Bouncing Back: Wisconsin sees economic recovery from pandemic while lawmakers undermine progress
Governor Tony Evers celebrated Wisconsin’s continued economic recovery and bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic on June 8 as the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released projections underscoring the state’s economic success.
The revenue projections announced were more than $4.4 billion higher than had previously been estimated in January. The news comes as Wisconsin continues to lead the country in getting available shots in arms and the state has continued seeing economic rebounds, including the state’s April unemployment rate of 3.9 percent, which has nearly returned to March 2020 pre-pandemic levels and remains well below the national rate in April of 6.1 percent.
In light of these estimates highlighting Wisconsin’s economic success, Governor Evers lifted requirements for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-21 agency lapses, including returning more than $50 million to the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System.
“We made tough decisions this past year to put our state in the best fiscal position to bounce back from this pandemic, and now Wisconsin is among the best in the country for both getting shots in arms and our low unemployment rate,” said Governor Evers. “My top priority all along has been making sure our economy can recover from the pandemic, and because we made those difficult decisions a year ago, we’re able to maintain our investments that will continue helping our state’s recovery from K-12 to higher education to the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion Program and supporting Wisconsin children and families.”
Governor Evers had previously directed the Department of Administration to find $70 million in cost savings across 18 of the state’s largest agencies in FY 2019-20 and more than $250 million in FY 2020-21, to ensure the state would be in a strong position to weather any potential state revenue losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. State agencies had previously exceeded the goal set by the governor, planning to return more than $300 million to the state’s general revenue fund.
Governor Evers also reversed that directive — a move that has received Republican support — which would return more than $45 million to the University of Wisconsin System, more than $5 million to the Wisconsin Technical College System, and nearly $25 million to the Department of Children and Families, among others.
The governor’s efforts came as Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee last month jeopardized $1.5 billion in federal funds after voting to put only $128 million into new school funding, less than a tenth of what Governor Evers proposed investing into K-12 schools in his 2021-23 biennial budget.
The governor previously criticized the move, calling the budget vote “paltry” and “an insult to the kids of our state.” The lack of investment in schools fails to meet federal maintenance of effort requirements, which are based in part on state expenditures in this fiscal year and has already prompted a letter from the U.S. Department of Education warning the Legislature’s decision could put federal funds at risk.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to respond to COVID-19 and put our economy in the best position to recover, which is why there’s no excuse for choosing not to fully invest in our kids and our schools, broadband, venture capital and support for Main Street businesses, among other critical priorities, that will ensure we’re bouncing back and better than we were before this pandemic hit,” added Governor Evers.