Evers vetoes bill to give Legislature control of federal COVID  relief funds

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    Gov. Tony Evers unveiled the start of a broad blueprint for the state’s plan to use its $3.2 billion infusion from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Monday — and vetoed a bill that would have given the Republican-led state Legislature the final word on how the money is spent.

    Governor Tony Evers Official Portrait

    Evers said Monday that $2.5 billion of the state’s allotment would be spent on economic recovery provisions. The governor’s initial outline itemized about half of that, with $600 million for business aid, $50 million for the state’s tourism industry, $200 million in infrastructure spending — much of it to expand broadband internet access — along with $500 million for statewide pandemic response.

    The administration is building on its approach with the $1.9 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relieve and Economic Security (CARES) Act in 2020, which included $379 million in aid for small businesses and restaurants, farms and the lodging, hospitality and tourism industries. Funds also were used to provide rent relief, cover child care and after-school programming costs, and pay for personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies as well as testing and lab supplies and aid to local communities.

    The legislation that Evers vetoed, SB-183, would have required spending plans to go through the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, giving the panel 14 days during which any member could block the spending for an unspecified amount of time.  “This would unnecessarily delay the distribution of these funds, many of which have to be distributed according to federal law and using existing formulas,” Evers stated in his veto message.

    Republican leaders in the Legislature last week floated the possibility of going to court to force Evers to accede to the demand for their approval on the ARPA spending.

    “These funds don’t belong to me or any member of the Legislature, and these funds sure shouldn’t get caught up in another political back-and-forth where Republicans in the Legislature put politics before people or take nearly 300 days to act,” Evers stated Monday, referring to Legislature’s failure to meet for the rest of the 2020 calendar year after passing just one COVID-related bill in April.

    “This money belongs to Wisconsinites and so many need this support—it would be unimaginable for Republicans to prevent these funds from going out to folks who need it the most,” the governor stated.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.