Gov. Tony Evers speaking with reporters at the Wisconsin Counties Association conference on Feb. 28, 2023. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)
Republican lawmakers rejected Gov. Tony Evers’ entire proposed $3.8 billion dollar capital budget during a Wisconsin State Building Commission (SBC) meeting Thursday.
Evers’ proposal — one of the largest state government building plans in at least a decade — includes $1.8 billion for building projects within the University of Wisconsin System as well as investments in correctional facilities, state parks, museums and the Capitol.
The eight-member commission — which includes four Republican lawmakers, two Democrats, the governor himself and a citizen member chosen by Evers — deadlocked with a 4-4 vote on the proposed spending for each state agency. There was little debate throughout the meeting.
“Our capital budget addressed critical infrastructure needs across our state in a way that kept borrowing low, saved the taxpayer’s money in the long run, and created critical local jobs and economic development,” Evers said in a statement after the meeting.
Evers recommended paying for many of the projects with cash rather than through borrowing because of Wisconsin’s record budget surplus.
“While Republican leaders claim to support these goals, their action today shows that they would simply rather play politics than have a meaningful discussion about how these projects would serve the needs of the folks they represent,” Evers continued.
The State Building Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the planning, improvement, major maintenance and renovation of state facilities, is required under law to make recommendations to the Joint Finance Committee. Until 2019, recommendations were typically made by the committee without much controversy.
Republicans on the SBC rejected Evers’ capital budget proposal, again, during the 2021-2023 budget cycle. That year Evers proposed around $2.4 billion, and lawmakers later approved $1.5 billion.
This is the third time that the commission has failed to recommend any projects to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Lawmakers will have the chance to approve all or parts of Evers’ proposal later in the budget cycle.
Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine) said in a statement to the Wisconsin Examiner that the votes taken were “procedural” and the capital budget recommendations will still be moved to the Joint Finance Committee for full consideration.
“We will continue to work through each capital budget item in depth, make site visits as time allows and have discussions with stakeholders during the coming weeks,” Wittke said. “The procedural votes of today afford us a deeper dive into each recommendation.”
Prior to the meeting, Evers urged bipartisan support of the plan, saying the state’s surplus presents an opportunity to invest in infrastructure across the state.
“The projects included in my capital budget will benefit countless Wisconsinites across our state in urban, rural communities, red and blue districts alike,” Evers said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to invest in not only the sustainability, safety, and longevity of our state’s infrastructure but in the future success and growth of our communities.”
The projects in Evers’ plan were spread across 28 counties and according to his office, the recommendations were expected to provide approximately 45,000 jobs and have an economic impact of about $6.8 billion.
In addition to allocations for the UW System, Evers’ capital budget recommendations included $225 million to invest in health services facilities, around $300 million for improvements to correctional and related facilities, almost $50 million for improvements to the Capitol and about $48 million for state parks.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said Republican members of the committee acted as a check on overspending, adding that inflationary costs hadn’t been accurately considered yet.
“The Department of Administration’s inflation estimate has added as much as 50% to construction costs for some building projects,” LeMahieu said in a statement. “This faulty calculation could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary cost overruns.”
Rep. Alex Joers (D-Middleton), who doesn’t sit on the commission, said in a statement that the vote is another example of Republican obstruction.
“This is another capital budget thrown out by Republicans so they can continue their political circus in the months to come,” Joers said. “They refused to have an honest debate and instead voted against all building projects. It’s unfortunate that so many building projects continue to be in limbo because Republicans want to keep their political game of keep away going for as long as they can.”
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