Fitzgerald special session (copy) (copy)

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald gavels into the special session Gov. Tony Evers called to address gun-related issues, without any other senators present, just before 8 p.m. on Nov. 7.

One of the stories that has flown under the radar during the past year is how much taxpayer money the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature is spending for just plain political spite.

These include the same state senators who went home for Christmas after refusing to release funds — money that's in the current budget — to help homeless people in Wisconsin. Fortunately, their Scrooge-like dismissal of the downtrodden among us has been very much on the radar and, hopefully, they're getting an earful from constituents back home.

Luckily, the warmer winter weather has so far helped ease what many have described as a homeless crisis throughout the state. But January and February are looming, and polar vortexes waiting to descend.

Oddly enough, the homeless bills that the GOP senators are blocking are supported by controlling Republicans in the Assembly. The full Legislature put the money in the state budget in response to recommendations from a statewide bipartisan task force last year.

But, the funds have to be released by the Joint Committee on Finance, and so far it has refused to meet. At issue is $3.7 million in funding that includes programs to help local agencies maintain and repair buildings used to house the homeless and money to expand services to cover their growing numbers. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald contends his fellow GOP senators aren't convinced the money will be used efficiently.

These same legislators, though, have no problem spending money on their own interests — most of it, ironically, quite inefficiently. The attorney general of Wisconsin is charged with being the attorney for the Legislature. But, because the new AG happens to be a Democrat, Republicans refuse to use this taxpayer-financed legal service. Nor will they use the state-salaried attorneys who are assigned to their offices.

Instead, they turn to well-heeled outside law firms, many of them big-time Republican supporters, and hire their attorneys at exorbitant fees. Just last week, they decided again to hire their own lawyers in a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn a state court's decision allowing the purge of more than 240,000 names from the state's voting list.

That comes after other expensive lawsuits in which the Republicans insisted on outside attorneys. One was to fight a case involving the legality of the lame-duck session in December of 2018 to strip powers from the governor and attorney general. The taxpayers so far have been stuck with a $2.1 million bill. Others, including one to intervene in a case filed by Planned Parenthood that challenges abortion restrictions, has brought the GOP legal bills to just short of $3 million since Jan. 1 last year.

The agencies that help the homeless will go without their $3.7 million this winter, but lawyers representing legislative Republicans will get their $3 million.

Funny, isn't it? Sometimes it's so easy to find the money.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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