MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans in control of the Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee approved nearly $1.5 billion in building projects around the state Tuesday, about $810 million less than Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed.
The approved plan included nearly $629 million in projects at the University of Wisconsin System, down from $1 billion that Evers had wanted.
Two years ago, the Legislature approved $1.9 billion out of $2.5 billion in requested projects. Republicans said Evers was being irresponsible with his building plan, while they were approving a reasonable amount of projects.
“We’re making another strong investment in state-owned buildings, focusing on maintenance and repair and safety and preparing the workforce for future generations,” said Republican committee co-chair Rep. Mark Born.
Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke criticized Republicans removing funding to build a new juvenile prison in Milwaukee County. Instead of spending $46 million on the new prison as Democrats wanted, the committee instead approved only $4 million to plan, develop and select a site for the prison.
Building the prison in Milwaukee is part of the plan to ultimately close the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons in Alma north of Wausau. Current law requires those juvenile prisons to close by July, a deadline both Republicans and Democrats admit will not be met.
The committee previously approved expanding a mental health center in Madison to reduce the number of inmates at the state’s juvenile prisons.
Not moving ahead with building the Milwaukee juvenile prison delays the ultimate closure of the juvenile prisons, Goyke argued. The prisons have been the target of numerous lawsuits alleging abuse by guards and criminal investigations. An independent court-ordered monitor reported in April that conditions were improving at the juvenile prisons.
Republicans also rejected $163 million in funding for a new state office building in downtown Milwaukee. Goyke said the building would be transformative for downtown Milwaukee and not moving ahead with it was a missed opportunity.
Committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein said Republicans were focused on maintaining and repairing existing state facilities, not committing to new projects.
UW President Tommy Thompson praised the funding included for the university, saying it would fund critical projects.
“These are much needed investments that will ensure our students have the important educational opportunities they need to graduate and enter the workforce,” Thompson said. “This budget represents a significant step forward for our campuses.”
The building projects were approved on an 11-4 party line vote, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against.
Evers, who is running for a second term in 2022, can use every building project Republicans vote against as a campaign talking point. Every rejected project in a Republican legislative district could also be used against them by Democratic candidates.
The committee was planning to complete work on the two-year state budget next week, with the full Legislature voting on it later this month. Evers can then make changes to it with his expansive partial veto power.