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Evers vetoes GOP bills directing federal COVID-19 spending

April 22, 2021 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a package of Republican-authored bills on Thursday that would have directed how the state would spend $3.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money.

Evers also announced that up to $420 million of that money coming to the state would go toward a grant program targeting small businesses. One of the bills he vetoed would have directed $200 million toward small businesses, an amount Evers said “won’t cut it for me.”

“Our Main Streets have been hit hard during this pandemic and we need to do everything we can to make sure they can bounce back,” Evers said in a statement.

Other Republican bills Evers vetoed would have directed $1 billion toward cutting property taxes; $500 million for broadband expansion; $75 million for tourism grants; $150 million for nursing homes and assisted-living facilities; $308 million for local roads; $250 million to pay off transportation bonds; and $61 million for lead service line replacements and measures to control water pollution.

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The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau warned that the GOP package calls for spending about $626 million on areas possibly not allowed by federal law, including retiring the transportation bonds and local road work. The state also might have to repay the property tax cut and the money earmarked for unemployment, the Fiscal Bureau said.

Evers noted concerns about the legality of some of the spending in his vetoes.

In his veto messages, he also said the proposals would have limited his flexibility in awarding the money and taken that authority away from the governor.

Evers previously vetoed a Republican bill that would have given the Legislature, rather than Evers, control over the spending of the federal money.

The vetoes send a clear message to the people “that they will have little to no say in how their federal tax dollars are spent,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. “He has, once again, rejected the opportunity to work with legislators on even a basic spending plan. This is not good government.”

Under the grants Evers announced, qualifying businesses could receive awards of $5,000. Evers said about 84,000 small businesses that have an annual gross revenue between $10,000 and $7 million could qualify. It will be targeted at businesses that started in 2020 and those hardest hit by the pandemic, the governor’s office said.

Details about the grant program will come after the federal government has issued more details about how the money is to be used, Evers said.

The $420 million grant program is part of $600 million in federal money Evers has promised to target toward small businesses.