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Joint Finance Approves Governor's Property Sales Proposal

Justin Kern, Flickr

Gov. Scott Walker got much of what he wanted Tuesday from the Legislature’s Joint Finance committee. It agreed to give the governor power to sell or lease state property, and without a competitive bidding process.

However, members adjusted the plan – so that the committee must approve all sales.

The plan passed along party lines. All 12 Republicans voted in favor; all four Democrats, against.

Democrats jumped right out of the gate - blasting the proposal. Rep. Jon Richards called the scope of the motion breathtaking.

According to a state review, the governor could opt to sell almost everything except parks and beaches. So included, would be prisons, power plants, highways and university buildings.

Richards says he fears people will become reluctant to donate to the UW System.

“We’re already hearing from philanthropists who are saying well, I’m not sure I want to step into this if you guys are going to sell off a property that’s going to have my name on it and maybe it’s only 25 percent gift funds, it would be sold off to some corporation. Of course they’re going to think twice about that,” Richards says.

The committee tweaked the bill so that the state could not sell property if federal dollars, or gifts or grants had paid for at least half.

Democratic Sen. Jennifer Schilling objected to the sale of public property without a competitive bidding process. And she was not satisfied that the Joint Finance committee might now play a role.

“At least we’ve got some oversight coming back to Finance on this stuff but this should have greater scrutiny than what we’re doing right here and what those ramifications would be,” Schilling says.

The committee will eventually submit its revised budget to the Assembly and Senate for review. When they finish, they’ll send the proposed budget back to the governor. He can accept or veto changes lawmakers made.

If the property sale plan remains as is, Republican Sen. Alberta Darling assured her colleagues that the committee would thoroughly vet any proposed sale. Darling is the panel’s co-chair.

“Who would sit on this committee and make a decision that’s not in the best interest of the state and who on this committee would approve a sale if it hadn’t been transparent and hadn’t been competitive? I don’t think anybody serving on this committee could get to this position of leadership and be so sloppy about how we would make a decision,” Darling says.

Darling pointed out the committee approved a requirement that any potential property sale must undergo a cost-benefit analysis and property assessment. Republican Rep. Dean Knudson urged his colleagues to trust one another.

“We’ve got much more oversight than what the governor proposed and because of that I’m comfortable, at least open minded with the idea. Let them come and make their best case but it better be good. It better be clearly in the best interest of the state or I wouldn’t vote for it,” Knudson says.

Knudson called the plan good, but not perfect. The Walker administration has said it does not have plans currently to sell public property. However, it says it wants the option – in case sales are needed to pay down the state’s enormous debt.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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