In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is condemned to repeat the same day over and over again in a seemingly never-ending cycle. This year’s budget deliberation process is shaping up to be Governor Tony Evers’ own personal Groundhog Day.
Yesterday, the state’s eight-person Building Commission essentially shot down all 88 items in Governor Evers’ proposed $2.4 billion capital budget.
The Building Commission’s rejection doesn’t mean complete defeat for Evers’ capital budget. His proposals will go to the state’s Republican-controlled Finance Committee for further deliberation.
But the budget-writing finance committee has promised to dramatically pare back the Governor’s budget proposals.
This exact chain of events is virtually identical to what happened during the last round of budget negotiations in 2019.
State Representative and Building Commission member Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said yesterday that Evers’ budget fails to take into account several factors — including forthcoming federal COVID-19 relief funds.
“From my perspective I’m just not comfortable with the amount of money the capital budget spends. This capital budget does not reflect the potential $3.2 billion the state of Wisconsin is going to get from the federal government,” Rep. Swearingen said.
But Department of Administration secretary Joel Brennan pointed out that most of that money has already been earmarked for specific projects.
“There are really four areas that can be targeted with those federal dollars,” he said. “One; the negative impact from COVID-19, especially on specific industries. There’s the ability to support essential workers. There’s the ability to provide services and especially to replace lost revenue in areas where that’s important.
And then there’s a small area where they outline that there can be capital investment. But that’s in infrastructure of water, sewer, broadband — not areas that are in the purview of the state building commission.”
The proposed capital budget allocates nearly one billion dollars for the University of Wisconsin system, including $150 million targeted towards repairing and replacing University infrastructure.
State Representative and Commission member Jill Billings (D-Lacrosse) argued that delaying those infrastructure improvements will only drive the costs up, as structural issues worsen and inflation continues.
“These are projects that the Governor and his team, the University system and the board of regents have looked at carefully and they have merit,” she said.
The budget also includes more than $45 million to construct a new juvenile prison in Milwaukee County. Completion of that project would result in the closure of the state’s existing youth prison, which has been mired in controversy.
Locally, the capital budget allocates about four million dollars to begin the planning process for a new historical society museum. The historical society is looking to relocate from their current location at the top of State Street to East Washington Avenue.
At yesterday’s meeting, Governor Evers criticized the Republican commissioners’ decision to punt his proposals. Evers, who is a voting member of the Building Commission, pointed out that the group worked collaboratively to hash out capital budgets proposed by his predecessors.
“This is one of the few opportunities, if not the only one, where the executive branch and legislative branch moves projects forward,” he said.
The capital budget now goes to the Joint Finance Committee for deliberation. That body, which is controlled by Republicans, plays a significant role in revising and drafting the states’s budget.