Evers Criticizes GOP Plans For Federal Relief Funds

Gov. Tony Evers said billions of dollars in federal relief funds headed to Wisconsin shouldn’t be used to replace his budget’s proposed state investments in areas like broadband and education.

The governor’s comments put him in a familiar place — at odds with Republican state lawmakers who want the Legislature to have more say over spending decisions.

Federal guidelines give Evers the power to decide unilaterally how to spend an estimated $3.2 billion in federal recovery funds, but that hasn’t stopped GOP legislators from offering their own ideas and trying to force the governor to yield to the Legislature.

In some cases, Evers and Republicans agree on where the money should be spent, but don’t agree on the amount or the source of the funding. For example, Evers’ budget proposed spending $150 million in state funds to expand broadband while Republicans want to spend $500 million in federal recovery funds.

In an interview that aired Friday on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time,” the governor said one investment shouldn’t preclude the other.

“We will put lots of money from that federal money into broadband in our state,” Evers said. “We need our state budget to also have money around that. It should not be replacing state money.”

The governor has yet to unveil his entire blueprint for how to spend the federal money, although he did announce last week that $600 million will be used to help small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Republicans have increasingly turned their attention to the $3.2 billion in federal funds, passing a bill that Evers later vetoed that would have given the Legislature’s budget committee more control over the money. They also passed 11 other bills that would spend billions of the funds, although the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office said many of the proposals might not be allowed under federal guidelines.

GOP members of the powerful Joint Finance Committee have also stressed that they want to know the governor’s plans for the federal money before they make changes to Evers’ state budget, particularly when it comes to education spending.

Evers told WPR that his office would release that information soon, after the U.S. Treasury Department releases details on how the money can be spent.

“But I don’t want people to assume that this federal money is going to replace the money that we normally provide,” Evers said. “That’s not what it’s for.”

The governor was also cool to the idea of giving lawmakers more of a say over the federal money, pointing to the recent analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau showing many of their ideas might not be allowed.

“You saw exactly what happens when the Republicans in the Legislature decide this is how this money should be spent,” Evers said. “We don’t have time to mess with this.”