By Hope Karnopp
MADISON - Assembly lawmakers returned to Madison on Tuesday for a lot of debate and no action.
Lawmakers arrived at the state Capitol at the request of Republican legislative leaders seeking to override Gov. Tony Evers' veto of a bill that would end extra unemployment benefits, and at the call of Evers who wanted them to approve hundreds of millions of dollars for schools.
Both sides accused the other of pulling political stunts and neither came away with what they wanted.
The attempt to override Evers' veto failed 59 to 37. Republicans needed two-thirds of members present Tuesday to support the override to be successful.
GOP legislative leaders rejected Evers' call for a separate special legislative session starting Tuesday while lawmakers were in the statehouse to take up school funding proposals.
The Legislature was not scheduled to reconvene until September, but all but three Assembly lawmakers were present to vote on Tuesday.
Republicans and the state's largest business lobby have pushed for the end of the additional $300 a week in pandemic-related benefits that are set to run through Labor Day. They have argued that ending the benefits would help alleviate the state's worker shortage and that the challenges of the pandemic have passed.
"Do I believe that simply by overriding Gov. Evers' veto today that that will instantly solve the crisis that we have with employment? It's not a silver bullet, there's no doubt about that. But is it a part, a major part of the problem? Yes," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.
Nearly a month ago, Evers vetoed the measure, which also would have prohibited the Department of Workforce Development from waiving the work search requirement for reasons related to COVID-19.Create Account
Evers and Democrats have noted that the labor shortage existed before the pandemic. Evers put some of the state's federal American Rescue Plan allocation toward helping regions meet child care and transportation needs. Democrats said that the pandemic is not over and pointed to a rise in cases in the state.
"We need to understand that the pandemic, the workforce shortage, our response to COVID-19, child care, housing, affordable health care are all connected. We need to vote for all of those things," said Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Democrat from Stevens Point.
Wisconsin's unemployment rate in June was 3.9%, close to the 3.5% the state had in February 2020 before the pandemic hit. In that month, the state's labor force participation rate was 66.9% and in June of this year it was 66.3%, according to the DWD.
Republican leaders opened and immediately ended Evers' special session in the afternoon. Evers' plan was to use $550 million that he kept from going into the state's "rainy day" fund using his veto authority toward K-12 education, the University of Wisconsin System and the state's technical colleges.
"If Republicans have time to come into session just to try and override my vetoes, then they sure as heck have time to come into session to do what’s best for our kids," Evers said in a video message Monday.
Republican leaders said Evers was changing the subject and that his call for a special session was a smokescreen. Republicans have rejected previous special session calls from Evers, including ones to take up BadgerCare expansion and changes to policing in Wisconsin.
When he signed the state budget earlier this month, Evers said there was "unfinished business" and called on the Legislature to invest more in education. He announced he would direct an additional $100 million in federal funding to schools.
"Education leaders at every level have been clear that our schools need these additional resources because if funding isn’t restored, districts in every corner of the state will be forced to lay off teachers, cut programs or go to referendum," Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said.
Vos said that education funding is not at a crisis level and that the budget made significant investments in education.
"They're to the point now where they could use it for a large variety of things in their budget. And you see schools that are responsible in their budgets, that are managing these massive amounts of money and working fine with their budgets," said Rep. Mark Born, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee.
A memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau on Tuesday showed that K-12 and higher education spending passed under the state budget is above the required federal maintenance of effort. But if the state spends less on education or more toward anything else, it could fall below that benchmark and lose federal money.
Any plans for more state spending would be made more complicated due to federal COVID-related requirements that would require the state to put 79 cents toward education for every additional dollar spent.