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Governor Evers issues call for special session to ‘finish your work’ on the state budget

by Erik Gunn, Wisconsin Examiner
August 8, 2023

Amid mounting concern about rising child care tuition, shortages of child care workers and providers announcing their centers are closing, Gov. Tony Evers issued a call Tuesday for the Legislature to come back into a special session and “finish your work on the 2023-25 biennial budget, and pass a comprehensive plan to address our state’s chronic workforce challenges.”

Evers announced his call for a special session at a news conference Tuesday morning in the parking lot outside a child care center on the northwest side of Milwaukee, but the scope of the agenda he announced goes well beyond the struggles child care providers say have been escalating in the last few months.

His proposal resuscitates major provisions that he proposed in February and that the Republican leaders of the Legislature scrapped before handing him their rewrite of the budget, which he signed with partial vetoes on July 5.

“Despite the benefit of the largest surplus in the state’s history, Republicans rejected much of my workforce plan, all without providing any real justification, any kind of substantive debate or any meaningful alternative of their own,” Evers said.

Citing his “strategic line-item vetoes in the budget, I’ve ensured ample state resources — about four billion dollars,” he said. “They’re readily available for the Legislature to do the right thing.”

Evers’ initiative includes four broad proposals:

$365 million in child care support, continuing stabilization grants that helped sustain the state’s child care services over the last two years. That also includes $22 million to continue a related child care support program, subsidizing employers who in turn cover child care costs for their employees.$243 million to kickstart a paid family leave program for new parents and for workers who need to take time off to care for a family member. The program is intended to be self-sustaining through a payroll tax, analogous to the unemployment insurance system, according to the administration.$120 million in additional higher education funding, including $66 million for the University of Wisconsin system and $40 million for the Wisconsin Technical College System and funds for grants aimed at making college more affordable. Evers noted that UW Oshkosh announced last week plans to lay off or furlough employees to cut $18 million from the university’s budget.$100 million to continue funding for a series of workforce development programs begun during the pandemic with federal pandemic relief funds.

Evers framed the measures collectively as addressing a collection of workforce-related challenges that Wisconsin has been facing for years, but especially acutely since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With already historically low unemployment and high workforce participation in the shrinking labor pool, Wisconsin small businesses, farmers, producers, hospitals and health care sectors, schools and other critical employers and industries continue to face significant generational challenges filling available jobs,” Evers said.

“Republicans have offered no real comprehensive plan to address our state’s workforce challenges,” he added. “Truly addressing these long-standing challenges must include efforts to ensure workers who are already working and are part of the workforce can remain in the workforce. They must include targeted investments to bolster key industries and sectors facing significant challenges. And they must include initiatives to ensure Wisconsin can be competitive in retaining and recruiting a talented workforce.”

In calling a special session of the Legislature — a tactic Evers has sought to employ numerous times since first taking office in 2019 — the governor acknowledged that the Republican leaders of both houses have repeatedly snubbed those previous special session calls.

Evers made clear his intention to blame the Republican majority if the agenda isn’t addressed.

“I would bet there are some folks out there who will ask why this special session will be any different,” when the GOP leaders gaveled in and out of sessions without taking any other action, he said.

“Here’s why,” he continued. “I know that Republicans do not want to be responsible for farmers, hospitals, schools and other businesses in their district not being able to find workers because parents can’t find care for their kids,” he said. “They don’t want they do not want to be responsible for campuses that support local communities and drive local economies laying off hundreds of people.”

The demographic challenges at the root of many of the state’s workforce difficulties aren’t new, he said, but he argued that if his proposals don’t lead to a change in the Legislature’s response, they will persist.

“These challenges that have plagued our state for generations will continue holding our families, our economy and our state back if the Republicans in the Legislature don’t take seriously this second chance,” Evers said. “There will not be bipartisan responsibility for any inaction: The consequences are theirs.”

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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