Assembly Republican lawmakers who currently have little to no say over how billions of dollars in federal stimulus aid are used in Wisconsin are calling on Gov. Tony Evers to spend $500 million on broadband expansion and $1 billion on property tax relief.
The announcement of Assembly GOP stimulus priorities from budget committee chairman Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and other Assembly Republicans comes after Evers vetoed their effort to give themselves more sway over how $3.2 billion in stimulus money is spent, currently a power exercised almost exclusively by the governor.
The Republican bill Evers vetoed Monday would have given the Republican-controlled legislative budget committee two weeks to review and possibly object to the governor’s use of COVID-19 federal funds. Republicans have criticized Evers for not working closely enough with them on determining a use for the funds.
Evers announced Monday he would direct $2.5 billion in spending toward economic relief for families, workers and small business owners, which includes $50 million for the tourism industry and $600 million to support businesses affected by the pandemic. Evers also is planning to spend $500 million on the state’s pandemic response efforts, and $200 million for infrastructure, with a large portion of that going toward expanding broadband access.
The governor’s plan is short on details. Evers hasn’t said how the economic relief would be specifically targeted or how much of the infrastructure spending would go toward broadband expansion.
Assembly Republicans said they could support some of the governor’s planned uses for the money, but want some changes. It’s not clear whether Senate Republicans support the Assembly GOP’s proposal.
First, Assembly Republicans want the governor to allocate $1 billion in direct payments to Wisconsin property owners to provide the equivalent of a 10% property tax reimbursement.
“The people most impacted by the pandemic, the hardworking Wisconsin taxpayers, should see additional state aid coming out of the pandemic funds,” Born said. “This is their money, and we believe that they can spend it better than Governor Evers can.”
Republicans are also upping the ante on spending for broadband expansion. GOP lawmakers said they want to see $500 million of the latest federal stimulus spent on broadband expansion, more than the up to $200 million Evers proposed on Monday. Republicans say the proposal would expand broadband to 95% of the state. About 25% of rural residents, or about 430,000 Wisconsinites, lack high-speed broadband.
Evers, however, has also proposed spending $200 million in the state budget on broadband expansion, and it isn’t yet clear whether the money in the federal stimulus bill would replace the funding Evers has requested for the state budget or would complement it.
Republicans also declined to say whether spending federal stimulus dollars on broadband would reduce the need to fund such programs through the state budget, which lawmakers are set to pass this summer.
“Budget discussions are for a future day,” Born said.
Beyond money for broadband and property tax relief, Republicans on Tuesday said they also want to see an unspecified amount go toward long-term care facilities that have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked for a response to the GOP proposal, an Evers spokeswoman referred back to the governor’s planned use of the funds.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
6 lives disrupted: How COVID-19 changed Madison
The torrent of disruption to daily life over the past year has been inescapable.
Calendar squares filled with weddings and events cleared. Vacations vanished. Schools shuttered and hand sanitizer was in short supply. We learned new words, like social distancing, herd immunity and doomscrolling.
COVID-19 affected every person, every family. It's taken nearly 6,500 Wisconsinites from us, including 278 in Dane County.
Here are six stories from people whose lives and jobs changed over the past year.
“Reporting the death counts out day after day was draining,” she said. “It felt like I was announcing a funeral every day.”
"I was getting my work done from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. every day," she said.
Rev. Marcus Allen knew what bringing everyone together could do for their spiritual and mental health. But each time he considered reopening the church, COVID-19 cases surged.
"We’re used to taking whatever comes through the door," said nurse Maria Hanson, who started journaling about the pandemic soon after treating the patient.
"It’s a risk vs. reward thing and I risk my life to save others," said Brandon Jones, who always worried about bringing the virus home to his wife and two kids.
“Usually a funeral is a major step in understanding that a life was lived and the person is now gone,” he said. “If families don’t get that, it’s just really hard.”