JFC nixes Evers’ call to create new bureau for DNR scientists

Joint Finance Committee Republicans rejected Gov. Tony Evers’ call to create a new bureau to house the DNR’s scientists while approving two of the five new positions he wanted to create.

The GOP motion also proposed increasing by $4 million borrowing for contaminated sediment removal in Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and their tributaries rather than the $25 million increase he wanted. Since 2007, $32 million in bonding has been authorized for the work.

The motion, approved 12-4 along party lines, followed some of Evers’ proposals in the DNR. But all told, the GOP motion would borrow $28 million less than Evers had proposed and spend $9.2 million less.

While Republicans talked up the areas of agreement, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said on the areas that are most important “we’re not even close.”

Evers had proposed adding five positions and creating a Bureau of Natural Resources Science. The move also would convert 14 positions now in the Office of Applied Science to the new bureau with the director serving as a science adviser to the agency secretary.

The move comes after Republicans sought in back-to-back budgets to scale back the agency’s research functions. In the 2015-17 budget, Republicans cut 18.4 scientist positions out of the 57.4 that existed at the time. The move was made as some argued the agency shouldn’t be involved in studying subjects such as climate change or the impact of mining.

In the 2017-19 budget, Republicans eliminated the Bureau of Integrated Science Services and transferred 37 positions to divisions within the agency.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, said he was one of the leaders in the effort to eliminate the bureau, saying scientists were “freelancing” outside their disciplines. He criticized Evers’ proposal, saying it left too many unanswered questions on how the proposed scientists or the bureau head would operate.

He said the proposed bureau wouldn’t differ much from the existing Office of Applied Science and the guv’s proposal didn’t include specifics on how the proposed Bureau of Natural Resources Science director would serve as an adviser to the agency secretary. He noted at some point there will be a Republican guv again.

“You put that in there, who knows what that Republican governor is going to do, right?” Tiffany said.

Dems also ripped the GOP motion for not taking up Evers’ proposal to increase fees on large-scale animal feeding operations — known as CAFOs — and then use the money to create five positions at the DNR to regulate the increased workload relating to the growing industry.

Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the committee plans to address the proposal when the committee takes up the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said it was unbelievable that Republicans were failing to address contaminated drinking water that some have attributed to the increase in CAFOs. It means Republicans are willing to accept manure contamination in drinking water.

“This is ignoring manure coming out of people’s taps,” Taylor said. “They cannot drink the water. What would you do if you could not drink the water in your home?”

Read the GOP motion.