Wisconsin ranks near the bottom of states—45th out of 50—in harnessing money from Uncle Sam, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.
So why is the Republican-run Legislature—again—risking if not snubbing federal dollars from Washington that taxpayers here deserve, given all the money Wisconsin residents pay the IRS?
It doesn’t make fiscal or common sense.
The Legislature’s budget committee is playing a potentially costly political game by failing to abide by federal rules for receiving an estimated $1.5 billion for Wisconsin schools.
We understand that many Republican leaders in Wisconsin disagree with Democratic President Joe Biden’s priorities and enormous spending plans. America’s deepening debt, under the current and previous presidents, will burden our children and grandchildren.
But this money has already been approved to address the lost year of learning during the pandemic. So Wisconsin should graciously accept it for our students.
The U.S. Department of Education recently warned Wisconsin that the
$128 million increase in state school spending approved by the Legislature’s budget committee likely isn’t enough for the state to qualify for all of the $1.5 billion in federal education funding.
Republicans on the finance committee approved a 1% increase in state aid to local schools. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had proposed a 12% hike of $1.6 billion for K-12 education.
Add in the $1.5 billion from the federal government, and state Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, calls the potential increase for Wisconsin schools “obscene.”
It’s certainly large and historic. But the amount of money Wisconsin has collected from the federal government in the past is low compared to most states. So complaining about extra dollars now—especially during a pandemic—is a mistake.
Not that such Republican resistance is unusual. The GOP-led Legislature has made Wisconsin one of the few states that continues to decline billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid. While it’s true that a lot of those federal health dollars still flow to Wisconsin as subsidies for individuals to participate in the Affordable Care Act, accepting the Medicaid money would save the state $1.6 billion over two years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
And let’s not forget that former GOP Gov. Scott Walker rejected more than $800 million in federal money for a high-speed train between Milwaukee and Madison a decade ago. Those dollars went to other states instead of Wisconsin. Just as bad, Wisconsin had to cover more cost for its existing passenger rail system.
Born and other Republican leaders should employ more pragmatism. The Fiscal Bureau estimates the state budget must commit $387 million more for K-12 schools—a reasonable 3% increase—to qualify for all of the $1.5 billion in federal money. The full Legislature should make sure that happens in a direct and clear way that the federal government will recognize and accept.