LANCASTER, Wis. — The release of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ 2019-21 biennium budget proposal in late February has generated waves among southwest Wisconsin residents.

Grant County residents expressed their support and frustrations with the $83.4 billion spending plan Thursday at a legislative listening session, hosted by state Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green.

More than 50 people attended the event, held at the Schreiner Memorial Library in Lancaster.

Republican lawmakers have characterized the proposal’s 11 percent spending increase as unrealistic and pledged to construct a new budget using current spending levels as a base, but some of the Democratic governor’s supporters in the audience said the changes are long overdue following a partisan change in the state’s executive branch.

“We’ve got a lot of making up to do,” said Donna Swanson, of Platteville. “We’ve had eight years of spending being restricted in a lot of these areas.”


David Lambert, Grant County highway commissioner, urged Marklein and Tranel to support increases to general transportation aid the state provides to counties.

“We did get some increases a couple years ago in our general transportation aid for the counties, but we are still below what we got in 2009,” he said.

According to county figures, the state provided $1.3 million in 2019, compared to $1.7 million in 2009 inflation-adjusted dollars.

Wisconsin road conditions have been characterized as among the worst in the Midwest. A 2017 report from the Legislative Audit Bureau indicated that only 32 percent of state highways were classified in good condition, compared to 63 percent of all U.S. highways.

Evers’ proposal allocates $6.6 billion to transportation projects, which includes $320 million for highway building and resurfacing and a 10 percent increase in county and local government transportation aid.

To finance much of the increased spending, the governor has proposed an 8-cent increase to the state’s gas tax and reinstitution of price indexing.

Marklein expressed reservations that transportation aid might be shuttled to the state’s metro areas to the neglect of projects in southwest Wisconsin.

“I’m probably more concerned about where the transportation money goes than I am about whether we have an 8-cent gas tax increase,” he said.


Cassville resident Susan Krause urged the legislators to prioritize water quality initiatives as they build the budget.

Her concern was spurred by findings from a regional well-testing survey. The results, released in January, indicated that nearly half of private wells tested in southwest Wisconsin were contaminated with nitrates and harmful bacteria.

A different study conducted in eastern Wisconsin found that farms were the primary source of contamination, not septic systems, but whether the findings can be generalized to Grant County is uncertain.

Meanwhile, farmers are in a tough place with depressed prices, Krause said.

“There has got to be middle ground where we can help protect our farmers and also help protect our water,” she said.

Evers, who has declared 2019 the “year of clean drinking water,” proposed in his budget the creation of a Bureau of Natural Resources Science within the Department of Natural Resources, and added five new science positions to research water quality.

Evers would also borrow nearly $70 million for water quality initiatives and lead pipe replacement.

In January, the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality was created. The task force, of which Tranel is a member, will hold multiple hearings in coming months before generating policy recommendations.

“I think our groundwater issues, we can probably come to some sort of agreement there,” Tranel said of the governor’s proposals.