JFC approves $1.9 billion capital budget, $600 million less than Evers proposed

The Joint Finance Committee approved a nearly $1.9 billion capital budget Tuesday, paring back nearly $600 million that Gov. Tony Evers originally wanted to spend on building projects.

More than $1 billion of the GOP capital budget, which was approved 12-4 along party lines, would go to projects in the UW System. That’s slightly less than what Evers originally proposed.

Some of the projects Evers proposed that the committee left off its final document include $150 million in additional money to fund new juvenile corrections facilities, $98.5 million for the state to build a new office building in Milwaukee, and $83 million for a science center on the UW-La Crosse campus.

A year ago, the Legislature approved a bipartisan plan to close the state’s troubled youth prisons in northern Wisconsin and move to a new approach with regional facilities to house the more serious offenders and new county-run centers for others. The law included $80 million in bonding for those facilities, as well as expanding a treatment center in Dane County.

But Evers had proposed additional bonding as estimates for the county facilities have come in significantly higher than originally anticipated.

The GOP action puts all $80 million of the existing bonding to the county-run facilities while adding $44 million in new bonding to fund changes to the Mendota Mental Health Institute.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, noted there is an urgency to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, but the GOP plan essentially hits pause on that plan despite overwhelming agreement a year ago to move to a new system.

“What do you want? Another study? For DOC to come sit in those chairs and tell us what we already know?” said Goyke, who has been involved in a bipartisan group that has worked on the issue. “What are you waiting for?”

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said the projects are still enumerated and can be funded later. Republicans just want to continue working with the administration and Dem lawmakers on more details on what the new facilities would look like before approving the money.

Evers’ capital budget included nearly $1.9 billion in new borrowing. The GOP plan would instead borrow nearly $1.5 billion.

The GOP motion also didn’t include $30 million in general fund-supported borrowing to help Dane County redevelop the Alliant Energy Center

Instead, it included a proposal to create a $25 million grant program with general fund supported borrowing to help non-state organizations with projects.

The committee also included $5 million to begin work on a new maximum security prison in Green Bay. That would include land acquisition, utility extensions and a request for proposal to build the new prison.

Evers didn’t include the project in his budget, saying it was illogical to build a new prison while his administration is looking for ways to reduce the number of people incarcerated in Wisconsin.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, questioned if the proposed prison would be privately owned, and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted that isn’t specified in the motion.

Born, R-Beaver Dam, called it an important project considering the age of the prison, which first came into use in 1898. He also touted the proposed $25 million pot for non-state projections, saying it included the same goals Evers laid out of investing in community projects, but made sure it would be a very small part of the capital budget.

“The focus should be investing in state facilities,” he said. “They are our responsibilities.”

See the motion.

See an LFB overview of the differences between the Evers budget and the GOP motion.