By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans voted Thursday to reject more than $70 million in funding to combat homelessness in the state, a move that Democrats called a missed opportunity to address a problem that worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Tony Evers had proposed spending around $73 million over two years on a variety of initiatives designed to help homeless people, including more affordable housing. The Republican-controlled budget committee voted 12-4 along party lines to increase funding for a housing assistance program by just $1.2 million over two years.
But the panel turned down spending about $70 million more that Evers and advocates for the homeless had wanted. Republicans, including Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, have also advocated for increasing homeless funding.
The largest chunk of money rejected Thursday, was $50 million for grants to be awarded to Wisconsin municipalities to offer affordable housing. A study by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council found last year that housing prices statewide have increased 25% in the past five years, in part because construction hasn’t kept pace with population growth.
The $50 million would have been enough to build about 600 homes, Evers’ administration estimated.
Before the vote, Joe Volk, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, urged lawmakers to immediately release $5.5 million in available money to combat homelessness. Volk said the coalition estimates that every night there are 20,000 people in Wisconsin with no adequate place to sleep.
Republicans defended their action, saying funding for homelessness initiatives will be considered in separate bills making their way through the Legislature. Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel also noted that the $2.5 billion in federal stimulus funding coming to Wisconsin can be used to target homelessness.
Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke called the Republican action a “missed opportunity” and a “step backward” in combatting homelessness.
The votes come as the Joint Finance Committee was putting together its version of the two-year state budget for the full Legislature to consider likely in June or July. Evers has broad veto powers he can use to shape the plan after the Legislature passes it.