Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is looking to invest about $2.38 billion in the state’s infrastructure for 2021-23, as proposed in his capital budget plan unveiled Feb. 22. Prominent with Evers' proposal were a $163-million state office building project in Milwaukee, and a $150-million engineering research building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, among others.
Lawmakers also will be considering a $91-billion state budget, which Evers proposed on Feb. 16, which Republicans are already opposing due to the proposal to generate sales tax revenues by legalizing marijuana.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) has called legalizing cannabis a “poisoned pill” to include in the budget and predicts that it has no chance of passing, according to news reports.
In the last budget submitted by Evers, in June 2019, Republicans on the budget committee voted to spend $1.9 billion on building projects, which was $600 million less than the $2.5 billion Evers had sought.
Evers’ proposed capital budget would take advantage of historically low bond rates, according to a statement released by Evers’ office, and would invest in projects to ensure their longevity and public safety.
“It's about our priorities—from investing in sustainable energy options and protecting our public lands, to supporting the growth of our UW campuses and students, to reforming our juvenile justice system, to investing in community development, this capital budget will have a far-reaching impact on our communities and our state for generations to come,” Evers said in a statement.
In addition to higher education, the 268-page proposed budget covers such areas as correctional and health services facilities, veteran care, natural resources management and energy conservation.
A prominent proposed project is a new $163-million state office building to be constructed in Milwaukee. The project would consolidate state agency functions under one roof and include a parking structure.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) championed the project, noting in a statement that it "will positively affect not only the immediate neighborhood but also the surrounding areas."
The budget also tags $4 million to begin preliminary designs for redeveloping a block in downtown Madison near the Capitol. The site, currently occupied by the Dept. of Workforce Development, would be redeveloped for a new office building and a museum.
Evers’ recommendations would fund 28 projects for the University of Wisconsin System, including:
- $88 million for five-story building on the UW-Madison campus that would house programs in the College of Letters and Science.
- $150 million toward demolition and replacement of an 88-year-old engineering research building on the Madison campus.
- $26 million for renovating the Music Hall at UW-Madison
- $59 million for the renovation of Winther Hall, and roof and exterior window replacement at Heide Hall, both at UW-Whitewater.
- $7 million to begin planning for a project at UW-Platteville, renovating Ottensman Hall while demolishing a faculty office tower and four former student residence halls.
In regard to infrastructure improvements for the University of Wisconsin system, State Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D) said, "the University of Wisconsin System has been cut tremendously and with a tuition freeze and recent cuts, they haven't had the resources they need."
Bewley was referring to cuts that happened during Gov. Evers’ predecessor, former Gov. Scott Walker (R).
Each project listed in the budget proposal contains a justification for why the project is needed. In the case of the Music Hall, the report notes that an exterior wall collapse led to an analysis of the building’s entire exterior, which determined in 2017 that a combination of weather, age and well-intended but damaging repairs had taken a toll on the 137-year-old structure.
“Damage is significant and needs to be addressed immediately before further catastrophic failure occurs,” the budget document states.
Other proposed projects that would aid juveniles include construction of a new $46-million juvenile facility in Milwaukee County, and $2.5 million mental health facility at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution.
The plan also calls for a new $24-million National Guard Readiness Center in Viroqua, and proposed renovations to veterans’ homes and veterans’ cemeteries statewide.
The next step is for the State Building Commission, which is chaired by Evers, to vote on the proposed budget, which is scheduled for March 17. The commission recommendation would then be submitted to the Joint Committee on Finance by April 1.
Republicans on the State Building Commission in 2019 rejected every project in Evers’ capital budget.