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Senate OKs Republican COVID package despite veto threat

Associated Press

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the state Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a set of bills that would wrest control of billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and hand it to the GOP.

The state is in line to receive $3.2 billion in federal stimulus money. By law the funding is at Evers’ disposal. But Republicans have developed legislation that would give them control, saying that would create more accountability and transparency.

Evers has signaled he’ll veto the package, but Assembly Republicans passed it anyway on Tuesday. The Senate followed suit Wednesday and sent the bills to the governor. Democrats contend that Republicans are just trying to score points with their base.

During the worst of the pandemic, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature went 10 months — April 2020 to February 2021 — without passing a single piece of legislation or meeting in session, save for two times when they met for under one minute.

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

The legislation would specify how about $2.7 billion of the stimulus would be spent. The proposals include plans for a $1 billion property tax cut; $200 million for small businesses; $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.

Other proposals in the package would send an unknown amount of money toward unemployment benefits and eliminate the state sales tax at brew pubs, movie theaters, bars, restaurants, amusement parks and resorts from June 1 through Aug. 31.

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