Vos, Fitzgerald Cost Taxpayers Billions
Their latest mistake adds $25 million more lost to taxpayers.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald love to talk about how they are protecting the taxpayers. During last year’s budget deliberations Vos and Republicans held four press conferences around the state to reveal the “Tax Day Truths” and Fitzgerald took pot shots at Gov. Tony Evers‘ budget while letting us know he was committed to protecting taxpayers.
But when it comes to doing the work needed to actually protect taxpayers, Vos and Fitzgerald don’t have the greatest record. Last week we learned they cost the state $25 million in federal funding to help pay for unemployment benefits during the ongoing pandemic because they didn’t get around to passing the necessary state legislation.
At issue was the federal CARES Act, which includes provisions to reimburse all states for unemployment benefits so long as the state did not require the jobless to wait one week before they could receive aid. Wisconsin, however, did require this one week waiting period. And so Gov. Evers, as part of a proposed $700 million package of pandemic relief he sent to GOP legislative leaders on March 21, included a proposal to suspend the one-week waiting period and urged the Legislature to take action.
They were also warned that they must take action by Democratic members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation. “We urge you to change Wisconsin law to eliminate the one week waiting period to provide much needed financial assistance to Wisconsin’s workers as quickly as possible,” the letter said. “The legislature’s plan to delay action on the one week waiting period and rely on retroactive pay—without any assurance from the Department of Labor that it is allowed— unnecessarily risks the financial security of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites suffering through this time of record-breaking unemployment.”
Fitzgerald and Vos claimed they wanted to wait until the CARES Act was signed by President Donald Trump before acting on state legislation to ensure the state wasn’t on the hook for spending it couldn’t pay for. But Trump signed the bill on March 27 and Republicans waited until April 13 to pass the needed legislation. And so taxpayers are on the hook to pay that $25 million to the state unemployment fund.
If that seems like a casual approach to protecting the state’s taxpayers, it’s part of a pattern.
Vos has been adamantly opposed to accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin, which Fitzgerald has gone along with while saying he was open to negotiations on this. That will cost Wisconsin about $1.3 billion over the current two year budget, as the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has estimated.
That figure, as Urban Milwaukee reported, was far higher than what the media had been reporting, because it includes not just the $360 million in added state dollars taxpayers had to pay for Medicaid, but $920 million in lost federal dollars. The total loss for state taxpayers was $1.280 billion, the LFB found and the additional loss to the state since 2014 was probably several billion. But it’s due to a policy fashioned by former Gov. Scott Walker to undermine the Democratic-passed Affordable Care Act, and Vos and Fitzgerald continue to adhere to it.
Then there is the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit, which Vos and Fitzgerald have championed though it has led to no increase in manufacturing jobs, while costing taxpayers $300 million per year.
Vos has also spent millions of public dollars on legal bills to defend the Republicans’ gerrymandering of legislative and congressional seats, in effect charging taxpayers to deprive them of equal representation in elections.
Vos and Fitzgerald have styled themselves as fiscal conservatives, which in theory should mean they are vigilant watchdogs of public spending. But in practice that has meant a fierce objection to Evers spending on public services, for better funded schools and more money for road and bridge repairs. Meanwhile they cost taxpayers billions through their lazy and partisan approach to the state budget.
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