MADISON, Wis. (AP) — New budget figures for Wisconsin released Wednesday show an $870 million drop off in tax collections last month, the latest stark sign of how much the coronavirus pandemic is hurting the state’s economy.
The bleak but expected budget figures came as pressure continued to build on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to reopen business in the state faster and loosen his “safer at home” order that runs until May 26.
Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde, a millionaire Madison businessman, joined the conservative chorus against Evers, launching a television ad Wednesday arguing for the immediate reopening of the state.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau told lawmakers that state tax collections were down $870 million in April, the first full month of the stay-at-home order, compared to April 2019. Tax collections were down $313 million between July and April compared to the same 10-month period the previous fiscal year. Evers has projected a $2 billion loss over the current budget that runs through June 2021.
The memo said several variables could help the state’s budget in the coming months, including Evers’ order to cut spending 5%, expected to save $70 million. Some of the $2 billion in federal aid could go toward the budget shortfall, and the state has about $844 million in savings that could be used, the memo said.
But the numbers will only add to the pressure on Evers from businesses, Republican lawmakers and others. A protest to urge a faster reopening attracted about 1,500 people to the Capitol last month. The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday, and could rule any day, on a Republican-brought lawsuit that seeks to block the stay-at-home order.
The Hovde ad, along with a new website with a petition calling for reopening, are the first public projects of a group he created called Our Future Matters. Hovde ran for the Republican nomination for Senate in 2012 but came second in the primary to former Gov. Tommy Thompson. The banker, investor and developer flirted with another run for Senate in 2018 but did not get in. Hovde has said he’s considering running again in 2022.
“It’s time to open Wisconsin given the data and the consequences of the shutdown,” Hovde said in a statement. “Decisions are being made to lock down our state that are having both severe negative economic and health consequences for our citizens.”
In the ad, Hovde questions the science behind the decision to issue the “safer at home order,” projections of infections for Wisconsin, concerns about hospital capacity and risks associated with high unemployment. More than 517,000 people have filed for unemployment in Wisconsin since mid-March.
Evers didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. He and state health officials have said the longer stay-at-home order is the best approach to slowing the spread of the virus in accordance with scientific principles.
The order originally shut down most nonessential businesses until April 24, but Evers extended it until May 26 with some loosening to allow for curbside services. He has a plan for reopening the state but several benchmarks must be met, including a decline in new coronavirus cases and hospital capacity to safely deal with virus patients.
The state Department of Health Services reported that at least 353 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and more than 8,500 people are infected. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher, because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
The percentage of positive cases has declined for three consecutive days, but has gone up and down over the past 14 days.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
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