Empower Wisconsin | March 31, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Taking a page from their binge-spending federal brethren, Gov. Tony Evers and his liberal pals have pitched a plan to dump money all over the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin — indefinitely.
Evers wants to spend at least $706 million in money the state doesn’t have in its budget right now for his COVID-19 relief package. In doing so, the governor would make it rain cash for all kinds of liberal projects and initiatives. More so, he would give his Department of Health Services a “sum sufficient” blank check to spend on whatever it believes vital to addressing the health crisis.
Evers, the former superintendent of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, wants public schools held harmless while taxpayers who support them foot the bill. It would prohibit layoffs of school employees while schools are closed during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Additionally, (the proposal would) require that the governing body continue to pay current employees for regularly scheduled hours at the employee’s regular rate during such a period, regardless of whether the employee is required to report to work while schools are closed,” one bill in the package states.
The bill includes a “statement of legislative intent.” In short, the governor’s proposal assumes the intent of the Legislature is that taxpayer dollars should go to cover the salaries of educators even though they may not be working anywhere near the same hours.
And Evers turns off education standards and accountability during the run of the crisis. So taxpayers get the bill with no measurement of performance.
Private schools in the school choice program also couldn’t lay off employees.
There’s lot of cash for welfare programs and mandates that insurers must cover everyone during the pandemic, even if they don’t pay their premiums.
Evers would be able to create new government positions at will, and without legislative consent, provided he uses federal funding to do it.
The Legislature does have oversight in some key areas, including in areas of public assistance and expanded Medicaid funding.
The initial price tag does not include the expenditures the administration could quickly rack up given sum sufficient authority. WisPolitics on Monday estimated the proposals listed in the administration document at north of $800 million.
More so, the governor’s spending bill would do what liberals have been trying to do in the courts: drop Wisconsin’s photo identification requirement and other election integrity protections during the health crisis.
Not satisfied with the extraordinary authority he now wields under public emergency statutes, Evers wants the Legislature to extend those powers beyond the current 60-day limit provided by law.
The state is expected to receive some $1.9 billion in federal funds. The executive branch has broad control over how that money will be spent. Evers has spent the past few days blaming the Republican-controlled Legislature for not quickly floating $700 million of Wisconsin taxpayer cash that doesn’t currently exist, insisting that his administration needs to act fast to purchase desperately needed health equipment. The administration has the authority to order what it thinks it needs on the faith and credit of the federal government, according to a state memo on the funding.
The Republican-led Legislature sounded its concerns with Evers’ rush to “never let a serious crisis go to waste.”
“While we wish circumstances were different so oversight was required, these new federal dollars do not appear to require any legislative oversight whatsoever,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vo (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said in a joint statement over the weekend. “They are completely at the disposal of your administration to spend on a wide variety of items including ventilators, masks and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
The lawmakers urge Evers and the administration to quickly act to purchase the needed equipment to face the coronavirus outbreak. But team Evers wants so much more.
On Monday, Fitzgerald said the Senate plans to meet virtually in the next couple of weeks with legislation that responsibly meets the crisis.
“We’re hopeful we can hit the floor with a bill that can address policy concerns in the next couple of weeks through a virtual session of the session,” the majority leader said.