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Republicans reject Evers' spending on state, UW buildings

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans on the Wisconsin Building Commission rejected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' plan for $2.5 billion worth of construction projects across the state, an unprecedented move Wednesday that speaks to challenge of divided government and moves the fight over capital building projects to the Legislature.

Opposition from commission members killed Evers' capital budget proposal and requires the Legislature's Republican-controlled budget committee to start from scratch. Typically, the Building Commission makes a bipartisan recommendation based on the governor's proposal and the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee goes along with the bulk of the request.

"Disappointed is an understatement," Evers, a member of the Building Commission, said in the face of GOP opposition.

Republicans voted against a host of typically bipartisan, feel-good initiatives before the commission, such as funding a University of Wisconsin cancer research center, improving state park campgrounds, upgrading veterans homes and cemeteries, funding a new Wisconsin state history museum and renovating UW's Camp Randall Stadium and the Kohl Center.

GOP legislative leaders sent Evers a letter before the meeting calling his proposed $2 billion in borrowing "unrealistic and unsustainable." Evers' total budget is about three times as large as former Republican Gov. Scott Walker's last capital budget request.

While there are numerous projects that are "necessary and beneficial" to the state, the Legislature needs more time to vet them, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in the letter to Evers. They called on him to work with lawmakers on a more "modest, reasonable and sustainable plan."

Republican Rep. Mark Born, a member of the Building Commission, said rejection by them doesn't mean the projects won't win support later in the Legislature. But Evers said a stamp of approval from the commission gives the projects more momentum.

Every motion to approve the 82 individual projects failed on a 4-4 party line vote, with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed. A GOP motion to pass Evers' entire budget, but without a recommendation, also failed on a 4-4 vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats against.

Nearly half of the money Evers requested — about $1.1 billion — is for building projects across the UW System. Other projects include converting the state's troubled youth prison into an adult facility, $115 million for up to three new state-run facilities to house juveniles and $98.5 million for a new state office building in Milwaukee.

Democrats and Evers said the action could put at risk the health and safety of public workers in dilapidated buildings, many of which are 45 to 70 years old. Evers requested $572 million for maintenance of state-owned buildings, with about $300 million for the UW System.

Other projects include $35 million in borrowing to renovate the UW-Milwaukee student union; $78 million in borrowing and $4.8 million in building trust funds to finish work on a new science hall at UW-La Crosse; $93 million in borrowing and $2 million in cash to build the first phase of a new science building and demolish two dorms at UW-Eau Claire; and $70 million in borrowing to demolish the Wisconsin Historical Museum across the street from the Capitol and build a new one in the same location.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement that Republicans were "playing political football with funding for a cancer research facility, mental health facilities and veterans nursing homes. When push comes to shove, Republican leaders are proving they'd rather opt for partisan games than investing in the future of our state."

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