Evers Vetoes Wisconsin Legislative Oversight Of COVID-19 Funds, Lays Out His Plans For The Money
Updated 4:35 p.m. CDT
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has spelled out some of his tentative plans for distributing funds coming to the state government from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue bill that became federal law this month.
The governor said pending final requirements from the Biden Administration, that as with the CARES act and a smaller federal stimulus bill that passed last year, much of the money coming to the state will go toward what Evers called economic recovery emphasizing small businesses and the tourism industry.
"It's clear from the data that small businesses in Wisconsin absolutely suffered from this pandemic. And what we did in the last CARES Act, it helped, but we need to get more money out the door to them, and, our tourism industry continues to struggle and will struggle as they get back in operation,” said Evers. “You know, to say they're going to be made whole, we'll get as close as possible. But we just have to make sure they're still viable."
Evers said $600 million will go toward the We're All In small business grant program, under which applications for money are made to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. $50 million will go toward the tourism industry, most of the $200 million meant for infrastructure will go toward expanding broadband service and $500 million will go toward continuing the statewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To keep more control over the federal dollars, the Democratic Governor Monday vetoed a Republican-passed bill that would have given the Legislature approval over how to allocate the funds.
Evers, a Democrat, took the unusual step of vetoing the bill during a news conference at a Milwaukee cafe, holding up the veto for television cameras.
The bill would have forced Evers to submit a plan for spending the money to the Legislature's budget committee and allowed committee members to block initiatives. Republicans control the committee.
Evers said Wisconsin is slated to receive about $5 billion in federal aid as part of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion relief package. Allowing legislative oversight would result in unacceptable delays in getting money to recipients, Evers said.
“One objection ... could set it back for weeks,” he said.
Evers' spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, said by telephone that the governor will announce plans for the rest of the money soon.
The owner of the Milwaukee cafe and pastry shop where Evers' held Monday's news conference, said she'll apply to the state for a bit of the federal money.
"Sales are not what they were before all this. We're making it work and it's going fine, but it's not like it was. So, yeah, any money that's available is helpful," said Sullivan
Tens of thousands of Wisconsin businesses will apply for American Rescue funds, if the response to last year's CARES Act is any indication.
Republicans argued that the Legislature should play a role in how the money is spent, just like it did in 2009 when approving how money from the federal stimulus during the Great Recession was spent.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said during debate on the chamber floor last week that Democrats don't want any transparency or anyone to judge whether the money went to the right recipient until it's out the door. He warned Republicans would “have no choice but to go to court” if Evers vetoed the bill.
Aides for Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Meanwhile, state health officials announced 1,001,142 people have completed their vaccination cycle. That equates to a little more than 17% of Wisconsin's population.
The state Department of Health Services plans to open up vaccinations to the general public beginning May 1, but Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said she anticipates the department will announce soon that general vaccinations will start earlier.
She also noted that the department has seen people who have received vaccinations and still become infected with COVID-19. She said she didn't have a total because the department was still coordinating its data and trying to determine whether those people became infected before the vaccine took full effect.
Van Dijk made the remarks during a noon question-and-answer session with reporters sponsored by the Milwaukee Press Club and WisPolitics.com.
The department reported 296 new confirmed infections on Monday along with three more deaths. The state's overall death toll stood at 6,601. The seven-day case average was at 467 as of Monday.