PFAS

What the August constitutional amendment vote means to Wisconsin – The Cap Times

Republican legislators are asking Wisconsin voters in August to approve an amendment that could have significant ramifications on a key part of state operations, spending federal money.


Wisconsin’s governor has the power to determine how the money that Washington, D.C. sends to the state can be spent.


Gov. Over the objections from Republican legislators, Tony Evers’ administration determined how billions in federal COVID-19 funding would be managed in Wisconsin.


Now those lawmakers are asking the voters to give more oversight and restrict the powers of Evers or any other governor going forward.


Advocates say this will create more accountability for federal funds spent, and give the Legislature a greater role in drafting and passing the state budget.


Wisconsin Democratic Party and voting rights groups, among others, are asking voters not to accept the amendment. The Wisconsin Democratic Party, voting rights groups and others are asking voters to reject the amendment.


This is just one of the constitutional amendments that Wisconsin voters will vote on this year. In April, Wisconsin voters approved an amendement that would limit the number of people who could work in elections and ban private funding. In November, voters are asked if they want to make it clear that only U.S. Citizens can vote in local election.

The ballot for the 13th of August, which is already available by mail, asks voters to add a new level to legislative oversight to the spending process. This comes at a time when Wisconsin will receive federal funding in the hundreds of millions, if not even billions, as part of the Bipartisan Inflation Reduction and Infrastructure Law.


Andrew Reschovsky is a professor emeritus of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an expert in public finance. “Is that good or bad?” It depends on your politics. In a highly fractured political climate, the results could be significant .”


Funding for COVID-19 triggers a debate


Each year, Wisconsin receives billions of federal dollars for everything from road repairs to conservation efforts at the Department of Natural Resources, to funding for Medicaid, the state health insurance program for pregnant women and low-income residents.

If the money will be used for a particular purpose, the state agency is authorized to accept it, either by a bill passed separately or in the budget of the state.


Before spending block grants, which are federal money given to states with less restrictions on their use, agencies must get approval from the legislature.


Universities of Wisconsin can accept federal funds on their own. Some state agencies such as the Department of Public Instruction have greater flexibility in deciding how to use federal money.


If there isn’t a specific use for federal funds or it doesn’t form part of the budget, then the governor has the latitude to accept the money and decide how it will be spent.


Despite the objections from the Wisconsin Legislature, the billions of dollars Wisconsin got under the American Rescue Plan Act 2021 fall under this category.


ARPA was passed by Congress with few restrictions on the way states could use the money. Wisconsin received about $5 billion.

Evers’s administration decided to spend the majority of the money on local businesses and workers. It also sent grants to local governments to provide assistance to the health care system in the aftermath of the pandemic. These local funds were used by Dane County to fund things like a public market in the county or a Black Business Hub south of Madison.


The Black Business Hub was a new building located on South Park Street, Madison. It was one of the local projects funded by Gov. Tony Evers spent federal American Rescue Plan Act funds at his discretion.







The Republicans in the Legislature presented their own plan to raise money, and then tried to take control of the whole process away from the Governor. Evers vetoed the two ideas.

GOP officials also criticised Evers’ decisions on where to spend the money, and the transparency of the decision-making process. They point out that his administration refused to give information to the nonpartisan auditing body of the Legislature for an ARPA review.


The Department of Administration informed auditors that Governor’s Administration examined economic data and spoke with advocacy groups, but needed to move quickly in order to get the money to the door.


Critics Fear Amendment will Slow Emergency Response


The proposed amendement would give the Legislature greater oversight over federal funds.


It would first clarify that the Legislature can’t delegate the power to decide on how money is spent by passing a budget. This is often called the “power to the purse” and it would also prevent the governor to determine the use of federal funds without the Legislature consent.


Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine), who introduced the amended, said that the state had not always granted the governor such broad powers to accept federal funds. He said the COVID-19 pandemic showed the flaws of the current system.


“When a single person directs where something is distributed, there’s a greater chance of picking winners and loser that can really negatively affect different areas of the population,” Wittke said.


The amendment critics say could tie up federal funding for other programs in bureaucratic purgatory, when governors can act more quickly on their own.


Jennifer Giegerich of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ government affairs department said that the amendment would slow down federal disaster relief funding or conservation funds that would be going to the Department of Natural Resources.


She noted that the complex nature of the topic, as well the dense language in the amendments, will be presented to voters on the ballot.


The amendment may also affect the billions in federal funds that will be flowing to the state as a result of two major pieces of legislation: the Bipartisan Infrastructural Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.


This money will be used to fight climate change, improve infrastructure and address environmental issues.

Some of these funds are used for very specific purposes, like paying for charging stations for electric cars. Other pots of funds give states greater discretion. For example, billions of dollars are flowing to Wisconsin for improving broadband internet access. Critics worry that this could give the Legislature more power to shape the debate over these funds.


Giegerich asked, “What problem do we want to solve?” “The majority of budget decisions are made through the robust and transparent process of state budget. The governor can only accept funds in very limited circumstances. It’s mostly for emergencies where we need a quick reaction. What is the current problem ?”
?


Wittke stated that the amendment only applies to federal funds with the least amount of strings attached. He does not believe that the amendment will apply to disaster aid or broadband money administered by Public Service Commission.


A vote is held amid a standoff between Evers and the Legislature


Wisconsin’s Legislature is not always in session every day or week. Reschovsky stated that if speed is important, the Legislature may not have the resources and bandwidth to move at the same pace as officials from the executive branch.


Evers administration has claimed that he had to manage the ARPA funds because the Legislature wasn’t in session often during the COVID-19 epidemic.


Reschovsky stated that “having the Legislature make decisions, rather than the administration of the governor, is likely to significantly slow down the process.” In some cases it doesn’t really matter. In some cases, it may matter a great deal .”


Gov. Tony Evers (shown here giving the State of the State address in January) has been at odds over a number of spending decisions, including funding for projects addressing PFAS toxic “forever chemical.”








Reschovsky predicted that there would be fights over the allocation of funds to different geographical areas or programs. Wittke and Republican lawmakers have argued, however, that legislators should be held more accountable for their constituents. They also believe that collaboration among branches of government can only benefit the public.


It is unclear how the amendment will be implemented in practice.

A nonpartisan analysis the constitutional amendment language noted that legislators can craft rules or pass measures at the start of each legislative session outlining the conditions under which governors will need to seek legislative approval before spending federal funds and those circumstances where they won’t.


Some speculate that this could mean specifying that, for example, disaster relief could be dealt with unilaterally, or that only money over a certain sum would require legislative input.

But the amendment is on the ballot when relations between Evers and the Republican-controlled Legislature have dipped even further. This includes a dispute over the use of state funds to clean up “forever chemicals”, and to provide aid to rural hospital.

Evers sued the Legislature for this issue and also challenged the power of the Legislature’s Budget Writing Committee. Evers has been sued by top legislative leaders for his use of line item veto power in the latest budget.


The amendment language may not resolve disputes between the two branches but create new ones.


Wittke said that he was aware of the potential for future legal conflicts, but he believes the amendment can help legislators “work out something.”