Educate All Students, Support Public Education

April 8, 2020

Republicans seeking broad authority to cut aid to schools and state programs as part of coronavirus response

Filed under: Republican Attacks — millerlf @ 6:09 pm

Patrick Marley and Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON – Seeking to further curb Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ power, Republican lawmakers are developing legislation that would give a handful of them the ability to cut school aid and slash state spending.

Evers said that measure, which is one of dozens of provisions GOP lawmakers are putting into legislation to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, would likely push him to veto the bill altogether.

“‘Seriously consider it’ would probably be putting it mildly,” Evers said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We can’t have that as part of it. That’s too much authority in the hands of a couple people.”

But a veto would also prevent the state from providing more help to the unemployed and receiving more federal aid to cover health-care costs. Those are two of Evers’ top goals as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across Wisconsin and the economy worsens.

The GOP plan, a summary of which was provided to the Journal Sentinel by Evers’ office, comes three weeks after Evers first proposed to lawmakers at least $706 million worth of spending to provide relief for the state as the virus outbreak shutters businesses, infects thousands and grinds daily life to a halt.

Republican leaders of the Legislature said Evers’ proposal was a nonstarter in large part because of a provision that would provide the state Department of Health Services unlimited spending authority during the public health emergency.

Evers said he believes the two sides can compromise.

“The good news is, I’m glad we have a response from the Republican side — it’s good to see that effort, putting pen to paper,” Evers said.

The summary of the GOP plan, which is still being drafted, does not include any appropriations, which Evers said would likely not be enough for the needs of the state’s health care system and its residents.

Lawmakers received Evers’ first of two bills to respond to the virus outbreak March 21. The governor said Wednesday if lawmakers don’t take action within two weeks, it would send a message to residents that state officials don’t know how to respond.

“The message sent to the people of Wisconsin is that this isn’t a big deal and the fact that we have people suffering financially, physically, health-wise and otherwise isn’t a big deal and I know of the Republicans actually feel that way,” he said. “The people of Wisconsin would, I think, be flabbergasted if we just do nothing.”

The GOP plan comes less than two years after Republicans passed lame-duck laws that trimmed Evers’ authority even before he took office. Under those laws, legislators gained more control of public benefits programs, economic development efforts and litigation involving the state.

The new measure is aimed at responding to the coronavirus outbreak and the economic problems that come with it. The legislation would suspend a one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits, and allow the state to claim an extra $150 million every three months in federal aid for the state’s Medicaid programs such as BadgerCare Plus.

But the legislation also includes a provision that would allow the Legislature’s GOP- controlled Joint Finance Committee to reduce state spending — including aid to schools — on its own. Normally the Legislature and governor have to agree on any cuts.

If the governor approved the legislation, he would have the ability to veto any spending cuts made by the committee. But the committee could easily override his vetoes because Republicans have a 12-4 majority on the committee — more than the two-thirds margin needed to override vetoes.

Evers said he would block their plan. But that will leave in limbo the provisions he and Republicans support.

The federal government is providing states with help to fight coronavirus, but the governor and Legislature must act to take advantage of some of it — such as the additional funding for Medicaid and jobless benefits. In addition, Evers and lawmakers have said they want to allow people to receive unemployment benefits right away rather than having to wait a week.

But if the differences over spending cuts persist, none of that will happen.

Republicans want more control of spending because state tax collections are expected to quickly dry up as much of the economy shuts down. They wnt to be able to determine where to restrain spending without having to negotiate with Evers.


The power they are seeking is vast. It would allow them to reduce aid to schools, local governments and University of Wisconsin campuses. They could also scale back programs aimed at helping the poor and those who have trouble getting health-care coverage.

Republicans have not said where they might want to make cuts, but have signaled they want flexibility because of how bad the economy could turn amid the pandemic.

This week Rep. John Nygren, a Republican from Marinette who is co-chairman of the finance committee, said the state may need to freeze spending after July 1.

Congress has allocated about $2 billion to Wisconsin to help fight coronavirus. Evers — not lawmakers — has control of how to spend that money.


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