Yesterday morning, the state legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal bureau announced that Wisconsin is set to take in 4.4 billion dollars more in tax collections over the next three years than originally anticipated.
The battle over how to use that money is just beginning. But, the infusion isn’t stopping the Republican-controlled finance committee from slashing Governor Tony Evers’ biennial budget measures.
Last night, after delaying their meeting for hours, the committee approved $1.5 billion dollars for brick-and-mortar projects for public facilities and buildings.
That’s roughly one billion dollars less than the Governor’s initial request. Representative Mark Born, the finance committee’s Republican co-chair, called Evers’ proposal fiscally irresponsible.
“The Governor put forward another irresponsible level of spending in a capital budget for the second consecutive budget, but finance committee Republicans are putting together a responsible capital budget,” Born says.
As part of the approved funding, Republicans included about 630 million dollars for building projects and maintenance at the University of Wisconsin system. That’s far short of the Governor’s initial one billion dollar ask.
Representative Greta Neubauer, a member of the committee’s Democratic minority, says that allowing the system’s building woes to fester will only drive up costs in the future.
“So, by not making these investments, we are only going to be spending more money down the road,” she says.
Also yesterday, the finance committee halved state funding for public transit in Madison and Milwaukee. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that that translates to a $41 million, one-time cut for the two cities.
The committee’s Republicans argue that the funding was unnecessary, as both cities are poised to receive millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid. But, LaTonya Johnson, a Democratic Senator from Milwaukee, says that the measure unfairly targets Madison and Milwaukee.
“You don’t talk to the local electeds and ask them what their plans are for spending this money,” Johnson says. “You just automatically assume that, since they have these federal dollars, that they should be used for the maintenance of the transit system.”
Republicans on the committee also shot down a proposal to fund replacement facilities for the embattled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons in northern Wisconsin.
The new facilities are one prong of a multi-part effort to close the youth prisons. That includes a planned expansion of the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center on Madison’s north side.
Evan Goyke, the Finance Committee’s ranking Democrat, railed against the Republicans’ move in a press conference today.
“I’m exhausted, I don’t know what these guys don’t understand,” Goyke told reporters. “Nobody in the legislature is confused about what we need to do as a state to finally close Lincoln Hills…What we had last night was a partisan political decision, just to continue to deny the political will to actually solve this.”
The state’s biennial budget will be before the full legislature for deliberation later this summer. Afterwards it will head to Governor Tony Evers, who can use his veto power to line edit specific parts of the budget.
(PHOTO: Jonah Chester)