Press Release: Gov. Evers Slams Republicans for Gutting Comprehensive Workforce Plan and Failing to Address State’s Generational Workforce Challenges, Prevent Child Care Industry’s Collapse

Office of Governor Tony Evers
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 20, 2023
Gov. Evers Slams Republicans for Gutting Comprehensive Workforce Plan and Failing to Address State’s Generational Workforce Challenges, Prevent Child Care Industry’s Collapse
Gov. Evers vetoes Republicans’ “completely unserious” proposal that “fails to meaningfully and sensibly address” Wisconsin’s workforce challenges
After more than 50 days of stalling, Republicans pass amended bill that fails to expand paid leave, provides no direct investments into child care providers or higher education institutions, and could drain state’s ‘rainy day’ fund

MADISON Gov. Tony Evers today vetoed the GOP-amended September 2023 Special Session Senate Bill 1 in its entirety and slammed Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature for failing to seriously and meaningfully address one of the state’s most pressing challenges—a shrinking workforce that has plagued Wisconsin for a decade. Gov. Evers in August called the Legislature into a special session, scheduled for September 20, to pass his comprehensive workforce plan that, among other critical initiatives, would have made direct investments to prevent the state’s looming child care industry collapse and to ensure child care is affordable and accessible for working families statewide. The governor’s comprehensive workforce plan also would have expanded paid family and medical leave for working families, bolstered high-need workforce sectors such as the state’s education and healthcare workforces, and provided substantial support for the state’s higher education institutions to help prevent further campus closures and layoffs and ensure the state can recruit, train, and retain workers.  

Today, now more than 100 days since the governor first announced his comprehensive plan to address the state’s workforce challenges, Gov. Evers vetoed the GOP-amended proposal that: does not make direct investments to help parents afford child care and keep child care provider doors open today or prevent the child care industry’s collapse in the long term; does not expand paid family and medical leave for working families to help ensure Wisconsin can compete against neighboring states; does not help substantively bolster high-need sectors of the state’s workforce, including the state’s education and healthcare workforces; does not provide substantial support or investments for the state’s higher education institutions, including the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison’s engineering building project, aimed at preventing further campus closures and layoffs and helping recruit, train, and retain workers.

“The Republican proposal I’m vetoing is a far cry from the comprehensive workforce plan I introduced—its also wholly out of touch with what Wisconsinites, including child care providers, some of our state’s largest employers, working parents, students, and our state’s higher education institutions, are asking for and need,” said Gov. Evers. “Republicans have consistently dragged their feet on finding solutions to the most pressing issues facing our state even as small businesses, farmers and producers, hospitals and healthcare sectors, and schools, among others, face challenges filling available jobs, child care providers are closing their doors, and our UW campuses lay off hundreds of employees.  

Clearly, Republicans have yet to wrap their heads around our state’s challenges, and their inability to take this issue seriously is affecting Wisconsinites’ livelihoods, our workforce and economy, and our kids’ futures,” Gov. Evers continued. “With each continued day of Republican delay and inaction, Wisconsin families, employers, and communities—especially in our rural areas—pay the price. We need ongoing, sustainable state investments to stabilize our child care industry, increased support for working families and our higher education institutions, and new efforts to recruit, retain, and train a workforce that meets the needs of the 21st Century. I promised I would keep fighting for child care providers, working families, employers, and our communities, and I keep my promises—and it starts with vetoing this completely unserious proposal that is out of touch with the real challenges and needs facing our state today.” 

In addition to failing to address some of the state’s most pressing issues, the bill, as amended by Republicans, would set Wisconsin on a path toward insolvency, leaving the state unable to meet its basic duties to provide adequate funding for programs and services provided by the state, including education, healthcare, child care, public safety, and aid to local governments in the 2025-27 biennium and beyond. The income tax cuts included in the Republican’s amendment are so steep that they would require the state to partially or fully drain the Budget Stabilization Fund—also known as the state’s ‘rainy day’ fund—just to provide bare minimum inflationary adjustments to key programs in the future. Gov. Evers has previously supported responsible tax relief for working families, and since taking office, the governor has signed income tax cuts that have returned $1.5 billion annually to taxpayers. Additionally, in his 2023-25 budget proposal, the governor proposed a middle-class tax cut plan to provide $1.2 billion in tax relief targeted toward working families, seniors, caregivers, parents, and veterans, among others. Instead of supporting Gov. Evers’ plan, the Legislature passed instead a reckless plan, which was partially vetoed by Gov. Evers, that could have jeopardized billions in federal funds and would have ensured the wealthiest 11 taxpayers in Wisconsin would have received an average tax cut of $1.8 million per year.

Republicans’ failure to provide any additional support to child care providers, working families, and the state’s higher education institutions comes despite having ample state resources readily available to do so. Earlier this fall, Gov. Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Administration announced that the state of Wisconsin ended the fiscal year with a record-high positive balance of more than $7 billion in state coffers and that the state maintained its Budget Stabilization Fund, or ‘rainy day fund,’ at a record-high $1.8 billion.

