JFC approves Stewardship Fund extension

The Joint Finance Committee signed off on extending the Stewardship Fund another two years through mid-2022, embracing Gov. Tony Evers’ original request for the program.

But the motion cleared 12-4 along party lines after Evers tweeted ahead of the committee meeting that he now supported reauthorizing the program for 10 years, adding “we have to make sure our kids and their kids can experience our state’s greatest treasures for generations to come.”

The committee shot down a Dem motion that would’ve embraced that approach. It would’ve resulted in adding $308.6 million in new bonding authority for the program.

The guv’s new stance drew a rebuke from Co-Chair John Nygren, R-Marinette.

“I guess maybe that’s one reason we don’t actually meet with the governor is he can do it via tweet,” Nygren said, referring to complaints back and forth between the guv and GOP leaders over meeting. “It’s unfortunate, but I guess that’s the reality.”

Evers originally proposed extending the program by two years at current funding levels of $33.25 million a year using existing bonding authority. As part of his plan, the guv called for an advisory commission to provide a recommendation on a long-term reauthorization of the program.

But in May, the Evers administration did a second look and calculated $23.9 million was available in existing bonding authority, which would require the committee to approve $42.6 million in new borrowing for the proposed two-year extension.

The committee’s action approved the $42.6 million in additional bonding.

Cumulatively, the fund has committed more than $1 billion to various projects, which are typically funded with 20-year bonds. In fiscal year 2018-19, the payments on those debts totaled $81.5 million with $26.4 million of that for interest, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The fund also has more than $714 million in outstanding debt.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said he has an issue with paying $500,000 a week in interest in the program, saying the numbers are stark.

“What we have here is a program with diminishing returns,” Tiffany said.

But Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, pushed back on the GOP complaints.

“The governor changed his mind because he actually listened to the people of the state of Wisconsin. You all should try that,” she said.

The Stewardship renewal was part of a larger motion that also would:

*provide one-time money to acquire new radios for the DNR;

*authorize the DNR to develop an automatic renewal system for some hunting, fishing and trapping licenses;

*provide $100,000 in one-time money for search on genetic resistance to chronic wasting disease in farmed deer;

*amend the DNR’s parks development appropriation to allow money to be used for trail repairs and provide $100,000 in segregated funds to fix portions of trails between the city of Elroy and village of Norwalk and between the villages of La Valle and Union Center.

See the motion.