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Report: Wisconsin in better financial shape now than 2007

Wisconsin’s finances are stronger than before the onset of the last recession in 2007, but are about average when compared with those of other states, according to a new report released Monday by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.

The report comes amid financial turmoil caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, mass closings and skyrocketing unemployment. Gov. Tony Evers said Monday he plans the following day to order that all non-essential businesses close, most likely forcing many people out of work. He argued the step was needed to slow the spread of the virus.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum report said Wisconsin has a relatively strong $2 billion unemployment insurance fund, bolstered cash balances that can help cover short-term bills and other improvements in basic measures of financial strength, such as its reserves.

But it also cautioned that the state is no better than average when compared with other states and will need federal aid. Wisconsin is behind most states in its debt per capita and the total amount of savings it has relative to its expenses.

Also on Monday, the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced it has canceled its planned graduation ceremonies, which were to take place May 8 and May 9 and will instead offer a “virtual ceremony.”

The decision from UW-Madison was not unexpected given similar steps taken by universities throughout the country. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the university and senior class officers were developing a virtual commencement that will be posted online May 8 for all graduates to watch.

She also says an in-person event at a future date, after the public-health emergency, has subsided is being planned.

About 7,000 undergraduate degrees are typically handed out at the May graduation ceremony, which attracts about 40,000 people.

“Of all the decisions we’ve had to make in this extraordinary time, this one has been the most heartbreaking for me,” Blank said. “We held out on this decision as long as possible, in hopes that the outlook for late spring might brighten and we’d be able to gather as usual.”

But she said with the state and federal guidelines against gatherings of more than 10 people, there was no way any graduation ceremonies could proceed.

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