Gov. Tony Evers Announces Initial Plans For Latest Federal COVID-19 Stimulus Funds

Gov. Tony Evers outlined his initial plans on Monday for some of the roughly $3 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds headed to Wisconsin, saying hundreds of millions of dollars will flow to small businesses, infrastructure and continued pandemic response. The governor also vetoed a bill on Monday that would have given GOP state lawmakers more say over how the federal funds are spent.

Wisconsin is set to receive about $5.7 billion under the latest federal pandemic stimulus, with $3.2 billion earmarked for state government. The remainder of the funds will go to local governments and non-governmental programs.

Speaking at a small business in Milwaukee, Evers said he plans to spend $600 million on supporting small businesses, $500 million on continued pandemic response, $200 million on infrastructure and $50 million on aid for the Wisconsin tourism industry. The governor said his administration is working to get the funds disbursed as quickly as possible. 

“At the end of the day, we’re still battling a pandemic and all the uncertainty that comes with that — workers and business owners are still filled with worry, families are still struggling to make ends meet,” he said. 

Evers said the money dedicated to infrastructure development will include a “significant investment” in broadband expansion, something he and GOP lawmakers have agreed should be a major priority. The governor said announcements about which specific programs will receive funding in each broad category are to come. He noted the new business loans will “build on” an existing pandemic grant program that has sent money to about 53,000 businesses in Wisconsin.

The governor also used his public appearance to veto a Republican bill that would have given the Legislature’s GOP-controlled state budget committee more say over how the federal stimulus funds are spent. Under the bill, which passed the Legislature last week, the committee would be able to block any of the Evers administration’s spending plans. 

During the event, Evers said the funds are for “the people of Wisconsin, not Republican legislators.”

“We’re not going to let politics get in the way,” he said. 

Last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said lawmakers would have “no choice but to go to court” if the governor vetoed the bill, arguing Evers having sole power over the funds violates the state constitution. 

The comments are a shift in opinion for Vos. Last year, he told Evers in a public letter that the governor had sole authority to spend federal money.

Vos’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. 

Wisconsin received about $2 billion in the first federal coronavirus aid bill, also known as the CARES Act, last spring. The state received more than $1 billion more under the second federal COVID-19 aid bill, which was approved in December. 

With rare exemption, Evers’ administration has had the power to disburse those funds. According to the state Department of Administration, about $2 billion has already been spent on things such as personal protective equipment for health care workers, testing lab supplies, contact tracing, rental assistance and grants to small businesses, farmers and child care providers.