrial hemp, even a developing wine and grape industry.”

“The additional funding and new programs the Governor is proposing would support those efforts for years to come.” 

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.

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