Press Release: Republican Lawmakers No-Show at Special Meeting to Release Statewide PFAS Funding, Stabilize Healthcare Access in Western Wisconsin

Office of Governor Tony Evers
Republican Lawmakers No-Show at Special Meeting to Release Statewide PFAS Funding, Stabilize Healthcare Access in Western Wisconsin
Governor implores Republicans to expeditiously release $140 million in already approved funding to address pressing challenges facing Wisconsin communities

MADISON — Republican lawmakers on the Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), the state’s budget committee are continuing to block, delay, and obstruct efforts to release critical funding for efforts to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination statewide and crisis response resources to help stabilize healthcare access in Western Wisconsin after the closure of several HSHS and Prevea locations. $125 million in funding approved through the 2023-25 biennial budget to fight PFAS statewide has languished unspent in Madison for over nine months—286 days. Similarly, $15 million in crisis response resources to bolster healthcare in Western Wisconsin that Gov. Evers approved in 2023 Wisconsin Act 97 has been sitting in Madison for 48 days and counting.

Gov. Evers last week announced he was calling the budget committee into a special meeting set to occur today, April 16, 2024, at 9:30 a.m., to urge Republican legislators to expeditiously release the $140 million in already-approved, bipartisan-supported funding. The 12 Republicans on the committee today were a no-show for the committee’s special meeting, again refusing to release the $140 million to fight PFAS and respond to hospital closures in Western Wisconsin. A list of Republican lawmakers on the committee is available here. Gov. Evers today attended the special meeting and delivered remarks and took questions from the press. A video of the governor’s availability is available here.

Republican committee members have given no apparent indication to date of when they plan to release the funds, meaning $140 million will continue to sit in Madison unspent even as Western Wisconsin is working to respond in the wake of recent hospital closures and communities across Wisconsin are facing challenges cleaning up PFAS contamination. The Wisconsin Supreme Court tomorrow is set to hear oral argument in Evers v. Marklein, a lawsuit brought by Gov. Evers against the Wisconsin State Legislature arguing Republican-controlled committees such as the JFC are unconstitutionally and unlawfully obstructing basic government functions and operations.

“It’s been 286 days since we approved $125 million in the budget to fight PFAS statewide, and it’s been 48 since we passed $15 million to support healthcare access in Western Wisconsin in the wake of significant hospital closures, but these resources are still sitting in Madison because Republicans won’t release them. That’s wrong, and this obstruction is beyond ridiculous,” said Gov. Evers. “Wisconsinites expect elected officials to show up and put politics aside to find common ground and do the right thing—they deserve a hell of a lot better than what they’re getting from Republicans today.

“These investments the Legislature and I both already approved should have been released weeks and months ago, and there is no excuse for them to still be sitting in Madison while these challenges facing our communities get more difficult and more expensive with each day of delay,” Gov. Evers continued. “Make no mistake—I’m not going to let up on this issue, I am going to continue fighting for these funds to be released, and I am directing my office to examine any and all options, including litigation, to end this unconstitutional obstruction.”


During the 2023 State of the State address, Gov. Evers announced his plan to address contamination caused by PFAS statewide, proposing to invest more than $106 million to support municipalities in responding to local PFAS contamination, bolster staff and resources at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and increase PFAS testing, sampling, and monitoring. The governor’s plan also included implementation, allocation of funding, and policy for PFAS standards, but Republicans on the JFC removed all of these provisions from the final budget.

The final budget signed by Gov. Evers last July ultimately included a $125 million investment to address and prevent PFAS contamination statewide, one of the first real and meaningful investments by Republican legislators to address PFAS, set aside in a PFAS Trust Fund.

In the following months since the signing of the 2023-25 budget, Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature still have not made the funds available. Republican lawmakers instead insisted on pursuing stand-alone legislation outside of the biennial budget process to govern the distribution of the funds—something the DNR has repeatedly argued is unnecessary given the agency’s existing programs that can be utilized to get these resources to local communities and private well owners. Despite months of negotiation between Gov. Evers and the Republican bill authors to reach bipartisan consensus, Senate Bill (SB) 312 was advanced through the legislative process with controversial “poison pill” provisions designed to benefit polluters that could have functionally given polluters a free pass from cleaning up their own spills and contamination that Gov. Evers and the DNR had insisted was a non-starter from the beginning. SB 312 also would not have released the $125 million as approved through the biennial budget to fight PFAS contamination statewide.

In December, after nearly six months of Republican inaction, the governor directed the DNR to submit a Wis. Stat. s. 13.10 request to release the $125 million in approved state funding to ensure impacted communities could work to address contamination and reduce their exposure to PFAS. Unfortunately, Republicans on the JFC still refused to schedule a meeting for the request.

