By M.D. Kittle
MADISON —The Republican-led Assembly is back in session today to try to override Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ disastrous veto of a bill aimed at dealing with Wisconsin’s worker shortage crisis.
Capitol insiders say Dem leadership is in a panic, rallying the troops to hold firm on Evers’ veto. That might be a tall order for several liberals in tourism-rich districts that are particularly feeling worker shortage pain.
“We see they (Democratic leadership) browbeating their folks on Twitter. It’s their way of circling the wagon,” said an Assembly legislative aide. “But it’s a real problem back home for them.”
Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (R-Oshkosh) sounded confident, at least on Twitter, that Assembly Dems would sustain the veto in this extraordinary session.
Republicans, which hold a commanding 61-38 majority, need at least five Democrats to vote with them under the supermajority terms of overturning a veto.
Standing with Evers could prove costly for some vulnerable Dems.
The legislation would have ended the $300 weekly, federal pandemic unemployment bonus paid to jobless Wisconsinites. With the current $370 in weekly state unemployment payments, recipients are taking in $670 a week (untaxed on the federal payment), or about $16.75 an hour. Some unemployed Wisconsinites are making more staying at home than they are in the workforce. And that disincentive to work is only exacerbating the state’s work force shortage, now at crisis levels.
In vetoing the bill, Evers claimed he’s seen no connection between the generous federal payment and the work shortage.
He’s wrong, and his error could sink Wisconsin’s economic recovery, business advocates and economic experts say. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which has urged Evers to end the supplement, says nearly 2 million people would return to the U.S. workforce when the benefits come to an end. That’s according to Morning Consult.
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco said one in seven workers turned down a job offer due to the extra benefits. And, the number of people receiving unemployment is dropping far quicker in states that have already ended the $300 payments.
“While Gov. Evers may turn a blind eye to the thousands of businesses who are struggling to hire, WMC will continue to fight for you every single day,” WMC said Monday in a call to action.
The state’s largest chamber of commerce is asking members to contact their lawmakers and share their stories about how the $300 weekly benefit is worsening the workforce shortage.
Lawmakers across the state — Republican and Democrat — have been getting an earful from constituents about the crisis. They really need only look at the signs — “Help Wanted”, “Now Hiring”, “Immediate Openings” — in the windows of Wisconsin businesses large and small.
Twenty-five states have ended the bonus payment.
Evers, looking for some political cover, has at the same time called the Legislature into “special session” to take up his package of $550 million in more state taxpayer money for K-12 and higher education.
“If Republicans have time to come into session just to try and override my vetoes, then they sure as heck have time to come into session and to do what’s best for our kids,” Evers said in a video message. “So If they’re going to come to Madison, then they have work to do.”
It’s Evers who is playing politics, according to Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.
“Today’s special session call is nothing but political posturing. Just a few weeks ago, Governor Evers supported the K-12 budget that Republicans put on his desk. We increased special education costs to the highest dollar levels ever and doubled investments in mental health. He had no choice but to accept it,” the lawmakers said.
Wisconsin’s educrats are getting billions of dollars in federal COVID relief, most of which they may use at their discretion.
“We’ve said it over and over again – the influx of federal funding has to be a part of this conversation,” Marklein and Born said. “The Legislature’s budget, which he signed, accounted for the massive Federal funds for schools, made significant investments in our student’s education and respected taxpayers. It was a good budget and we continue to stand by our decisions.”
As with Evers’ previous “special sessions,” Republicans will likely gavel in and gavel out without taking up the governor’s big spending plan.