GOP leaders to Evers: We’re spiking your budget, but come talk with us

Looking up at the Capitol dome from far below right before the entrance door
Wisconsin State Capitol | Phil Roeder CC BY 2.0

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point) finds it ironic that Republican legislative leaders sent Gov. Tony Evers a letter on Monday inviting him to meet with them to “share your plans for the federal funding as soon as possible.”

One year ago, a group of 43 GOP Wisconsin legislators sent Wisconsin members of Congress a letter urging them not to provide financial relief to state governments. Despite their protestations, under the American Rescue Plan Act, Wisconsin will receive $5.7 billion, $3.2 billion of that for the state government for pandemic recovery. 

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu joins other GOP leaders in giving a budget response. WisEye 2/16/21
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu joins other GOP leaders in giving a budget response. WisEye 2/16/21

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Joint Finance Committee co-chairs  Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Mark Born wrote, “…we invite you to meet with us to share your plans for the federal funding as soon as possible. We are eager to add your plans to the state budget discussion so that we may dedicate precious state resources to the priorities of all Wisconsinites. As we have said, we need to know where the federal funds are going so that we can direct state funds where we need them.”

They added they will begin voting on the state budget on Thursday.

“If they were really, truly sincere about the federal money they wouldn’t have introduced legislation spending it all already,” Erpenbach says, referencing their plans that probably ran afoul of federal law and were vetoed by Evers.

Evers’ office declined comment, but Erpenbach sees the letter as part of a trend the Republicans have kept going since Evers first took office.  “If you just go over the history of the state Senate not confirming well-qualified people to serve in his cabinet and just letting them hang out there — they’re doing whatever they can to get in the way of the successful Evers administration.”

The letter did not invite Evers to discuss the state budget — just the federal money — and it was sent as Republicans prepared a not-so-friendly motion to begin their state budget discussions by stripping 280 items from Evers’ proposed budget. Guidelines from the federal Treasury department on how the ARPA money can be spent are set to be released this month.

The governor’s office demurred when asked about its response to the letter, but the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was anything but reticent in its reply.

“After playing political games with federal aid and publicly announcing their plans to completely gut Gov. Tony Evers’ budget plan, Republican leaders sent the governor a letter asking for a meeting on how he plans to spend the rest of the American Rescue Plan funding,” executive director Nellie Sires said in a statement. “Republicans have no plans to meet with the governor in good faith: Robin Vos and Devin LaMahieu indicated last week they plan to cut every last popular program from the governor’s budget, including Medicaid expansion and funding for pandemic unemployment benefits.”

There is a bigger revelation confirmed in the so-called invitation from GOP leaders, says Erpenbach: the Republicans want to replace state money in the budget with one-time recovery money.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach

“What people need to understand is one pot of money has absolutely nothing to do with the other. This is one-time funding from the federal government to help deal with the past year we all went through, versus the state budget for ’21 to ’23,” he explains. We have to budget with our state budget as the federal money never existed because we’re talking about, for the most part, ongoing programs, K-12 education or the UW System.”

And if Republicans really need to get their hands on federal money to help fund the Wisconsin budget, Erpenbach is happy to tell them where they can find it.

“The other place where they know there’s money is the Medicaid expansion … this budget alone would be an additional $1.635 billion. But a billion dollars of that, we essentially can spend on whatever it is we choose to spend it on — really, no strings attached except taking the Medicaid expansion. So yeah, there’s money out there that rightfully belongs here in Wisconsin. It’s our money, the federal government is saying, ‘Here, take it’ and Republicans are not because it involves health care for poor people.”

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Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.