A breakdown of everything Republicans in the Legislature rejected by failing to pass Gov. Evers’ comprehensive workforce plan is available below:

Republicans Failed to Prevent Child Care Industry Collapse, Ensure Access to Affordable Child Care Statewide 
The governor’s plan included a more than $365 million investment in child care across the state, including in the successful Child Care Counts and Partner Up! Programs at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), including:  

  • More than $340 million, including $38.9 million in Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF) funds, for the Child Care Counts Program that to date has helped more than 4,440 child care providers keep their doors open, ensuring the employment of 22,000 child care professionals and allowing providers to continue to provide high-quality care to more than 113,000 kids; and   
  • $22.3 million for the Partner Up! Program, which has helped support employers in purchasing child care spots for their employees at existing regulated child care providers across the state. A portion of this investment redirects the $15 million that the 2023-25 budget placed in the Joint Finance Committee supplemental appropriation for the purposes of grants to child care providers. As of March 2023, 220 businesses have enrolled in Partner Up!, securing slots for over 1,200 kids across Wisconsin. 

More than two months after Gov. Evers first introduced his comprehensive workforce plan and after hosting a public hearing in which child care professionals repeatedly urged the Legislature to make ongoing investments in the Child Care Counts program, Republicans introduced an amendment to the governor’s plan that provided no new, direct investments in child care statewide to stabilize the industry, prevent its imminent collapse, or immediately help working families afford the rising costs of child care.  

As a result, after months of Republican lawmakers delaying action on his comprehensive workforce plan, Gov. Evers directed $170 million in emergency stopgap funding to DCF to continue Child Care Counts at current funding levels through June 2025. While the emergency stopgap measure does not meet the same funding levels Child Care Counts has received previously, it will provide the urgent direct relief needed for over 4,400 child care providers across the state to help ensure child care providers can afford to keep their doors open and continue providing care for kids to keep workers in Wisconsin’s workforce. Still, this is not a permanent solution, and more must be done to prevent the collapse of the state’s child care industry.  

According to a report from The Century Foundation, it is estimated that without the necessary investments to stave off the looming fiscal cliff facing the state’s child care industry, 2,110 child care programs are projected to close, resulting in the loss of over 4,880 child care jobs, leaving more than 87,000 kids in Wisconsin without child care, resulting in approximately half a billion dollars in economic impacts between parents leaving the workforce and reduced employer productivity—a scenario Gov. Evers has noted would be “catastrophic” with “broad, cascading effects across Wisconsin’s economy.”  

In his 2023-25 biennial budget proposal, Gov. Evers proposed making the Child Care Counts Program permanent with a more than $340 million investment to continue supporting Wisconsin’s early care and education community, as well as the working families who depend on this care to get to work and put food on their tables. Unfortunately, and despite the state’s historic budget surplus, Republicans in the Legislature decided against putting any funding toward Child Care Counts in the state budget.  

Republicans Rejected a First-of-its-Kind Wisconsin Paid Family and Medical Leave Program    
As the governor proposed in his 2023-25 biennial budget proposal, Gov. Evers’ comprehensive workforce plan again proposed creating a first-of-its-kind Wisconsin Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Program administered by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). According to a Marquette Law School Poll, 73 percent of Wisconsin voters, including 62 percent of Republicans, support requiring businesses to provide paid leave for new parents.   

Under the paid FMLA Program, workers would be eligible for 12 weeks of leave beginning Jan. 1, 2025. This program would be self-sustaining by 2026, and benefits would be funded through payroll contributions shared equally by an employer and an employee, much like the current Unemployment Insurance system. In order to launch the program expeditiously, the governor’s plan infused the new benefit and administration trust fund with a transfer of $243.4 million. Employers with fewer than 50 employees would be able to opt-in to the program.    

The governor’s proposal also would have expanded eligibility for workers to use family and medical leave, paid or not, to include deployment of a spouse or child and an unforeseen or unexpected closure of a school or child care facility, among other modifications.   

Republicans Failed to Invest in Higher Education   
Gov. Evers’ comprehensive workforce plan would have included an additional more than $100 million investment in the state’s higher education institutions, including an additional more than $40 million to support the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and an additional $66.4 million for the UW System to help recruit, train, and retain talent in an effort to bolster the state’s workforce. Earlier this year, as part of the biennial budget process, Republicans failed to approve the governor’s budget proposal that would have invested more than $66 million for the UW System and more than $65 million for the WTCS. Republicans instead chose to provide a fraction of the investment to WTCS and to divert more than $31 million to the Joint Finance Committee supplemental appropriation for the UW System and attempted to cut 188 positions, the latter of which Gov. Evers was able to ensure UW could retain through his broad, constitutional veto authority.    

