With the Biden administration pushing through a new coronavirus relief package, Wisconsin is set to receive another $5.7 billion from Washington. As per usual among our state leaders, there has already been intense debate between the Republican-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor’s office over who should divvy up the money.
The relief fund comes with $2 billion already set aside for local governments and non-governmental programs, which will be sent to communities based on federal formulas. This leaves the remaining dollars up to state leadership to disperse through state initiatives and programs. With such a large sum of money on the table, it is no surprise the government is fighting for control over the resources.
The most important decision to make is whether the control should be in the hands of Gov. Tony Evers or the state legislature, headed by Republican Speaker Robin Vos.
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Vos claimed giving power to the governor would breach the state constitution, but this outlook fails to note the bureaucratic red tape that legislation would require—delaying when the funds could be utilized.
Evers already has a planned proposal for the remaining funds, with millions set aside for small businesses, tourism, infrastructure and COVID-19 response efforts. With relief structure and allocation already determined, it seems obvious the governor and the state executive branch have a much clearer and more efficient plan to get the money into the hands of Wisconsinites than the legislature.
The governor has also promised upwards of $600 million for small businesses in the state. The state has hit unprecedented lows in foot traffic, especially in the Madison metropolitan area. Small businesses rely on foot traffic, namely in pedestrian-heavy areas like State Street.
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The impact of the loss of business has hit local businesses hard. Thirty-one stores on State Street have permanently closed due to the pandemic. The money allocated by Evers could provide the relief necessary to keep other businesses on their feet until later this summer, as more and more in-person activities will likely return to daily life.
Moreover, there are several reasons against giving the state legislature control of the funding. Simply put, our state legislature is incredibly unproductive — in fact, it is the least productive state legislature in the country. With timeliness being one of the most important factors when dealing with a pandemic, Wisconsinites do not have time to wait for our legislators to finally pass a bill to help our struggling economy.
Further, with the legislature yet to pass a COVID-19 relief bill on its own, it seems unlikely Vos and his Republican-controlled legislature will do anything to actually help alleviate COVID-19 struggles.
The fact that we have seen no action by Vos or the state legislature to create their own plan, and instead say they will take the governor to court shows where their priorities are set. It is all a continuation of the rhetoric Wisconsinites have heard for the past year — Evers takes action, and the legislature battles him over it.
Wisconsin has been offered an incredible sum of money that can be used to help rebuild our struggling economy and Republicans seem determined to ruin it. If they truly cared about Wisconsin businesses and Wisconsin workers as they claim, then they should drop their efforts to stall Evers. The governor’s office has a full plan on how to get money to those who need it most, and given how desperate residents are for state relief funds, Republicans must stop their campaign against Evers and accept his course of action.
Ryan Badger ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.