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Gov. Evers wants UI upgrades

Gov. Tony Evers on Feb. 4 sent a letter to the Wisconsin State Legislature urging immediate, bipartisan action on his proposal to modernize the state’s unemployment insurance system. During his 2021 State of the State address, the governor announced he would be calling a special session of the Legislature to take up his proposal, which would finance the modernization project from initiation to completion over a 10-year period. Republicans in the Legislature have yet to take any action on the governor’s special session legislation. Evers’ letter comes after an inquiry by PolitiFact determined legislative action and approval will be necessary to ensure ongoing funding for the project over multiple state budgets.

“My proposal to update our antiquated system to date has been met with the same continued inaction Wisconsinites have seen for years during previous administrations and more than a decades’ worth of state legislators that knew this system was outdated and failed to fix it,” wrote Evers in the letter. “And worse yet, it has also become the subject of partisan, political posturing and finger pointing unfitting of the severity of this problem and the urgency with which it must be addressed.”

Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system programming was developed in the early 1970s. Evers’ modernization proposal utilizes the master lease program, which operates functionally similar to a home mortgage, effectively allowing the state to make a down payment on the project while paying it off over a longer, extended period of time. The master lease program—an option offered by Republicans in the Legislature— would allow the state to begin the process of upgrading Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance system while reducing up-front costs and committing funding to ensure the state follows through with the upgrade to completion. The governor’s special session legislation, LRB-1312, includes funds to cover the initial $5.4 million toward beginning the upgrade process as well as necessary startup costs in Fiscal Year (FY) 21 and master lease payments in FY22 and FY23. The bill provides for a potential clawback of state dollars should the federal government provide additional resources to states to fund UI modernization for which this project is eligible and requires those federal dollars to be used first.