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Gov. Tony Evers: More UW System Cuts Coming, Statewide Mask Mandate Under Consideration

Governor's Responses To COVID-19 Limited By Supreme Court Decision

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. Wisconsin National Guard (CC-BY-NC-ND)

More budget cuts are coming to the University of Wisconsin System as the state budget tightens during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday.

Evers announced Wednesday he was calling for $250 million in new cuts from state agencies for this fiscal year, which began on July 1 and runs through June 30, 2021.

Speaking on a call with reporters Thursday, the governor said he’s having conversations with UW System officials about where schools can find savings.

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“Yes, we’re in the middle of conversations with the University of Wisconsin System to have them help us put our budget in the best place possible,” the governor said. “We will have expectations for them and we’ve already communicated that to them. We’re going to have ongoing discussions around that.”

UW System President Tommy Thompson pushed back on possible cuts Wednesday, saying the UW System has already had to deal with a disproportionate amount of state budget trimming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Evers administration cut $70 million from the state budget for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. A large part of that — about $41 million — was shouldered by the UW System.

The governor has not yet called for a budget repair bill, which would require approval on budget changes from the GOP-controlled state Legislature. Evers will likely present his next two-year state budget, which will run from 2021-2023, in February.

Statewide Mask Order Still A Possibility

Evers also said Thursday he is still strongly considering issuing a statewide mask mandate in Wisconsin.

“Clearly, the number of consecutive record increases in cases have accelerated our consideration,” he said.

Wisconsin has logged record-breaking numbers for new daily cases of COVID-19 several times over the past two weeks.

The governor has said for weeks his administration is contemplating the order, but he faces a possible lawsuit from the GOP-controlled Legislature or another conservative group if he issues such an order.

The Evers administration’s powers to issue statewide restrictions in response to the pandemic were limited by the state Supreme Court’s May order striking down its statewide stay at home order.

The governor said he wouldn’t hesitate to issue the mask mandate if he could be assured his action wouldn’t be met with a lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, there are some folks in this state that don’t believe that masks help,” Evers said. “We know they do. There’s no question.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have both spoken out against a mask mandate in the state. They have said people and businesses should be trusted to make their own decisions about following public health guidance.