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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Safe Drinking Water Is Top Priority Of Evers' State Budget

Screenshot/Wisconsin Public Television
Gov Tony Evers during his first biennial budget address at the State Capitol.

During his campaign for governor, Democrat Tony Evers pledged to increase the role of science in the Department of Natural Resources. That’s something that had diminished during the tenure of his Republican predecessor Scott Walker.

Evers also promoted renewable energy projects, saying they would both protect Wisconsin resources and boost economic development.

When he was sworn into office, Evers mentioned he would take the issue of global warming seriously.

But Thursday night during his budget address in the State Capitol, the environmental issue Evers chose to focus on was water: "We’re announcing that we’re making safe drinking water a top priority in Wisconsin."

Evers says this, and all of his priorities were distilled from listening sessions he held throughout the state after his election.

"We are announcing nearly $70,000 in bonding to addressing water quality — from replacing lead service lines to addressing water contamination all across the state," Evers said.

While applause echoed through the Assembly chamber, not all legislators were enthused. State Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) says state lawmakers already have acted to promote safe water.

"In the last legislative session the Republican-controlled Legislature made some progress in the area of replacing lead service lines," Allen said.

The law allows municipalities and water utilities to offer financial assistance to property owners to ease the burden of replacing the pipes.

While Allen agrees more water quality initiatives are needed, he says they’re in competition with other issues folded into the budget.

"I think we support the notion of investing in good water quality, but do we elevate that in importance over education or over transportation funding? I’m not sure we have to look at the pieces, how they fit together," Allen said.

Gov. Evers’ spending plan is now in the hands of the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee. It will hold public hearings across the state.

But the committee might not be acting on Evers’ budget. Republicans have said they plan to use the last budget as its template.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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