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Economic Pain Rising in Wisconsin as Evers Delays

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP

MADISON — Wisconsin businesses could have been up and running this week had Gov. Tony Evers relented on his statewide lockdown and implemented a comprehensive plan to re-open the Badger State.

Instead, the pain and suffering goes on for hundreds of thousands of displaced workers and untold numbers of businesses forced to close or drastically cut operations.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) late last month unveiled its Back to Business plan. The proposal would use a number of risk factors to strategically re-open the tens of thousands of businesses impacted by the Evers administration’s extended Safer at Home order.

The plan, its creators say, would have gotten Wisconsin working again five days ago.

Clock is ticking

“We need to get back to work,” the owner of Lori’s Card and Gift, a Hallmark shop in Hayward, said this week in a WMC video. She said the business she’s owned for 14 years “has turned to crumbles” in a matter of a few short weeks.

“The governor needs to realize that Hayward is not a metropolitan area like Madison and Milwaukee. We can keep a handle on how many folks are in our store,” the retailer said.

That’s the point a lot of business owners are making: They don’t need the government to tell them how to safely run their businesses, even in a pandemic.

Evers has mostly doubled down on his glacial-pace plan to lift restrictions. He did tell WTMJ’s Steve Scaffidi on Thursday that he’s willing to consider ways of re-opening some businesses on a regional basis.

“I don’t (think it’s the answer), but I never say never in this situation. There may be cases where we do it,” the Democrat said. “I think we can do a lot of things re-opening that are statewide that impact all counties at the same time.”

When? Evers won’t say.

The clock is ticking for many. For some, time has already run out.

“With much gratitude and regret, Harmony Pizza will be closing our doors permanently, effective immediately. We were proud to be Appleton’s local and organic wood-fired pizza joint on Wisconsin Ave., founded with great help from the community and featuring free live local music, rotating exhibitions of local artists, and a welcoming vibe for all members of the community,” the owners of Harmony Pizza Cafe wrote on Facebook.

Matty Burns, the pizzeria’s operating partner, told the Appleton Post Crescent that the business always operated on very thin margins, but COVID-19 and the government restrictions were the knock-out punch.

“Switching down to delivery and takeout was a major cut to our revenue. It was the inside experience that was the main thing here,” he said.

Also closing this week, JumpStart Auto Repair based in Neenah and founded by the Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs and Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services. The business used its proceeds to fund auto repairs for domestic abuse survivors. Its mission also was to inspire more women to join the field of auto repair.

The shop had closed temporarily on April 3 amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to WFRV-TV, but announced this week it was selling its Neenah location.

“We are grateful to the many customers who have become part of the JumpStart family over the last several years for their support and belief in our vision,” Lori Hoersch, Board Chair, JumpStart Auto Repair told the TV station. “If JumpStart was among the first to inspire young women to pursue careers in the auto repair industry, we hope it will not be the last.”

Meanwhile, more than a half-million workers have applied for unemployment assistance, flooding what has been of late a financially solid Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The fund, which stood at $1.86 billion as of Wednesday, could be broke by October, according to one projection by the state Department of Workforce Development. 

“Currently UI is experiencing unprecedented claim volume with over 300,000 weekly claims per week. This is 194 percent higher than the average number of weekly claims received during the first year of the Great Recession,” the agency said Thursday in a press release. “Due to the uncertain future impacts of COVID-19, it is unknown if Wisconsin will continue to experience this high volume of claims and for how long this may occur.”

But it’s not just COVID-19. It’s Team Evers’ overbearing and unconstitutional response to it.

Trust the science? 

WMC analysis of data from Evers’ administration and the state Department of Health Services shows Wisconsin has met all of the governor’s criteria to reopen the state’s economy. The state’s largest chamber of commerce found that based on Evers’ Badger Bounce Back plan, the state could have re-opened Thursday.

 “Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order was put in place to flatten the curve on the state’s COVID-19 cases, but now we need to focus on flattening another curve: the state’s unemployment filings,” Kurt Bauer, WMC President and CEO said in a statement. “While the governor has not adopted WMC’s plans to reopen the economy, his own data and metrics now say we can move forward.”

Wisconsin hospitals and health care facilities have plenty of capacity, and the trend lines are heading downward, just as Evers’ plan demands. DHS reports “95 percent of hospitals affirm that they can treat all patients without crisis care,” according to the analysis.

“According to DHS, Wisconsin saw a 14-day downward trend from 4/22 to 5/5 in emergency department visits with influenza related concerns,” WMC’s report notes. The same goes for COVID-19-like cases.

DHS data also show Wisconsin saw a 14-day downward trend from April 24 to May 7 in positive tests as a percent of total tests, the WMC analysis notes.

As of Thursday, there were 374 COVID-19 deaths, an increase of 66 in the last week, according to DHS.

Evers on Thursday announced the state has reached its goal of 85,000 tests per week, among preventative and protection goals.

“Gov. Evers has always said we need to trust the science and the data,” WMC’s Bauer said. “It couldn’t be any clearer. The governor’s own data and metrics show it is time to reopen the economy.

“WMC and the business community call on Gov. Evers to take the next steps to get people back to work. The time is overdue to rescind the Safer at Home order and work with Wisconsin’s business community on a responsible and safe opening of the economy.”

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