The State Building Commission deadlocked on Gov. Tony Evers’ capital budget Wednesday, which includes over $1 billion in UW System projects.
Republicans on the commission voted down every project in Evers’ proposal. The plan will now go to the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee, which will craft its own proposal for building projects around the state and on the UW-Madison campus.
Evers unveiled his $2.4 billion budget last month, which includes funding for projects at UW-Madison including Music Hall restoration, a new engineering building and a new College Letters and Science Building which is part of a plan to demolish the Mosse Humanities Building and two residence halls.
At the start of the meeting, Republicans tried to move the capital budget to the Joint Finance Committee without the commission’s recommendation, but the move failed 4-4. The Joint Finance Committee plans to rewrite Evers’ entire biennial budget.
“I’m just simply not comfortable with the amount of money that the capital budget spends. I’m also not sure what the legislature is comfortable with in terms of bonding levels. This capital budget does not reflect the potential $3.2 billion that the state of Wisconsin is going to get from the federal government,” Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, said.
Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, said he believed that some of the projects have merit, but said the decision could be made in a more bipartisan way later in the budget process.
Each project was taken up and the commission deadlocked on a 4-4 vote on every motion.
Evers criticized Republicans on the commission for failing to collaborate in a bipartisan manner.
“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,” Evers said in a statement.
Earlier this week, Evers urged bipartisanship after last year’s process “resulted in failing to develop a State Building Program for possibly the first time in state history and as Republicans in the Legislature have signaled the 2021-23 Capital Budget might meet a similar fate.”
Last year, Evers’ proposal called for $1.07 billion for the UW System and the projects approved by the Joint Finance Committee totaled $1.03 billion, according to WPR.
In February, UW-Madison leaders expressed support for the investments in infrastructure around campus.
Director of Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture Gary Brown said in an email that the department is “very hopeful” that all the major project requests will be included in the capital budget as they go through the legislative review process as they did last year.
“We continue to advocate for all of our projects with our legislators and feel our projects are well justified and important to move forward with state support,” Brown said.
Brown added that the commission’s action “may indeed impact our project costs and schedules” if the projects are not included in the recommendations coming from the Joint Finance Committee and onto the full legislature for Evers’ approval in July.
“If any of our projects are not moved forward, they risk increasing in cost by 2 to 4 percent per year due to escalation. For example, on a $100 million project, that could add up to $4 million per year. If not enumerated in the 2021-23 capital budget, the project would have to be resubmitted in 2023-25, adding up to $8 million for that two-year delay in schedule,” Brown said.
Brown said that if a project has gift funding along with state funding and the project is not enumerated, the university risks losing those donor funds, which would put the project potentially on hold until additional funds can be identified.
Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, also noted that projects would increase in cost. She said the plan could be pared down, but said there was “no discussion as to why [Republicans] thought any projects were not worthy.”
“Throughout the earlier subcommittee meetings, it was repeated time after time that several of these projects have been brought forward for more than one session, some two or three sessions, and they’re still out there uncompleted,” Ringhand said. “We are costing ourselves more in the long run by not addressing these projects.”
Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, also expressed disappointment that the commission could not work together to discuss which projects had merit.
“Speaking as the chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee, I have toured a lot of these campuses, I’ve looked at buildings from basements to roofs and talked with students, faculty, staff who do the mechanical upkeep of some of our buildings that really need to be replaced or need maintenance but the work has been deferred and delayed. The time is now,” Billings said.
UW spokesperson Greg Bump said that the proposed College of Engineering and Letters and Science Academic Buildings are “key to helping meet the state’s growing workforce demands and replace aging structures.” Bump said that the College of Engineering is turning away qualified applicants due to space restrictions.
“Additionally, half of the total cost of the projects over the next two biennium will be funded by donors who have gifted money directly to the university for these buildings. Overall, state support for these projects represents a significant investment in higher education infrastructure that is critical for the future of Wisconsin,” Bump said in an email.
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