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Evers administration requests release of $25 million for child care and tourism

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by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
May 22, 2024

Gov. Tony Evers’ administration is requesting that the Republican-led budget committee release $25 million in funds that would go towards supporting child care providers and tourism in Wisconsin.

It’s unclear whether lawmakers will release the funds. The requests come as Republican committee leaders and Evers have been in a stalemate over several funding release requests made by the administration, including for over $125 million to combat PFAS, $50 million to implement new literacy programs and $15 million meant to support hospitals in the Chippewa Valley. The disagreements about specifics on how the money for those initiatives should be spent has led to veto override attempts in the Senate and lawsuits from the Legislature and Evers.

In an emailed statement to the Examiner, the co-chairs of the committee Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) didn’t indicate whether the committee would meet to vote on the requests. 

“The Joint Committee on Finance will review these requests just like we review all 13.10 [funding] requests,” Born and Marklein wrote. 

$15 million to support Child Care Counts 

One of the requests from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is for $15 million that would go towards the state’s Child Care Counts program that would be used in collaboration with the Department of Children and Families to provide grants to child care providers in Wisconsin. 

“It’s no secret that without sustainable, meaningful investments, our state’s child care industry faces imminent collapse, which would be a disaster for our kids, our working families, our workforce and economy,” Evers said in a statement. “I will continue to do what’s best for our kids, and I urge Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee to approve this request without delay.”

The Child Care Counts program, which was launched in March 2020 using federal money, has provided funding assistance to over 5,200 eligible child care providers to help support operating expenses, investments in program quality, tuition relief for families, staff compensation and professional development.

The request is Evers’ latest effort to extend the program as federal investments end. Evers and child care providers have argued the program would help the industry address a looming child care crisis. 

Evers initially requested $340 million for the program in the recent state budget, but Republicans rejected the proposal. In October 2023, he reallocated $170 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to extend the program through June 2025. Jeff Pertl, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), recently said at a rally of child care advocates that the current extension creates another chance “to go back to the Legislature and build a sustainable future for child care.”

DCF Secretary Emilie Amundson said the agency is grateful for Evers’ support and commitment to the Child Care Counts program. 

“This extension, combined with future innovations, will allow us to continue to strengthen our early care and education industry so that families across the state have access to affordable child care,” Amundson said.

It’s possible, however, that lawmakers may stall the additional request for the $15 million.

When lawmakers included the $15 million for child care in the budget, they crafted the language so that it would serve as a revolving loan program. Evers vetoed sections so that WEDC could use the money to fund grants, rather than loans.

Republican lawmakers have been firm in their stance that they oppose using state money to extend the child care program, and in other recent cases where Evers has made changes using his partial veto power such as with funding for hospitals in western Wisconsin, lawmakers have declined to release funding as a result of the partial vetoes.

Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), who sits on the Joint Finance Committee, said in a written statement responding to questions from the Examiner that she is “hopeful” that Republicans will allow the funds to be released. She said the money would “help providers retain caregivers and stay open, so parents can rely on them and be in the workforce.” 

“During the budget-writing process, Republican legislators ignored parents, employers, and providers – they zeroed out funding for Child Care Counts, which contributed to daycare closures across the state and devastated working families. Childcare is a public good. It’s infrastructure – our economy can’t function without it, and addressing the childcare crisis is necessary to alleviate the worker shortage,” Roys added. “Now that the GOP-led Legislature will face its first competitive election in 14 years, they may be less inclined to throw working parents under the bus.”

$10 million for tourism fund

WEDC’s second request to the budget committee is for $10 million that would be used to attract and support large-scale events in Wisconsin. 

The funding would be used to establish the “Opportunity Attraction and Promotion Fund,” which would be used to assist communities with the costs of major events. 

“Wisconsin’s tourism industry is a huge part of our state’s success — creating over $20 billion in economic impact and supporting over 100,000 jobs statewide each year,” Evers said, noting that the NFL draft will be held in Green Bay in 2025 and that other opportunities to expand tourism are happening including a new Amtrak Borealis Train connecting St. Paul to Chicago straight through central Wisconsin and the recent designation of the Ice Age Trail as a national park

“We want to continue growing our tourism industry and investing in one of our state’s largest economic engines by promoting Wisconsin as a major destination for some of our country’s largest events,” Evers said. 

Wisconsin Act 169, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Evers in March, specifies the requirements for the funding that would help create the Opportunity Attraction and Promotion Fund program within WEDC to award grants to eligible applicants for major opportunities and events that will draw national exposure and drive economic development and visitors to Wisconsin. Under the law, successful applicants will be able to use grant funds to bid against states and jurisdictions outside Wisconsin to attract an event to Wisconsin and to host any events secured through a competitive bid.

In response to a question about whether she foresees any roadblocks to the release of the tourism money by the budget committee, Roys said that she hopes Sen. Marklein’s “‘review process’ recognizes the fact that the Legislature and executive branch are equal branches of government.” She said that when the executive branch requests the release of funds that are within the scope in which they were already approved by the state Legislature and Evers, then the “Joint Finance Committee should approve the release of those funds — NOT obstruct agencies from serving Wisconsinites with the funds the legislature already agreed to give them.”

This story is republished from Wisconsin Examiner under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.