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 May 1, 2020


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I first saw this image someplace on social media; I was able to track it down again in this collection of images published by The Atlantic some time ago.  (The image appears to be the property of the National Archives, so I think I haven't broken any rules by sharing it with you.)  The photograph captured an open-air barbershop in 1919 at the University of California, Berkeley as the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 dragged on into a second year.  Such a scene would not be permissible in Wisconsin today despite the precautions being taken by the men in the photo; all barbershops, salons and the like are presently prohibited from operating, no matter what precautions they might take.


There was both encouraging and discouraging news in our state this week regarding the ongoing health emergency.  In no particular order:


I am encouraged by the news that Governor Evers has agreed to reopen, with limitations, most of the state park properties that he closed a few weeks ago.  I am discouraged that there is precisely one DNR phone number that folks may call to purchase the required admission sticker, and, it figures, people are having little success getting through.  HOWEVER: I did learn just yesterday that, if you are willing to pay a premium price (which includes a donation to the group), the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks organization is set up to sell the admission stickers online here; DNR says they're working on setting up an online ordering system of their own, but it isn't ready yet.  No matter how you purchase the sticker, it will take some days before you receive it, but proof of purchase (your receipt) is acceptable for park admission.


I am discouraged by news from the University of Wisconsin that the unemployment rate has already reached at least 19 percent (twice as bad as the height of the recession in 2009-10) and that the pandemic is costing our state economy $1.7 billion per week.  I am encouraged by a conversation held yesterday in the Capitol among legislators, business organizations and WEDC Secretary-designee Missy Hughes about ideas for getting back to work safely and responsibly.  The UW report recommends a similar approach that was discussed at that meeting: phased reopening of our economy, tailored to actual conditions on the ground in different regions of the state.  So far, Governor Evers has indicated support only for a one-size-fits-all statewide approach.


I am encouraged by Governor Evers' and Dept. of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan's action this week to direct all state agencies to cut their spending by 5 percent by the end of the fiscal year.  Our economy, and therefore our state government revenues, are definitely going to under-perform all the earlier estimates; we know it's going to be bad, but we don't know yet how bad.  And so I applaud this modest step, which is expected to save $70 million.  (For perspective: that's a bit less than 0.4 percent of total annual expenditures of general purpose revenues.)  However, I am discouraged that there has been no opportunity so far to work with the administration on another sensible step: freezing spending at current levels, rather than proceeding as planned with automatic spending increases in the upcoming fiscal year.  I seriously doubt that many households or businesses are going through with large purchases or investments that they planned some time ago to make; you're doing better than most if you are facing only a 0.4 percent reduction in your own normal revenues.  Financial conditions have changed for all of us, and your state government must accept this reality also that more tough decisions are coming.


I am encouraged by the news that the Department of Children and Families has received $51 million in extra federal money (that is, your federal tax dollars).  The money is intended by Congress to (1) help child care providers stay afloat so that when the economy recovers, our workers have access to affordable child care, and (2) reduce the actual price that employees such as healthcare workers must pay for child care during the crisis.  I am discouraged by the Department's plan to use much of this money instead to deliver "hazard pay" wage bonuses to some child care providers; I'm not convinced yet that this idea continues businesses' normal income or reduces prices for their paying clients as Congress intended.  The Department's plan is under review by the Joint Finance Committee now; we are considering whether the plan ought to be sharpened up before the money is spent.


I am discouraged that the Evers administration has doubled down on the argument that they can and should make all the decisions alone regarding closures to business as usual; that they can and should do so via a process that cuts out the participation of your elected representatives or senators; and that they can and should be empowered to do so indefinitely, without reasonable time limits.  But I am encouraged by the news that the governor believes it is safe to proceed as planned with the May 12 special election in northern Wisconsin; that there will be plenty of poll workers and personal protective equipment; and that the early/absentee voting option available to all voters there provides a reliable way for folks to participate even if they prefer not to attend the polls in person.


Perhaps the best news of all, the single most encouraging sign we could hope for, is that our state's hospitals are already moving in the direction of returning to business as usual.  I'm thankful that they heeded the government's instructions over the past two months to prepare for the worst; I'm doubly thankful that, by and large, the outbreak of illness in our state did not compromise their capacity to serve us.


We have a long road ahead.  Like the men in the photo, our lives too are probably going to be different from usual for quite some time.  I'm encouraged that the administration seems to be inching in the direction of more re-openings than new closures; toward confronting together with us the big financial decisions that we can see coming our way; and that bipartisan opportunities for discussing next steps together are very slowly beginning to occur.

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Office of Representative Terry Katsma
State Capitol, Room 306 East
P.O. Box 8952
Madison, WI 53708

(608) 266-0656
Rep.Katsma@legis.wisconsin.gov |