Evers revives child care, workforce proposals; GOP leaders say they're still not happening
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Governor Tony Evers called a special session of the state Legislature Tuesday, imploring Republican leaders to reconsider a number of items they stripped out of his budget earlier this year.
Evers announced the Sept. 20 special session while flanked by Milwaukee officials and Democratic lawmakers at the Tiny Green Trees day care center near Doyne Park in Milwaukee.
The session calls for lawmakers to take up about $1.1 billion worth of proposals. About one-third of the proposed spending would go toward extending pandemic-era child care programs:
- $365 million to extend the "Child Care Counts" and "Partner Up!" programs, which provide funding to day care providers for payroll and operations costs and for employers to pay for their workers' child care spots, respectively
- $243 million to launch a paid family leave program. Eventually, employees and employers would pay into the program with the goal of making it self-sufficient by 2026
- $197 million to build a new engineering building on the UW-Madison campus
- $66 million to the UW System with the goal of offsetting rising costs due to inflation
- $40 million for the Wisconsin Technical Colleges System
- $100 million for programs aimed at attracting health care workers and $16 million dedicated to attract and develop more teachers
Throughout his time as governor, Evers' special sessions have been met with an immediate gavel-in, gavel-out from the Republican-controlled Legislature. That includes sessions on issues ranging from guns to upgrading the unemployment processing system. Most recently, Republicans gaveled out of two special sessions last year on the state's abortion ban.
Evers said he was hopeful Republicans would actually weigh his proposals this time because of the economic stakes.
"At the end of the day, I know 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," Evers said.
However, Republican leaders indicated Tuesday Evers' proposals remain dead on arrival.
"Democrats at the federal level tried spending recklessly to help the workforce and all we got for it was crushing inflation," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in a statement.
GOP leadership repeated its top priority when the Legislature goes back into session next month is to pursue tax cuts.
Before signing the state budget in July, Evers vetoed income tax cuts Republicans gave to the highest two brackets, which include all single filers earning more than $25,520 per year.
Evers has said too much of those tax savings would go toward the state's wealthiest residents, reasoning half of the overall income tax savings would've gone to people making more than $200,000 per year.
Republicans maintain tax cuts are the best way state government can immediately address Wisconsin's ongoing workforce shortage.
"The Senate remains committed to providing meaningful tax relief for Wisconsin families," Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said in a statement. "And addressing our workforce shortage without growing government entitlement programs."
Democrats countered the social programs were not entitlements, but were essential given the challenges posed by inflation and rising child care costs.
"I find it exceptionally interesting that when it comes to pro-family policies, like child care and paid family leave, we always have to consider the budget," State Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) said. "But we never have to make those considerations for other things."
On child care, Evers cited a report by the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank that surveyed child care providers nationwide. Based on that survey, the group estimated more than 2,000 day care programs would fold across Wisconsin.
For the past couple weeks, Evers has toured child care facilities with a focus on rural areas largely represented by Republicans.
"I've spent a lot of time in child care institutions for the last four years, and they will close [without more aid]," Evers said. "They will not be able to afford to provide the services that are needed."
However, re-opening an already signed state budget to add an additional $1 billion would be unprecedented in Wisconsin politics.
Evers maintained it's affordable given the state's remaining $4 billion surplus, but given the comments from Republican leaders Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the state Capitol will include another special session that begins and ends in a matter of seconds.