(Photo by Pat Kreitlow)
(Photo by Pat Kreitlow)

Governor announces spending cuts as the pandemic continues to take its toll.

A summary of coronavirus news coverage from The Associated Press and other Wisconsin outlets.

There is no new official forecast from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, but it may be fair to assume that a once-projected state budget surplus of more than $800 million will no longer be the centerpiece of Capitol debate. 

Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday a 5% cut in spending by executive branch agencies, according to an email sent to all state employees, first reported by WisPolitics. The letter from Dept. of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan says a hiring freeze will also continue and merit raises are being suspended. 

The letter reaffirms Trump administration guidance that federal stimulus funds coming to the states cannot be used to backfill revenue lost from reduced tax collections. 

“We will continue to have to make difficult decisions,” Evers said of state budget challenges. 

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos praised the spending cut announcement as “smart, proactive” and “prudent.”

The news comes on the same day new figures showed the U.S. economy shrunk 4.8% in the last quarter

Local Budget News – Madison and Dane County are putting about $700,000 into budget amendments to help with coronavirus response, WISC-TV reports. The amendments are expected to go into effect on June 1, and they will fund eight additional staff positions, including two public health nurses, four contact tracers, and two infection control experts.

County Opposes Safety Measures – Kewaunee County supervisors voted 17-3 to ask Gov. Tony Evers to retract the extended Safer at Home order, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reports. The vote came as Republicans are challenging the order in the state Supreme Court and as Evers has begun lifting some restrictions. The vote also came despite the Kewaunee County Fair nixing its 2020 festivities just a day earlier.

Lame Duck Justice Un-Recuses Himself – Defeated state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly has reversed course and said Wednesday he now will participate in the voter purge case brought by a right-wing legal group whose directors have been among his campaign donors. Kelly was once a legal advisor to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty which is asking the court to strike some 200,000 votes from registration rolls over data discrepancies which have not been independently verified. A review of 2019 donation records from One Wisconsin Now shows Kelly has accepted at least $14,000 in contributions from WILL directors. He lost the April 7 election to Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky.

Absentee Ballots Available – The Price County clerk is urging voters to request absentee ballots for the 7th Congressional District special election, the Price County Review reports. The election is still on for May 12, and there’s no doubt voters would like to avoid a repeat of the less-than-stellar April 7 election, which has been linked to 52 positive coronavirus cases. Wisconsin Public Radio is hosting a debate on May 4 between the candidates, Trump-endorsed Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany and Democratic Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court Associate Justice Tricia Zunker. The two are vying to replace Republican Sean Duffy, who abruptly resigned last year.

Drivers Dwindle – Traffic on Wisconsin roads has dropped 46 percent amid the pandemic, Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson told WPR. While that’s good for more efficient construction on DOT projects, it also means transportation revenue — gas taxes, registration, title fees — is taking a huge hit. Thompson said he expects “significant changes” to the DOT’s project slate for next year.

Old School Drama – The University of Wisconsin-Superior is moving its summer theater camp online due to the pandemic, the Superior Telegram reports. Participants will produce a radio drama-style show instead of the usual stage production.