The state Assembly voted on Tuesday to approve a $50 million annual investment in rural economic development programs proposed by Gov. Scott Walker last month.
Under the bill, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation would distribute funding to eligible projects in counties with no more than 155 people per square mile — a measure Walker has said applies to 56 of the state's 72 counties.
Walker said earlier this month he thinks the move could help keep young adults in Wisconsin's rural communities.
Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, said the bill is "without question, a step in the right direction." One of the biggest obstacles rural communities face is a shortage of people, he said.
"Coming from a rural part of Wisconsin, I can tell you firsthand how important is is and how vital it is that we invest in rural Wisconsin," Tranel said.
An amendment authored by Tranel instructs WEDC to prioritize underserved communities in rural counties in its administration of grants.
Democrats have criticized the plan for being too late or not large enough.
"This is going to give (rural communities) a tiny little piece, maybe a blueberry or an apple, but they want a whole piece of the pie," said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.
Despite some Democratic criticism of its timing, the bill passed unanimously. The bill has not yet been taken up by the Senate.