Budget Committee Appropriates $9 Million for Re-Entry Programs and Tourism • Wisconsin Examiner

The Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee voted Thursday to release $9 million in funding, which will be used to create a program to help people who have been incarcerated get back into their lives, and a program to boost tourism to stimulate.

The Department of Public Instruction and child care advocates criticized the Republican-led commission for not responding to other funding requests, including money for literacy programs across the state and grants to child care providers. These are some of the many funding requests that lawmakers have refused to grant in recent months, including PFAS and hospital funding.

Lawmakers approved the release of $4 million for a new reentry program for people incarcerated under the Department of Corrections.

The agency has been tasked with contracting with at least one organization to establish a community reentry center Wisconsin Law 233, signed in March. The center will serve as a first point of contact for health care, identification, finance, housing, employment, education and supervision services for people released from state prisons.

“This is an important pilot project, something that will create a center in Milwaukee that will help people transition from incarceration, especially people who have been incarcerated for a long time and who are experiencing some challenges in working back into the community, and this can be very helpful to them,” said committee co-chair Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam). “I think it’s a good program and I’m hopeful that it will help a lot of people here in Wisconsin transition.”

The committee also voted to appropriate $5 million for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to establish the “Opportunity Attraction and Promotion Fund.” The agency was tasked with creating the program Wisconsin Law 169.

The agency will be able to award grants under the program to help with the costs of major opportunities and events that will attract national exposure and stimulate economic development and visitors to Wisconsin. Under the law, successful applicants will be able to use grant funds to bid against states and jurisdictions outside of Wisconsin to attract an event to Wisconsin and to host events secured through competitive bidding.

“We express confidence that WEDC and the Department of Tourism can continue to work together to bring things that will be beneficial to the state of Wisconsin,” Senator Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) said at the meeting. ‘We have heard a lot now Top chef It is known that… they have a so-called halo effect. It’s not just that the programs continue. It’s that people across the country are now seeing great things they can do when they come visit Wisconsin.

Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) criticized Republicans for releasing only $5 million — half of the $10 million set aside in the 2023-25 ​​budget that WEDC requested.

“If this proposal were on Top Chef, I would probably ask the company to grab its knives and go,” Andraca said. “It’s half of what they charge and we get half of the benefit.”

Rep. Alex Dallman (R-Green Lake) said lawmakers would provide only $5 million as Wisconsin is already about halfway through its current biennial budget.

“This seems appropriate,” Dallman said of the amount the committee handed out, adding that he was “pleased to get the program up and running and see how successful it is going forward.”

Childcare, literacy, PFAS, hospitals not on the calendar

The money released on Thursday is only a fraction of the funding requests that have been received by the committee in recent months. Republicans have refused to grant some of these requests, including $125 million for PFAS funding, nearly $50 million for literacy programs and $15 million to support hospitals in western Wisconsin. The continued delays in releasing funding led to recurring discussions on Thursday.

“We don’t take on issues that are not right for us, including issues like the PFAS request,” Born said at a news conference before the meeting. “It is clear that the governor has vetoed this bill. That’s up to him.”

Child care advocates were the first to draw attention to recent delays, noting that a recent funding request to support the Child Care Counts program was not on the committee’s calendar.

That same week, JFC received the request for the tourism funds, also from the Evers administration requested the release of $15 million that would go toward grants through the Child Care Counts program. While the Finance Committee’s Republican majority originally budgeted the money for a revolving loan program, Gov. Tony Evers used his partial veto to turn it into a grant program.

The Wisconsin Care Coalition, which includes child care providers and other advocacy groups, urged lawmakers to release the funding, saying it would help centers provide care to children and help families afford care.

“All we ask is that the Joint Finance Committee honors the funding allocation put into law,” the coalition said in a statement. “Daycare centers across Wisconsin must make decisions about whether to remain open or close permanently. The Child Care Counts program has provided a crucial lifeline, but inaction by the state legislature has reduced these funds by 50%.”

After the meeting, State Superintendent Jill Underly called on Republicans to provide funding to implement new literacy programs under Wisconsin Act 20, which was signed into law nearly a year ago. Of the $50 million budgeted, only $327,400 to support the director of the Office of Literacy has been released to date.

State lawmakers and Evers are suing each other over the literacy programs, which also ends funding. In their lawsuit, Republican lawmakers argue that the legislation was not an appropriation bill and therefore did not allow Evers to use his partial veto to eliminate language. Their suit asks the court to block DPI not to spend the money as if Evers’ veto holds. Meanwhile, Evers has filed a lawsuit, arguing that the Legislature is “wrongfully withholding” the money.

“Every day of delay makes it increasingly difficult to meet the requirements of Act 20 – a bipartisan law designed to help Wisconsin children learn to read – and our children are the ones who will pay the price,” Underly said in a statement .

“We have worked with the Legislature throughout this process, and I know our common goal is to improve literacy education and outcomes for all Wisconsin students. This week we announced the appointment of a Literacy Director to advance this work,” Underly continued. “We renew our call on the Joint Committee on Finance to release the allocated funding so we can achieve our shared goal of helping children learn to read, so they can read to learn.”

Fighting with memos

a dispute over the ability of the Joint Finance Committee to mobilize already budgeted resources to address PFAS contamination and health care needs in the Chippewa Valley also escalated Thursday.

On Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), the Senate minority leader, traded attacks with Born and Marklein over a memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council saying the committee could release those funds.

The memo also included a warning about hypothetical court rulings that could block such actions due to veto decisions — a prospect the GOP JFC co-chairs have cited in defense of their refusal to release the money.

On Thursday, Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick) and Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) released a Legislative Reference Bureau memo outlining times when the JFC had appropriated money for budget items despite partial vetoes.

The 88-page memo identified ten instances in which the commission had taken action “on items partially vetoed by Governors (Scott) Walker and Evers since 2011.” The cases were initially identified by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, according to the reference bureau memo.

The memo contained individual budget items, the language that the governors had eliminated with the partial veto, the Budget Office’s budget document for the JFC when it placed the item on the agenda, and the minutes of the JFC’s subsequent action.

In their statementSmith and Emerson focused on $15 million set aside to address hospital closures in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls. Evers used his partial veto to override a restriction in the original legislation that limited the money to strengthening emergency services in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties.

“Republicans want people to think they can’t release the $15 million, but in reality they have done so at least a dozen times in recent history,” Smith said in the joint statement.

“Let’s make this abundantly clear: it is a conscious decision by Republicans not to release these funds,” Emerson said.

They noted that Born and Marklein had specifically pointed to a “prosecutor-happy” Evers in a joint statement Wednesday, arguing that their fear of being sued for releasing the money was justified.

“This is the weirdest and saddest excuse yet – cringing over a lawsuit from the governor for doing what he asked – I mean, come on,” Smith said. “The excuses are beyond ridiculous at this point. They’ve done it before, just do it again.”


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