Legislature’s Budget Panel Rejects Democratic Plans To Address Homelessness

Republicans who run the Legislature’s budget committee have rejected more than $70 million in proposals aimed at reducing homelessness in Wisconsin on Thursday, approving a $1.2 million increase instead.

The Democratic proposals voted down Thursday include a provision that would spend $6 million in funding that’s been sitting in an account controlled by the budget committee.

Assembly Republicans proposed a series of initiatives in 2019 aimed at addressing homelessness, leaving funding for the plans to be decided later by the Joint Committee on Finance.

Democrats on the committee proposed spending the funds on a variety of grant programs ranging from housing assistance to homeless prevention.

“We know that there was a homeless crisis long before the pandemic started,” said state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee.

While the funds controlled by the budget committee have been a long-running source of conflict between Gov. Tony Evers and GOP legislators, the biggest chunk of funding rejected Thursday was a new $50 million grant program for municipalities to support the development of workforce housing.

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“We’re not going to create new programs in the budget,” said state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton. “We’re going to fund what we know is already working.”

Republicans ultimately supported $1.2 million for a homeless and housing grant.

Republicans also preserved a program slated for elimination by the governor that provides grants to municipalities that connect people facing homelessness with jobs. Evers wanted to eliminate the program because it did not receive any applications in its two years of existence.

In addition Thursday, Republicans rejected Evers’ plan to spend $50,000 to outfit Capitol police with body cameras.

The budget committee was originally scheduled to consider Evers’ plan to spend $150 million in state funding on broadband expansion grants. Republicans delayed that vote, saying they first wanted to know more details about the governor’s recently announced plan to spend $100 million in federal funding on broadband.