MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers is refusing to consider using a fraction of the $2.5 billion he controls in federal COVID relief funds to support small business in Kenosha — still recovering from last August’s riots that were made worse by Evers’ dereliction of duty.
“I wish I could say I’m surprised, but Evers’ refusal to consider using ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) for the Kenosha STEM Innovation Center is par for the course,” said Sen. Van Wanggaard. The Racine Republican’s district includes most of Kenosha County.
Last week Wanggaard requested Evers use $9.75 million of the ARPA funds to jumpstart the important project for the area. The request fell on tone deaf ears.
“If (Evers) doesn’t get what he wants, he refuses to take other suggestions. He was slow to react seriously and listen following last year’s riots, and now, he just turned his back on redeveloping Kenosha. He’s more interested in playing the blame game than helping. And Kenosha suffers again,” Wanggaard added.
The governor was slow to deploy the National Guard, and he failed to provide adequate support when he eventually consented. And Evers initially rejected federal law enforcement assistance from then-President Donald Trump in what clearly was an act of political pettiness.
Scores of businesses, government buildings and homes in Kenosha’s Uptown and
Downtown districts were smashed up, looted and set on fire, many burning to the ground. The riots left Kenosha businesses with a $50 million bill.
The Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood is a proposed redevelopment project of the former American Motors area in Kenosha, not far from burned-out Uptown. Modeled after the Cortex Innovation Center in St. Louis, the Kenosha STEM Innovation Center would be a small business and minority-owned business revitalization and workforce training center, and economic entrepreneurial project, according to a press release from the senator.
With the inclusion of a STEM High School, the facility would develop digitally-skilled and entrepreneurial talent from the Southeastern Wisconsin region. It has the support of elected officials, university and technical college administrators, and business industry leaders throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Following the Joint Finance Committee’s decision to not bond for the project, Wanggaard and state Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem Lakes) wrote the governor asking him to use the ARPA funds at his sole disposal for the project. Area Democrats expressed similar wishes.
On Tuesday, Evers effectively told the Republican lawmakers to pound sand, insisting state taxpayer funding pick up the cost in the 2021-23 budget.
“Using the ARPA funds just makes sense. This would be using one-time dollars for a project that will pay divdends for generation. I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t use less than 1⁄2 of 1 percent of ARPA for Kenosha,” concluded Wanggaard.
Evers’ press office did not respond to a request for comment. (It never does.)