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State Audit Raises New Questions About Wisconsin’s COVID Supplemental Spending

Gov. Tony Evers’ office dictated where to spend most of Wisconsin’s $5.7 billion in supplemental coronavirus relief money without writing down or tracking how he came to those decisions.

A new report from the Legislative Audit Bureau dings the governor for a lack of transparency.

“Our request included initial funding requests, agendas and minutes of the meetings that discussed the use of the funds, planning worksheets, one-page summary documents describing the use of the funds, and written approvals from the Governor’s Office to use the funds,” auditors wrote. “In response to our request, [the Department of Administration] provided us with publicly available information, such as press releases, links to state agency websites for the programs, and grant announcements for programs involving grants. DOA did not provide us with documentation of the process or the information DOA indicated it and the Governor’s Office had considered in deciding to use discretionary funds for the nine state programs. In December 2022, DOA indicated that decisions for using the funds were made during daily conversations with the Governor’s Office, rather than in written documents.”

Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, said the lack of unrestricted spending from Gov. Evers is alarming.

He told The Center Square that Republicans tried to force some transparency for the state’s coronavirus relief dollars, but the governor stopped them.

“Unfortunately these dollars circumvented the legislature,” Roth explained. “We tried to rectify that, and would have required legislative oversight. We passed dozens of bills, but the governor vetoed them all.”

The audit reports that Gov. Evers has spent $4.5 billion of Wisconsin’s $5.7 billion so far. That leaves $1.8 billion left to be spent.

Most of the money went to state agencies, which then spent the cash on dozens of state programs including programs for schools, small businesses, farmers, hotels and motels, and even minor league baseball teams.

The audit didn’t look at how the money was eventually spent, just how state government made the decisions on where to spend it.

“This isn’t Monopoly money. This is almost $6 billion that the governor got to spend without any oversight, any control, any accountability,”Roth added. When you don’t have proper accountability it becomes a question of ‘What is in the governor’s interest.’ Cynical people might say the governor spent this money to help his re-election.”

You can read the full audit here.

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