by Henry Redman, Wisconsin Examiner
In a continuation of Wisconsin Republican Legislators’ strategy of obstructing Gov. Tony Evers’ agenda, the State Building Commission rejected the governor’s $2.4 billion proposal for building projects across the state in its entirety.
Evers’ 88-project proposal included improvements to correctional facilities, state parks, new office spaces for government employees and a massive investment of more than $1 billion into the infrastructure on UW System campuses.
Democrats criticized the move as a political game that will only hurt communities across the state badly in need of infrastructure improvements.
The commission, which includes four Republican legislators, two Democratic legislators, Evers and an Evers-appointed member of the public, deadlocked 4-4 in its vote to recommend the proposals to the Joint Finance Committee. Republicans did the same thing in the last budget process, though this is only the second time the commission has ever failed to recommend projects.
“Every capital budget proposal is an investment in our state’s future, but this one is particularly important because it’s about making sure our state and our economy can bounce back from this pandemic and better than we were before it hit,” Evers said in a statement. “These investments would have helped ensure tens of thousands of jobs and billions in estimated economic impact for our state. It’s disappointing but not surprising that once again Republicans have decided to play politics instead of putting people and our economic recovery first.”
The proposal included major projects in 31 of the state’s 72 counties and, according to Evers’ office, could provide 29,000 jobs and a $4.3 billion economic boost.
“From my perspective, I’m just simply not comfortable with the amount of money the capital budget spends,” Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said in the commission meeting.
The move doesn’t completely kill every project, the Republican-dominated budget writing committee of the Legislature can still pick and choose projects from Evers’ plan or create their own plan.
The state agency most harmed by the Republicans refusal to advance any projects is the UW System, which was set to receive almost half of Evers’ capital budget money. The UW projects include updates to UW-La Crosse’s crumbling science building that was constructed in 1965.
Evers’ proposal would be part two of the university’s plan to update its science buildings and allow STEM students to take classes in buildings constructed after the moon landing.
Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), whose district includes UW-Stevens Point, said in a statement that Republican obstruction will pit necessary projects against each other. Evers’ proposal included a $96 million plan to replace UW-Stevens Point’s 50-year-old library.
“Until the 2019-21 budget cycle, our State Building Commission had maintained a decades-long tradition of meaningful bipartisan collaboration,” Shankland said in a statement. “The commission used to dependably negotiate in good faith and recommend projects together for funding, but that tradition seems to have come to an untimely end. I’m extremely disappointed that my Republican colleagues voted yesterday to double down on their obstructionist political games by refusing for the second budget cycle in a row to recommend any building projects at all.”
“This costly vote means that instead of being included from the start of state budget negotiations, individual building projects will be pitted against each other, competing to be included by the members of the Joint Committee on Finance,” she continued.
Also included in the rejected plan are proposals to build a new academic building and phase one of a new engineering building at UW-Madison. In December, Wisconsin Republicans lamented the state’s flagship university’s drop to No. 8 in the national rankings of research institutions.
“Republicans’ disinvestment in higher education over the past decade, and the way we’ve seen faculty and staff undervalued and disrespected, has consequences,” Evers said in a statement at the time.