Wisconsin tourism organizations and businesses will share in $140 million in state grants funded by federal pandemic relief money, Gov. Tony Evers announced Thursday.
Slightly more than half of the grant money — $75 million — will go to the lodging industry, while the rest will be divided among movie theaters, small businesses associated with live events, minor league sports teams, live-event venues, destination marketers, summer camps and the Wisconsin Historical Society. In addition, $7.5 million will go to marketing support for the state’s tourism industry.
The grants, to be administered by the state Department of Revenue and the Department of Administration, are funded through the state’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), federal legislation enacted in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grant program comes two months after Evers vetoed a Republican bill requiring the governor’s office to spend $75 million to establish grant programs to help the tourism industry. That bill called for $50 million to go to tourism marketing organizations operated by nonprofit organizations as well as by government, and another $25 million to operators of amusement and theme parks for marketing.
In his April 22 veto message, Evers objected to that bill because it limited the administration’s “ability to use federal funds with the flexibility necessary” to address pandemic recovery. He also cited longstanding state law giving the governor direct control over how federal funds are spent.
The GOP bill, AB-234, is one of several that Republicans have passed, largely on party-line votes, seeking to force the administration’s hand in its use of Wisconsin’s state ARPA allocation, estimated at $2.5 billion. Another bill, dictating the use of ARPA funds for state historic sites to open, passed the Assembly this week on a party-line vote. Evers has vetoed all such measures that have reached his desk.
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