MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's Republican-controlled Legislature on Wednesday ignored Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' call for a special session to pass a $1 billion package that would keep a pandemic-era child care program running, send more money to the University of Wisconsin and create a paid family leave program.
Republicans in the Senate and Assembly convened the session as required by law, but adjourned less than a minute later after taking no action. It's a familiar show in Wisconsin, as Evers has called 12 previous special sessions that have largely gone this way.
But Evers and Democrats use them to draw attention to issues they argue Republicans are ignoring, such as abortion rights, addressing gun violence, expanding Medicaid and increasing education funding.
Evers, outside of a daycare facility near Madison, said he wasn't surprised by the Republican lack of action, calling it “shortsighted.”
“This group of Republicans have not been able to wrap their arms around all sorts of things, and child care is one of them,” Evers said.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August accused Evers of playing politics rather than working with the Legislature.
“The people of Wisconsin want common sense solutions, not $1 billion more in government spending and unneeded new programs,” August said in a statement.
The special session remains open, giving lawmakers a chance to revisit Evers' bills or, more likely, take up other Republican proposals at a future date.
Republicans have shown little interest in Evers' ideas so far and are taking a different approach on child care.
The Assembly last week approved a package of child care bills that would create a loan program for child care providers, lower the minimum age of child care workers and increase the number of children workers could supervise. The Senate is expected to consider the package this fall.
Evers is almost certain to veto the bills, which he said Wednesday was mostly “ridiculous.” But he left open the possibility of signing some of it.
“Maybe there is something there to salvage," he said.
The package Evers called on Republicans to pass would spend $365 million to make permanent the pandemic-era Child Care Counts program that’s set to end in January.
The program distributed 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 Counts has employed more than 22,000 child care workers who have cared for more than 113,000 children, according to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.
Providers struggling to make ends meet as parents worked from home used the money to cover expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, utilities, cleaning and professional development. If the program ends, Democrats and child care providers have warned that some facilities may have to close or reduce their offerings.
Evers also announced Wednesday that not a single Republican lawmaker responded to a survey he sent them asking for their suggestions on how to address the state’s child care needs.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos dismissed the survey sent to all 132 members of the Legislature, including 86 Republicans.
“How stupid was that? That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said on WisconsinEye last week. “Talk about an out-of-touch governor. We’re going to send a survey rather than maybe actually meeting with people. How about talking to people?”
Evers' proposal goes beyond child care funding.
It would also provide up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for Wisconsin workers starting in 2025 at a cost of $243 million, and would give UW an additional $66 million.
That money would give UW a boost after the Legislature cut its budget by $32 million. On top of that, Vos said last week that he won't approve pay raises for UW employees that were included in the state budget unless the university cuts diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Evers also asked the Legislature 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. Republicans did say they were open to reconsidering the funding, but they haven't proposed anything to date.
The Evers package also includes $40 million more for the Wisconsin Technical College System; $100 million more for a grant program targeting healthcare-related worker shortages; $60 million for programs targeting nursing shortages; and $16 million to address teacher shortages.