The Joint Finance Committee voted to nix fee hikes Gov. Tony Evers proposed for those who operate large animal farms, pare back the additional positions he proposed to oversee them and funded the whole thing with a different approach.
The GOP plan, approved 12-4 along party lines, also included $8 million for the UW System’s Dairy Innovation Hub. Committee member Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, this spring introduced a standalone bill to create the hub.
But the committee is holding onto the money through its supplemental appropriation until the UW comes back with a plan on how to spend it. When taking up the system budget, the committee also held back $45 million of the UW appropriation until the university comes back with a plan to spend it.
That touched off a tiff among committee members over the amount of money the JFC has directed to its supplemental appropriation.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the motion pushed to $109 million the amount the committee has directed to its reserve. That’s the highest level since 1999 and is significantly more than the $37 million the committee held back in the 2017-19 session.
According to LFB, the committee put $58 million into its supplemental appropriation for the 2015-17 budget and $99 million in 2011-13.
The committee is also holding onto $100,000 Evers had proposed for a farmer mental health program until DATCP releases a plan for it.
Dems said it was all an attempt to create a “slush fund” for the committee because Evers is now in office.
“It’s not about accountability. It’s about control, and it’s about power,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.
But Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, countered the committee is on track to produce a budget in the neighborhood of $78 billion, which means the amount of money it’s holding back is about 0.1 percent.
In addition to that being minuscule, Rohrkaste noted Evers had proposed a budget of some $83 billion.
“When I look at the irresponsibility of that budget, maybe $109 million is actually pretty small,” he said.
Evers proposed five new positions related to confined animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, along with the fee hike
Currently, the fee is $345 annually with $250 of that deposited into the general fund and $95 going into a program to manage the state’s water resources.
Evers proposed increasing the fee to $660 annually with an initial fee of $3,270. Operations would have to pay that $3,270 fee every five years as well.
The revenue from the $3,270 fee and $315 of the annual permit would go to the Division of External Resources.
While approving four positions, the GOP motion would fund them differently. One of them would be supported by the fees that CAFOs pay. The other three would be funded by GPR and tipping fees.
The motion also would fund Evers’ proposal to oversee the industrial hemp program. But it would use program revenue to fund the positions rather than GPR.
Read the motion: