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Gov. Tony Evers calls special session to address child care, workforce challenges

Governor proposes spending $1B of state surplus toward effort

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate President Chris Kapenga at the State of the State
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, left, R-Rochester, and Senate President Chris Kapenga, right, R-Delafield, look at one another while listening to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers address a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers during the governor’s State of the State speech at the state Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Andy Manis/AP Photo

Gov. Tony Evers is calling a special session of the state Legislature and asking for $1 billion in surplus funds to be spent on child care, higher education and paid family leave.

Evers toured the state Tuesday — making stops at child care centers in Milwaukee, Appleton, Rhinelander and Eau Claire — to announce his plan to spend $365 million on child care. Chid Care Counts, the federal program that has bolstered the industry is set to expire in January. It is estimated 2,000 programs could close and 87,000 children would be without care when it does.

The governor’s plan also includes $321 million on higher education and $100 million on the Workforce Innovation Grant Program.

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These proposals, including expanding paid family leave, were all removed from Evers’ proposed biennial budget. According to the Marquette Law School Poll from November 2022, 73 percent of Wisconsin voters favor expanding paid family leave.

Throughout Evers’ tenure as governor, the Republican-led Legislature has gaveled in and out without taking any action when he has called a special session.

“There are some folks out there who are asking why this special session would be any different,” Evers said Tuesday. “At the end of the day, I know that Republicans don’t want to be responsible for farmers, schools, hospitals and other businesses in their districts not being able to find workers because parents can’t afford child care for their kids.”

When asked Tuesday if he has been in touch with Republicans, Evers said the summer has been “slow in conversations.”

Evers’ announcement Tuesday is similar to his veto message in July, when he wrote that he wanted to give the Legislature a second chance to do the right thing.

The state still has a projected surplus of roughly $4 billion in its general fund.

“I am using my broad, constitutional veto authority to ensure ample state resources are readily available for the Legislature to complete their work on this budget — to do the right thing, to rise to meet this moment of historic opportunity and responsibility, and to focus on passing real solutions for the urgent challenges facing our state,” Evers wrote in his veto message.

Republican legislative leaders signaled the new plan was a non-starter.

In a statement, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called the plan a rehash of Evers’ “tax and spend budget.”

“Gov. Evers’ proposal to give childcare providers a one-time payment of $365 million is another 12-month patch to match what they just lost through the federal stimulus plan,” Vos said. “It is unsustainable and does nothing to address the long-term problem faced by the childcare industry.”

Vos said when the Legislature returns in September the priority will be to give the governor a chance to fix his mistake of not signing a middle-class tax cut.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said instead of returning a state surplus to taxpayers, Evers wants to grow government and create entitlement programs.

“The best way to fix Wisconsin’s workforce shortage is to create a competitive tax structure that will attract talent and private investment to our state,” LeMahieu said in a statement. “The Senate remains committed to providing meaningful tax relief for Wisconsin families and addressing our workforce shortage without growing government entitlement programs.”

Republicans have long said that child care should not be subsidized by taxpayers. To that, Evers said Tuesday if the industry is not helped, centers will close.

“This is survival time for child care in Wisconsin,” Evers said.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin thanked Evers Tuesday and responded to Republicans’ quick dismissal of the governor’s plan.

“Republican politicians in Madison are being given a second chance to do what’s right: ensure that parents can get to work and provide for their families without worrying about child care, and that our economy can continue to grow by making smart investments in our workforce,” said party spokesperson Joe Oslund.