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Wisconsin governor calls special legislative session on increasing child care funding

tony evers
Posted at 11:36 AM, Aug 08, 2023

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday called a special legislative session for September in a longshot attempt to force Republican lawmakers to approve funding they rejected earlier this year for child care services, a family leave program, the University of Wisconsin System and other efforts targeting the state's worker shortage problem.

But Republicans who control the Legislature are under no obligation to debate, let alone vote, on the more than $1 billion in funding proposals Evers put forward. Republicans have routinely ignored special session calls Evers has made in the past on a wide array of issues, including legalizing abortion, cutting taxes, gun safety, updating the state's unemployment system, addressing problems in the dairy industry and increasing funding for schools.

But calling a special session, which Evers did for Sept. 20, does bring attention to the issue. Evers has been highlighting child care access and the worker shortage problem at stops across the state ever since Republicans did not include funding for it in the state budget passed in June. Evers signed the budget, which runs through the middle of 2025, in July.

Evers said he was giving Republicans another chance to fund critical areas it rejected. He said the $1 billion in proposals could be paid for by tapping the state's projected $4 billion budget surplus.

"These challenges that have plagued our state for generations will continue, holding our economy, our families, and our state back if Republicans in the Legislature don't take seriously the second chance I'm giving them, and urgently," Evers said in a statement. "We must work together in the coming weeks so we can bolster our state's workforce, maintain our economic momentum, and most importantly, do the right thing for Wisconsin."

Republican legislative leaders did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Evers is calling on the Legislature to spend $365 million on child care statewide, primarily to make the pandemic-era Child Care Counts Program permanent. The program is slated to run out of funding in January. The program has handed out nearly $600 million to more than 4,900 child care providers from March 2020 through March 2023, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Child care providers and other advocates have warned that losing the program would be devastating for families that have come to rely on it, particularly the working poor who have few affordable child care options. But GOP lawmakers approved spending a lesser amount on child care, saying the state can't afford to keep every pandemic-era program running.

Evers is also urging Republicans to spend $243 million to fund a paid family medical leave program that they also voted not to include in the state budget. The governor said the program would be self-sustaining by 2026, with benefits paid for through payroll contributions from both employees and employers.

Under his proposal, workers would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave starting in 2025.

Evers is also calling for spending more than $66 million more on the University of Wisconsin System. The news comes a week after UW-Oshkosh announced it would be laying off workers, issuing furloughs and taking other steps to deal with an $18 million budget shortfall.

Evers also wants the state to spend nearly $200 million to build a new engineering building on the UW-Madison campus. The project was the top priority for university leaders, but Republican lawmakers rejected it. They said at the time that they were open to considering funding in the future.

Evers is also calling for spending $100 million to continue a regional workforce innovation grant program, $60 million to address health care workforce shortages and $16 million targeting teacher shortages.