Gov. Tony Evers announces he’ll direct $2.5 billion in federal relief money to economic recovery in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers holds up his veto of a Republican bill to control how $3.2 billion in federal stimulus funding is spent Monday, March 29, 2021, at Miss Molly’s Cafe & Pastry Shop at 9201 W. Center St. in Milwaukee. Standing behind Evers, from left, are state Rep. Robyn Vining, and business owners Molly Sullivan of Miss Molly’s and Beth Ridley of Beth Ridley Consulting.

Gov. Tony Evers announced Monday he will spend $2.5 billion in federal relief funding to help Wisconsin’s economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Democratic governor delivered the news at a Milwaukee cafe just before he vetoed a bill that would have given that decision-making power over billions coming to Wisconsin through the federal American Rescue Plan to Republicans who control the state Legislature. 

“We were pushed back every step of the way every time we tried to mitigate the disease,” Evers said about giving Republicans control over COVID-19 relief spending.

He said he was vetoing Senate Bill 183 “to make sure once we get the guidance we need from the federal government, we can work to get these funds out quickly and make sure they don’t get tied up in some political fight in the legislature.”

Evers didn’t spell out how he would spend all of the $3.2 billion he will have control of but said $2.5 billion of it would be used to help businesses, with $600 million going toward Wisconsin businesses and $50 million going to the tourism industry. The rest of the spending for business remains undefined.

With the remaining money, $500 million would go to the continued pandemic response efforts and $200 million would go to infrastructure, including broadband internet expansions. 

In addition to the $3.2 billion Evers will control, the state will receive billions more for specific programs. In addition, local governments in Wisconsin will receive $2.5 billion as part of the sprawling $1.9 trillion measure.

Molly Sullivan, owner of Miss Molly’s Cafe & Pastry Shop where Evers made the announcement, said the expansion of small business grants would help small restaurants like hers stay in business amid customer drop off. 

“Receiving that money was hugely vital to my business,” she said. Sullivan said she received two rounds of grants that helped her to purchase a new point-of-sale system and modify outdoor seating for colder weather. 

Molly Sullivan, owner of Miss Molly’s Cafe & Pastry Shops, said the expansion of small business grants would help small restaurants like hers on Monday, March 29, 2021, during a press conference at her business.

Wisconsin will receive at least $5.7 billion in federal stimulus money — and potentially much more — from the American Rescue Plan that sent most Americans $1,400 checks and includes $360 billion for states and local governments.

Republican lawmakers last week sent Evers a bill that would give the GOP-controlled finance committee control over how the federal funding is spent.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the measure puts more transparency on the spending and gives more voices a say in where it goes.

Vos threatened to sue Evers over the veto. 

“If you vote no, you’re basically saying ‘what’s the point of having a Legislature?’” he said during a floor session last week. “We have a chance to fix it now. If for some reason the governor vetoes this bill, we will have no choice but to go to court.”

The Republican leaders’ stance on having oversight of federal relief spending is a change from a year ago when Wisconsin received $2 billion through the federal relief law known as the CARES Act.

Evers administration officials initially thought legislative approval was required for large spending efforts, but Vos pointed out then state law doesn’t require it. 

“Here’s what’s really ironic — I believe that every dollar that’s spent should have legislative oversight … no one branch should unilaterally be able to spend the money,” Vos said in March of 2020. “If I didn’t think that was the law (to make the purchases without legislative approval), I certainly would not be saying (Evers) has the ability to spend it.”

In his veto message, Evers said the bill would allow any objection from a committee member to delay funding for an indeterminate amount of time.

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.