Monday, April 15, 2024

JFC - Can WisGOPs give out the money they already OK'd?

After months of stalemate, Governor Evers took actions last week to try to get $140 million released from bills that have already been signed into law.

“It’s been 279 days since I signed the biennial budget and approved a $125 million investment to fight PFAS—the first real, meaningful investment Republicans have sent to my desk to address and prevent PFAS contamination statewide,” said Gov. Evers. “And it’s now been more than 40 days since I signed a bill to secure $15 million in crisis response resources that would help ensure folks in Western Wisconsin have access to the healthcare services they need when and where they need it, including OB-GYN services, mental health and substance use treatment, urgent care, and so much more.

“That’s $140 million in already-approved and agreed-upon investments to address urgent, pressing issues facing our state, but these funds are sitting unspent in Madison because the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee has refused to release even one cent—and that’s just wrong,” continued Gov. Evers. “PFAS are affecting communities across our state, and Western Wisconsin is facing serious challenges due to recently announced hospital closures—there is no reason Wisconsinites should have to wait any longer than they already have for these funds to be released. This is about doing the right thing for our kids, our families, and our communities, and it should’ve been done a long time ago. This must get done.”

The $140 million investment includes $125 million to combat PFAS contamination across the state that was made available through the 2023-25 biennial budget passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature and enacted by Gov. Evers last July. The PFAS funding has languished unspent in Madison for more than nine months—279 days.

The remaining $15 million of the $140 million awaiting the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee’s action is crisis response resources to help stabilize the healthcare industry and healthcare access in Western Wisconsin. Over a month ago now—41 days ago—Gov Evers signed 2023 Wisconsin Act 97 to secure $15 million in crisis response resources to support healthcare access in Western Wisconsin. Gov. Evers approved Act 97 with improvements through line-item vetoes that provide additional flexibility for the $15 million crisis response investment, enabling the resources to be used to fund any hospital services meeting the area’s pressing healthcare needs, including urgent care services, OB-GYN services, inpatient psychiatry services, and mental health substance use services, among others. Without the governor’s vetoes, these services would not have been eligible under the legislation. JFC continues to let these funds sit idle in Madison, even as HSHS closed HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls on March 22, 2024—approximately a month earlier than had previously been announced—underscoring the urgent need for these funds to be released and distributed to partners in the community working to offset the burden of these closures.
And we find out tomorrow if anything will come from it (don't bet on it).

So how did we get to this standoff? Because both items require the approval of a Joint Finance Committee that has 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats, as required by the gerrymandered GOP Legislature to get these $125 million to fight PFAS into the state budget last June.
Under the provision, the PFAS fund would have no amounts appropriated in the 2023-25 biennium. Transfers and other revenues would be available for DNR to request for release by the Joint Committee on Finance, or the fund balance could be further directed or appropriated in separate legislation.
That's a common thing the GOP Legislature has done in the last 5 years, as a power play against the Democratic Governor. Sure, the Legislature might allow funds to deal with a problem to be set aside, but they often have allowed the JFC to keep those funds from going out if they don't like how the Governor and his Administration plan to use the money to solve the problem.

Same goes for the $15 million that is intended to help Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls-area health providers handle the strains that are resulting from the 2 HSHS hospitals closing, along with the loss of over 1,400 jobs. These funds were initially given out in 2021 as a Legislature-initiated grant of $15 million to have HSHS hospitals expand with increased behavioral health service beds in the same Chippewa Valley facilities that are now closing.

To deal with the crisis, the GOP-run Legislature passed a bill that would earmark that $15 million for emergency department services in that part of the state, with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services administering the funds. Evers vetoed the language referencing the "emergency department", which means that the money could be used for pretty much any need that exists, then signed the rest of it into law.

But again, the Legislature gave Joint Finance the ability to hold up the money until they liked what they saw from the Governor's Office.
In the schedule under s. 20.005 (3) for the appropriation to the joint committee on finance under s. 20.865 (4) (a), the dollar amount for fiscal year 2023-24 is increased by $15,000,000 for grants to support hospital emergency department services.
For both these bills, the Governor and Joint Finance have had some discussions behind the scenes, but JFC has refused to meet to approve or deny the funds. So you get to the special meeting that Evers called for tomorrow, and let's look at what the Evers Administration says the money would be used for.

The PFAS holdup came to a head after Evers vetoed a GOP bill last week that would have released the money on the GOP's terms, which isn't something Evers was willing to go along with.

