Proposed State Building Projects Fail To Win Building Commission's Endorsement

Mar 21, 2019

The fate of proposed state building projects at UW-Milwaukee, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and other sites remains unclear. Republican lawmakers Wednesday blocked the Wisconsin Building Commission from recommending more than 80 projects wanted by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. 

Usually, the building commission goes along with most or all of the projects recommended in what's known as the governor's capital budget. With that momentum, the Legislature's budget committee then later typically approves the commission's list. 

But Republicans have been complaining that the record size of Evers' capital budget proposal, $2.5 billion, gives them heartburn.

So, Wednesday afternoon in Madison, the four GOP members on the eight-person building commission offered to send along all of the governor's projects without the commission's endorsement.

The four Republican members of the State of Wisconsin Building Commission (seated at the table, clockwise, from lower left) Rep. Mark Born, Sen. Patrick Testin, Sen. Jerry Petrowski, and Rep. Rob Swearingen.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Evers noted the Republicans in committee meetings Monday and Tuesday had unanimously backed the projects. "So, I'm not sure what material has changed about these individual items," he said.

Evers, two Democratic lawmakers, and a citizen member of the commission nixed the Republicans blanket no-endorsement proposal by a vote of 4-4. But then, for the next three hours, the commssion took up the roughly 80 projects one by one and Republicans' refused to endorse any.

Occasionally, Evers spoke up for a project, like the planned new chemistry building at UW-Milwaukee. "I had better chemistry lab conditions in 1969 at Plymouth High School than the kids at UW-Milwaukee have today," he remarked.  

But efforts to change GOP minds fell short. One of the four Republicans who said no — about 80 times — to endorsing capital projects is Rep. Mark Born of Beaver Dam. He said the amount Evers wants to borrow for building projects has to shrink. "Try to move forward a capital budget that invests in our priorities, and has a reasonable spending level that respects the taxpayers of Wisconsin and their investments in these projects," he urged.

A guide dog brought to the Wisconsin Building Commission by a visually-impaired man, rests during the three-hour discussion.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

It appears the debate now shifts to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance, which Republicans control.

Many of the projects up for grabs are for buildings in the University of Wisconsin System. System President Ray Cross says joint finance members will have to juggle the capital budget and Evers's proposed state operating budget.

"They understand we need to repair, replace, and maintain our buildings. So the question is, how will they go about doing that in the midst of those other things?" Cross said.

Construction unions have also been pushing hard for the building projects. Now, they may have to push harder.

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