Meanwhile, multiple UW campuses have reported serious structural deficits, requiring employee furloughs, layoffs, budget cuts, and restructuring. UW-Oshkosh recently announced that approximately 200 employees’ jobs are expected to end. At UW-Platteville, the university announced it will be eliminating 111 positions to help address its deficit. And UW-Green Bay announced that nine staff members will be laid off, affecting library services at their Manitowoc, Marinette, and Sheboygan campuses and a program aimed at helping high schoolers earn college credits. More recently, UW-Green Bay also announced they are considering discontinuing majors in economics, environmental policy and planning, and the arts, as well as minors in international environmental studies, geography, and physics.     

Additionally, the governor’s plan would have provided more than $197.3 million for the engineering building project at UW-Madison, enabling the state’s flagship university to graduate at least 1,000 more engineering students each year. Earlier this month, 42 CEOs from some of the state’s leading employers penned a letter to the Republican-controlled Legislature urging them to pass funding for the engineering building expansion project at UW-Madison’s College of Engineering. Letter signatories included American Family Insurance, Johnson Controls, Rockwell Automation, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), among several others.  

UW-Madison has committed to raising $150 million for this project, and more than $100 million has already been pledged from donors, which is contingent on state support for the project. Without the state’s prompt support, the cost could increase to approximately $400 million in the next biennium.   

Finally, Gov. Evers’ plan also increased funding by $17.3 million over the biennium for the Wisconsin Grants program, which provides college students with need-based financial aid. Funding for Wisconsin Grants would have been dispersed as follows:  

  • More than $9.4 million for the UW System;   
  • More than $4.3 million for private, nonprofit colleges;  
  • More than $3.5 million for the WTCS; and  
  • $73,500 for Tribal Colleges.  

The governor’s call to invest in and support higher education statewide comes as members of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations, chaired by Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), are refusing to release already-approved pay increases for UW System employees, denying all UW employees of a four percent raise in 2023 and a two percent raise in 2024—raises the Legislature already approved as part of the most recent biennial budget. Recently, Gov. Evers announced he is suing Republicans in the Legislature for unconstitutionally obstructing basic government functions by denying these raises for state employees.    

Republicans Rejected Targeted Investments in the State’s Healthcare and Education Workforces 
As the governor proposed in his 2023-25 biennial budget proposal, Gov. Evers’ comprehensive workforce plan again proposed significant investments in strengthening Wisconsin’s workforce, particularly in the healthcare and education sectors.  

The governor’s comprehensive plan included $100 million to continue the successful Workforce Innovation Grant Program to provide grants to regional organizations to design and implement plans to address their region’s healthcare-related workforce challenges.   

The plan also included an additional nearly $60 million to address healthcare workforce shortage solutions, including:  

  • $10 million for the nurse educators program, which provides incentives for nursing professors to stay in Wisconsin to teach the next generation of nurses;   
  • $6 million for the WisCaregiver Careers program, which aims to address the shortage of certified nursing assistants in the state by supporting recruitment, training, and retention of individuals to care for nursing home residents across Wisconsin;   
  • More than $1.5 million for the Qualified Treatment Trainee Grant Program, which facilitates the licensure and certification of those obtaining or already possessing a graduate degree in psychology, counseling, marriage and family therapy, social work, nursing, or a closely related field;  
  • $17 million for the healthcare opportunity grants, which help folks that have been struggling with employment outcomes since the pandemic. The bill requires DWD to establish and operate a program to provide grants to local workforce development boards to assist individuals;    
  • $936,600 and one new position for DWD to conduct outreach to stakeholders and partners to develop new apprenticeship pathways related to healthcare;  
  • $22.5 million for healthcare innovation grants, which would help healthcare providers implement best practices and innovative solutions to increase worker recruitment and retention; and  
  • More than $1.2 million for graduate medical training support grants. The bill also doubles the maximum amounts that the Department of Health Services may award each fiscal year in grants to hospitals to support existing graduate medical training programs. The limits would be changed to $450,000 and $150,000 per fiscal year, respectively.  

In addition to the investments above, the governor’s plan also made targeted investments in the state’s education workforce by providing more than $16 million over the biennium to address the teacher shortage plaguing schools across the state, including funding for “grow your own” initiatives and incentives for student teachers. The governor’s plan would have invested: 

  • $5 million for grants to support “grown your own” educator programming, which may include providing current employees with funding to pursue additional higher education credits, licenses, or certifications, engaging with community organizations, and supporting student organizations with “future teacher” missions; and  
  • $9.4 million to provide stipends to student teachers and interns, more than $2 million to provide stipends to teachers who agree to train and oversee student teachers or interns, and $50,000 for stipends to school library interns.  

Gov. Evers’ plan also would have bolstered Wisconsin’s workforce and pipeline with experienced professionals by authorizing state agencies and local units of government, including schools, to rehire a retired annuitant to address workforce recruitment and retention issues if: (a) at least 30 days have passed since the employee left employment; (b) at the time of retirement, the employee does not have an agreement to return to employment; and (c) upon returning to work, the employee elects to not become a participating employee and continue receiving their annuity. In particular, this would make it easier to hire experienced educators and school staff and will help keep class sizes small and improve student outcomes.  

The governor’s veto message for September 2023 Special Session Senate Bill 1 is available here.

An online version of this release is available here.