Additionally, at that time, Gov. Evers sent a letter to Sens. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay), the authors of SB 312, urging the lawmakers to sponsor legislation to provide an exemption to the REINS Act, which would empower the DNR to continue their work to create standards for PFAS contamination in groundwater through the rulemaking process. The governor expressed this would be critical to earning his support of their bill, stating “SB 312, as currently drafted, weakens the DNR’s existing authority to protect the public from these substances without having these standards in place, which is counterintuitive to the important steps my administration has taken to address PFAS contamination over the past five years.” Later writing, “As we discussed in our November 8 meeting, without these standards set, having gone completely through the rulemaking process, the current language in SB 312 is not workable. It is my sincere hope that you will move forward quickly with this draft legislation to enable the DNR to continue this important rulemaking.” Despite the governor expressly warning them of the fate of their bill without important amendments, Republicans advanced SB 312 continued to advance without the necessary changes.

In February, Republicans passed SB 312, absent key provisions that would release the $125 million previously secured through the biennial budget process. Further, SB 312 still contained “poison pill” provisions designed to benefit polluters—provisions the governor had made clear in conversations with Republican bill authors, stakeholders, and local community leaders would result in the bill being vetoed.

Gov. Evers consequently directed the DNR to submit a new, compromise Wis. Stat. s. 13.10 request, which he urged the Republican-controlled JFC to support. Aimed at reaching bipartisan compromise and consensus, the latest request submitted by the Evers Administration that was functionally identical to SB 312 as amended and passed by Republicans in the Legislature, including provisions protecting innocent landowners but without the controversial “poison pill” provisions from the Republican-backed proposal. A copy of Gov. Evers’ proposal is available here. A copy of Gov. Evers’ letter to JFC Co-Chairs urging them to take up his compromise is available here. Again, Republican lawmakers declined to act.

Gov. Evers last week, joined by conservation groups and water quality advocates from communities impacted by PFAS contamination, vetoed SB 312 as previously promised. Importantly, the governor’s veto of SB 312 has no effect on the $125 million already approved through the biennial budget or whether the $125 million to combat PFAS remains available or will be released by the Republican-controlled JFC.

Notwithstanding the governor’s veto, Republican members of the JFC may release the $125 million secured through the biennial budget to fight PFAS statewide at any time—as has been the case for the last 286 days.

In January, HSHS and Prevea Health announced their decision to close several locations across Western Wisconsin. The Evers Administration swiftly got to work to launch rapid response and other efforts to support local workers and community members affected by the announcement.

In February, Gov. Tony Evers approved SB 1015, now 2023 Wisconsin Act 97, securing $15 million in crisis response resources to support healthcare access in Western Wisconsin in the wake of the recent announcement of HSHS and Prevea Health’s decision to close several locations. Gov. Evers approved Act 97 with improvements through line-item vetoes to provide additional flexibility for the $15 million in crisis response resources, enabling the investments to be used to fund any hospital services meeting the area’s pressing healthcare needs, including urgent care services, OB-GYN services, inpatient psychiatry services, and mental health substance use services, among others. Without the governor’s vetoes, these services would not have been eligible under SB 1015.

SB 1015, as passed by the Legislature, included unnecessary restrictions on the $15 million crisis response funding, limiting the funds to be used only for hospital emergency department services exclusively. The governor’s partial vetoes improved the bill significantly, broadening the scope of the grants available under the bill and allowing the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) to make the crisis response funds available for any hospital services that meet the needs of the region. 

In addition to severely impacting healthcare access in the area, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the closures have been estimated to impact approximately 1,400 workers, among others, in the surrounding region. At the time he signed the bill, Gov. Evers directed DHS to submit an official request to the JFC to immediately release the $15 million provided for under Act 97. A copy of the request submitted by DHS to JFC is available here

In March, nearly three weeks after signing Act 97, Gov. Evers visited healthcare providers in Western Wisconsin to, again, call on Republicans to release the funds and blasted the committee members for their continued delays in releasing these funds. The governor’s visit came on the heels of HSHS announcing its plans to close HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls approximately a month earlier than had previously been announced. 

Now, over a month after Gov. Evers signed into law the $15 million in crisis response resources to stabilize the healthcare industry in Western Wisconsin, Republican members of the JFC are still refusing to release the funds. 

More information on the governor’s veto message for SB 1015, now 2023 Wisconsin Act 97, and the Evers Administration’s ongoing rapid response efforts to the HSHS and Prevea health systems closures is available here

An online version of this release is available here.