Sunday, October 25, 2020

Evers still has some CARES money left, but not as much as WisGOPs claim he does

In early September, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said that there was about $207 million in the state's CARES allocation that still had to be set aside. Since then, Gov Tony Evers has announced several new initiatives, including over $100 million for Wisconsin small businesses, hotels, movie theatres, live music venues, and other industries that have been especially hard-hit in the COVID World, and an additional $50 million for child care providers and services.

So the LFB gave an update on how much CARES money has been set aside, and where it is going. The LFB reports there is still some that has to go out in the next 2 months.
Accounting for both the new programs and the reallocations, the total amount of CRF funds needed to fund the announced initiatives is $1.87 billion, with approximately $127.3 million remaining. These initiatives are summarized in the table below. Additional details on the intended purposes of the $1.87 billion in funding are also provided.
I'll take special note of the money set aside for the Reserve/Surge Operating Fund. A lot of the $445 million that was initially set aside has been reallocated for increased testing, along with the economic support programs. But it sure seems like that might be a source of more money very soon, given the recent explosion of COVID-related health needs in the state. The LFB notes one of these set-asides just started to kick in last week.
Reserve/Surge Operating Fund. $162 million has been set aside in a reserve to fund necessary expenditures related to a surge in COVID-19 cases through the end of 2020. A portion of this reserve is being used to fund the operation of an alternate care facility, built in April by the Army Corps of Engineers, at the Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis. The facility has a capacity of 530 beds, and is meant to ease the strain on hospitals by accepting patients who no longer require hospitalization but still require medical attention. The facility opened on October 14, 2020, with a minimum capacity of 50 beds.
Seems like payments to these overloaded hospitals and other providers is a logical place for that last $127 million, given how things have gone in October.
But wait, here's Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos claiming that Evers isn't spending everything that he can to fight COVID. I want to thank one of my readers, who tipped me off to a rambly Facebook post by Vos, who is clearly feeling the heat from the fact that his chamber has been on a 6-month paid vacation while the pandemic gets worse in the state.

I want to center on this part in particular.
In April the state legislature passed our COVID 19 relief bill (which I authored) that gave a great deal of authority to the Governor to fight the virus. We allocated 75m dollars for him to utilize in addition to the billions of dollars of federal funds Wisconsin received. As of today he has spent $0. Let me repeat $0 of the funds allocated by the Wisconsin State Legislature.
It seems like Robbin' is referencing a segment of the CARES bill that the Legislature passed in April (the ONE time they have met in the last 7 months), which changed up policies to conform with the CARES Act, and allowed the money to be spent out. In the LFB write-up of Wisconsin's CARES bill, it is described as follows.
Allow the Joint Committee on Finance to transfer up to $75 million from sum sufficient appropriations during the public health emergency declared on March 12, 2020, by Executive Order 72, and for a period of up to 90 days after the termination of the public health emergency.

Transferred funds could be used for expenditures related to the public health emergency. Under current law, the Joint Committee on Finance can transfer funds between two appropriations or between two fiscal years in the same biennium if the transfer would eliminate unnecessary duplication of functions, result in a more efficient and effective method for performing programs, or more effectively carry out legislative intent. Such transfer must be for purposes which have been authorized or directed by the Legislature, and cannot change legislative intent. Current law does not allow a transfer from a sum sufficient appropriation to other types of appropriations.
But that indicates the $75 million has to be signed off by the Joint Finance Committee, and the most Evers can do is to ask Joint Finance to transfer the funds. In addition, this isn't additional money, it's moving money out of one program and into another.

If you go to the end of the recently-released Annual Fiscal Report, you'll see that there wasn't $75 million in sum-sufficients to move money from. Here was the most money that lapsed in the 2020 Fiscal Year, at least among programs that weren't given money for COVID-19 and carried over themselves.

Largest sum-sufficient lapses
County and municipal aids $15.15 million
Enterprize zones $8.97 million
Homestead Credit $6.175 million
Voucher and Charter Schools $4.625 million
Circuit Courts $2.33 million

So I'd like to know which of these programs Robbin' Vos would have liked the Joint Finance Committee to raid so that Evers could be given a portion of those $75 million additional dollars? Heck, we know that JFC doesn't think they need to do anything these days, given this recent reponse from Co-Chair Alberta Darling.
The Republican co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s budget committee said lawmakers have done enough to fight the surging coronavirus pandemic Thursday, echoing the comments of another GOP legislator this week who said there is nothing more they can do.

Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills contended Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has all the powers he needs to deal with COVID-19, even as she and other Republican lawmakers have gone to court to try to limit his ability to act on his own....

Because of the power Evers has to handle the coronavirus, lawmakers don’t need to do anything more about the illness, she said.

“We don’t need to come in because we gave him all the flexibility that he needs,” said Darling, who is co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.
So JFC Co-Chair Bertie DAHHH-ling is unaware of this $75 million fund, or she is pulling a Susan-Collins level of dishonesty. Either answer should be disqualifying.

Lastly, there's no more money coming from DC as it stands today, so there's a serious cliff looming in December, which is a time when unemployment claims are usually at their peak in a normal year and COVID not likely to have dissipated by then. Which then shoves all of the extra burdens onto state government, so we will need every penny of the $1.17 billion carried over into FY 2021 if Washington fails to do their part in the next 10 weeks.

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