Legislators Want Say Over Pandemic Funds
Bill would require Gov. Evers to consult with Legislature on allocating federal dollars.
Days after announcing they would throw out Gov. Tony Evers’ budget and start over from scratch, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos put out a bill aimed at taking away some of the control from the Evers administration over $5.5 billion Wisconsin is slated to receive from the federal COVID relief bill being debated in Congress.
This follows other attempts by Republicans — such as measures included in past COVID-response bills that did not pass and lame duck bills — to insert the Joint Finance Committee into executive branch decision making.
The GOP leaders say that many other states have models that include the legislative branch in the decision making over how federal funds are spent. And JFC had a say in 2009, they mention, when recession recovery dollars were allocated and spent by states.
“Oversight of tax dollars is an essential function of the Legislative Branch,” said LeMahieu. “Without it, we risk losing important considerations that come from elected representatives and residents from around the state.”
Wisconsin’s allotment from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan of 2021 would be almost double the $2.9 billion the state received under 2020’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Evers administration had sole discretion on how it distributed those CARES Act funds over the course of last year.
Calling the Republicans’ draft bill the ‘Truth in Spending Act,’ Vos says letting legislators have a say would give the public a say and put spending decisions closer to the people. However, Wisconsin’s legislative districts are among the most gerrymandered in the country by Republicans who have the majority of the seats in the Legislature despite not receiving the majority of the votes cast statewide for either the Assembly or the Senate, most recently in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Republican leaders have not publicly responded to a letter from 105 organizations asking, in the name of transparency and public participation, that their representatives be permitted to testify virtually on the state budget, and they have not indicated whether they will require masks at budget hearings. The requests for virtual testimony and a mask requirement were made to enable input from groups and individuals who are concerned about the spread of COVID.
Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.
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