Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday vetoed a package of 11 GOP-authored bills that would have directed the Democratic governor's use of $3.2 billion in federal stimulus money, while also announcing $420 million in grants to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evers' veto means the governor maintains control over the use of federal funds passed earlier this year and marks the latest rift between the governor and Republicans in the Legislature over the use of stimulus dollars. It's also the third time that the governor has shut down Republican efforts to gain control over federal stimulus funds, which Evers has sole discretion over.
State Republicans had sought to use those funds to pay down state debt, provide $200 million in assistance for small businesses and provide $1 billion in property tax relief, while Evers has pledged to spend $2.5 billion of those funds on 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 — which includes the $420 million in grants announced Thursday.
“The Legislature’s proposal to spend just a small portion of our American Rescue Plan funds on small businesses simply won’t cut it for me,” Evers said in a statement. “Our Main Streets have been hit hard during this pandemic and we need to do everything we can to make sure they can bounce back.”
Evers said the Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grant program has the potential to reach about 84,000 small businesses in the state that have an annual gross revenue between $10,000 and $7 million. Eligible businesses will be able to receive grant awards of $5,000. Details of the new grants will not be finalized until federal guidelines are completed.
“The new grants are intended to support those small businesses who were hardest hit by the pandemic and through savvy planning, grit and sacrifice are poised to make a strong recovery, and we are committed to being a strong partner in helping these businesses on the road to recovery,” WEDC Secretary and CEO Melissa Hughes said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Republican leaders in the Legislature sent the package of 11 bills, which passed the state Assembly and Senate along party lines, to the governor's desk. Evers vetoed all the bills on Thursday.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester said on Thursday he was disappointed in Evers' vetoes and criticized the governor for a lack of specifics on how he plans to spend the more than $3 billion in federal funds. He said Republicans will explore their options moving forward, but said no formal decisions have been made at this point.
"We will keep looking at our options, but we are dealing with a governor who wants to act as a dictator," Vos said. "There are only so many things that we can do and we are going to keep pushing.”
Democratic lawmakers have said it’s too early to make firm plans for all the funding, as federal guidelines still are being determined. What’s more, some of the spending proposed by Republicans may not be allowed under federal rules, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Evers has already vetoed two Republican bills that would have given the Legislature control over federal coronavirus stimulus funds.
"The governor just sent a clear message to the People of Wisconsin that they will have little to no say in how their federal tax dollars are spent," Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said in a statement Thursday after the vetoes. "He has, once again, rejected the opportunity to work with legislators on even a basic spending plan. This is not good government.”
In veto messages for the 11 bills struck down by the governor, Evers said the Republican proposals limit is ability to allocate federal funds and could delay his ability to distribute those dollars.
“We can’t sit around and wait to get these funds out the door, and we can’t afford to let politics get in the way of getting resources and support to those who need our help," Evers said.