So let's look at what the Evers Administration wants to do with the DNR PFAS funds.
1) $100 million in financial assistance to carry out the following eligible activities consistent with the structure outlined in the Municipal PFAS grant program in Senate Bill 312, as amended:

a. Provide financial assistance to municipalities for PFAS testing performed at properties owned, leased, managed, or contracted for by those municipalities based on the cost of testing and the amount of testing needed in each community;

b. Provide financial assistance to non-municipal public or community water systems for the entity to test its drinking water supply for PFAS;
c. Provide financial assistance to the owner or manager of, or the holder of a solid waste facility license issued by the department for, privately owned solid waste disposal facilities to test for the presence of PFAS in leachate.

d. Provide financial assistance to municipalities to test for PFAS levels at locations that are owned, leased, managed, or contracted for by a municipality and where PFAS may be present, including airports, water systems, wastewater treatment facilities, or contaminated lands, and to test for PFAS levels in leachate at solid waste disposal facilities that are owned, leased, managed, or contracted for by a municipality;

e. Provide financial assistance to municipalities and the owner or manager of, or the holder of a solid waste facility license issued by the department for, privately owned solid waste disposal facilities to dispose of PFAS-containing biosolids or leachate at facilities that accept such biosolids or leachate or to purchase and install on-site treatment systems to address PFAS contained in biosolids or leachate;

f. Provide financial assistance for capital costs or debt service, including for facility upgrades or new infrastructure, to municipalities that are small or disadvantaged or in which rates for water or wastewater utilities will increase by more than 20 percent as a direct result of steps taken to address PFAS contamination, and;

g. Provide financial assistance to municipalities for capital costs or other costs related to PFAS that are not otherwise paid from the environmental improvement fund. Assistance may be provided to municipalities for costs for addressing solid waste disposal facilities or other contaminated lands owned, leased, managed, or contracted for by the municipality; costs incurred by fire departments, including to replace PFAS-containing firefighting foam; costs for the preparation and implementation of pollutant minimization plans; and costs incurred by municipal public utilities or metropolitan sewerage districts created under ch. 200 for pretreatment or other PFAS source reduction measures for an interconnected customer or other regular customer if the costs incurred are less than the costs of the upgrades otherwise required at the endpoint treatment facility and if the costs are approved by the governing body of the municipality or the metropolitan sewerage district.
In addition, there would be $25 million to "Innocent Landowners" affected by PFAS to:
...provide financial assistance to landowners whose land was used for permitted biosolids or wastewater residuals landspreading; fire departments or municipalities that responded to emergencies that required the use of PFAS; solid waste disposal facilities that accepted PFAS; and landowners of property on which PFAS contamination did not originate.
The desire to protect Innocent Landowners from a loss of land value was a main excuse reason given by JFC member Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) this weekend as to why the JFC has yet to release the money.

Worth noting, within days after Evers announced the special session last week, we saw national news on the PFAS front that gives a clue as to what WMC DOESN'T want to see more of in Wisconsin.
An embattled producer of firefighting foam with a production facility in northeast Wisconsin reached a $750 million settlement with public water systems impacted by "forever chemicals."

Tyco Fire Products, a subsidiary of Johnson Controls, announced the settlement Friday, according to a press release from the Napoli Schkolnik environmental law firm, which is representing a number of PFAS-impacted communities that have filed lawsuits.

The money will be distributed among the cities that have filed lawsuits to remediate PFAS contamination, though it was not immediately clear which communities could see money from the settlement. The settlement stipulates it is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing.
Those WMC campaign checks won't write themselves to GOP members on the JFC, which helps explain why they'd like to control and kill this enforcement power against PFAS in any way they can.

Moving over to the $15 million in hospital funds, here's how the Evers Admnistration would have the Department of Health Services try to help Eau Claire-area hospitals. The Evers Administration said there were 6 areas where they would help pay for an expansion of services that was done after January 2024 (when the HSHS closings were announced).
a. Increase Emergency Department capacity/service, including accepting patients in crisis in need of potential evaluation under Chapter 51. 
  b. Expand Urgent Care Services  
c. Expand Inpatient Psychiatric Unit accepting adults and/or adolescents. The unit must accept emergency detentions under s. 51.15 and voluntary admissions. 
d. Expand Inpatient OB/GYN services.
e. Expand mental health and/or substance use services.  
f. Expand or establish hospital-owned and operated ambulance service to transfer patients to an appropriate patient care setting. 
So JFC, what's the problem here? Do they still want the funds limited only to Emergency needs for behavioral services (and can they explain why that would be better)?

Or when it comes to the PFAS and hospital funding, are the GOPs on JFC refusing to not let the Evers Administration get to work on helping Wisconsinites in need solely due to this mentality?

Yeah, it's probably that lame. This gerrymander can't end soon enough.

1 comment:

  1. Sure enough, the Republicans on JFC decided to stay on their taxpayer-funded vacation today. Evers and JFC Dems had a press conference in the meeting room instead, and Evers said he was contemplating a lawsuit to end this double-veto that JFC has over so many tax dollars.

    Evers added that he'd rather not do that, because it could hold up the money even longer. But given that GOPs are trying to actively sabotage any attempt to solve these real problems ahead of the November election, it may well be worth filing suit and testing out whether this tactic should be allowed to continue.

    Again, the gerrymander can't end soon enough. And Dems need to be slamming the home districts of the GOPs on Finance with radio and billboard ads asking why they are staying on vacation vs doing real work.