From the Bucks president to the Palermo’s CEO, a diverse range of business leaders pleads for action from Evers and legislators.
Days after the Wisconsin Legislature concluded its business for the year, Milwaukee-area business leaders publicly pleaded with Gov. Tony Evers and the Republicans in charge of the Senate and Assembly to come together on a plan to increase school funding using some of the state’s historic $3.8 billion projected budget surplus.
Citing a need to do what’s right for Wisconsin’s children, business officials ranging from Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin to Palermo’s Pizza Chairman Giacomo Fallucca said elected officials need to set politics aside. They spoke at a Tuesday morning press conference at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater.
Despite the ongoing money issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Republican-authored 2021-23 state budget—signed by Evers last July—included virtually no increase to school funding. Evers pushed to use part of the surplus on school funding, but Republican leaders said they have no plans to use the surplus until the next state budget cycle. The GOP also never touched a record-high dollar amount in the state’s “rainy day fund,” even as the pandemic led to record unemployment.
Some of the speakers referenced the November midterm elections, implying the gridlock is a symptom of election year politics in which neither side wants to hand the other a victory.
“I think the challenge is to get people to set aside the argument about who gets the credit and get to a point of, how do we deploy those funds in a way that really makes sense?” Joel Brennan, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee and Evers’ former secretary of the Department of Administration, said in an interview.
The business leaders are drafting an open letter to Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) advocating for a $343 per-pupil increase to school funding to keep up with the record-high inflation, and a nearly doubled reimbursement rate for special education.
“We have the surplus. We have the dollars,” Fallucca told UpNorthNews. “There’s no good reason—no good enough reason not to make this investment into our children and education system.”
LeMahieu spokesman Adam Gibbs responded on Twitter, saying Evers should use the state’s remaining federal COVID-19 relief if he wants to increase school funding.
“@GovEvers has about $900m in federal funds available & another $1.5 billion coming in May,” Gibbs wrote. “He has enough to spend more if he chooses without using the PROJECTED state surplus.”
Blaise Paul, business director for the South Milwaukee School District, said during the press conference that districts cannot afford to rely on one-use pandemic relief funding for ongoing expenses “because of the great cliff that it would build.” He said his district faces a $1 million budget deficit and that it needs long-term, sustainable investments.
“This we do consider somewhat of a manufactured crisis,” Paul said. “We do have a decent state surplus that is available, and it’s our hope that the state will come and see that allocating some of that surplus for education is a wise investment.”