MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers killed a bill Monday that would have given Republican legislators oversight of Wisconsin’s share of billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds, instead announcing his own plan for distributing the money.
Evers, a Democrat, took the unusual step of vetoing the bill during a news conference at a Milwaukee cafe, holding up the veto for television cameras.
The bill would have forced Evers to submit a plan for spending the money to the Legislature’s budget committee and allowed committee members to block initiatives. Republicans control the committee.
Evers said Wisconsin is slated to receive about $5 billion in federal aid as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package. Allowing legislative oversight would result in unacceptable delays in getting money to recipients, Evers said.
“One objection … could set it back for weeks,” he said.
About $2 billion will go to local governments. Evers has no control over who gets how much; amounts will be set by a federal formula.
His administration controls how the remaining $3.2 billion will be spent. The governor announced $600 million would be used to help small businesses; $50 million for the tourism industry; $200 million to upgrade infrastructure, including broadband access; and $500 million on pandemic response efforts.
Evers’ spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, said by telephone that the governor will announce plans for the rest of the money soon.
Republicans argued that the Legislature should play a role in how the money is spent, just like it did in 2009 when approving how money from the federal stimulus during the Great Recession was spent.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said during debate on the chamber floor last week that Democrats don’t want any transparency or anyone to judge whether the money went to the right recipient until it’s out the door. He warned Republicans would “have no choice but to go to court” if Evers vetoed the bill.
Aides for Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Meanwhile, state health officials announced 1,001,142 people have completed their vaccination cycle. That equates to a little more than 17% of Wisconsin’s population.
The state Department of Health Services plans to open up vaccinations to the general public beginning May 1, but Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said she anticipates the department will announce soon that general vaccinations will start earlier.
She also noted that the department has seen people who have received vaccinations and still become infected with COVID-19. She said she didn’t have a total because the department was still coordinating its data and trying to determine whether those people became infected before the vaccine took full effect.
Van Dijk made the remarks during a noon question-and-answer session with reporters sponsored by the Milwaukee Press Club and WisPolitics.com.
The department reported 296 new confirmed infections on Monday along with three more deaths. The state’s overall death toll stood at 6,601. The seven-day case average was at 467 as of Monday.
This story has been corrected to show Wisconsin is expected to receive $5 billion in federal aid, not $3.2 billion.