Governor Creates $420 Million Grant Program for Small Businesses, Vetoes GOP Legislation to Allocate New Federal Aid

Gov. Tony Evers is using $420 million of the billions in federal relief funding heading to Wisconsin to help small businesses that lost revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evers on Thursday announced a new grant program funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act that would provide $5,000 grants to Wisconsin businesses that have an annual gross revenue between $10,000 and $7 million — about 84,000 would qualify.

The Democratic governor also on Thursday vetoed Republican lawmakers’ plans for the federal funding, which would have spent the money in ways that federal authorities likely won’t allow.

Among the bills vetoed Thursday is one that would give property owners a payment equal to 10% of their last property tax bill. That would account for $1.1 billion of the federal funds the state is receiving. In addition, under their plans the state would have spent $500 million to pay off debt, $310 million to shore up the state’s unemployment fund, $308.5 million to repair roads and bridges, and $68.2 million to upgrade communications equipment and establish a mental health crisis center in northern Wisconsin.

Other bills vetoed Thursday appear to be in keeping with federal rules, according to the fiscal bureau. Under those provisions, the state would provide $500 million for broadband, $200 million for small businesses, $150 million for long-term care facilities, $75 million for tourism efforts, $61 million for lead pipe replacement and environmental efforts, and $50 million for rural economic development.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Evers should work with the Legislature on how to spend the money.

“The governor just sent a clear message to the people of Wisconsin that they will have little to no say in how their federal tax dollars are spent,” LeMahieu said in a statement about the vetoes. “He has, once again, rejected the opportunity to work with legislators on even a basic spending plan. This is not good government.”

Governor Evers noted his grant program provides more than double what Republicans planned for small businesses.

“The Legislature’s proposal to spend just a small portion of our American Rescue Plan funds on small businesses simply won’t cut it for me,” Evers said in a statement.