Area officials remain confident the proposed UW-Eau Claire Science and Health Sciences Building will receive funding in the state’s capital borrowing measure, even though Republicans on the State Building Commission rejected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ $2.5 billion package on Wednesday.
The plan, which failed on several 4-4 ties, includes $93.2 million in borrowing and $2 million in cash to build the first phase of the building, and to demolish two dorm buildings. UW-Eau Claire expects to contribute $13.7 million in gifts to complete the $109 million first phase.
UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt noted this is the first time Wisconsin has had a divided government in 10 years and votes like this are bound to happen.
“This was something we knew could happen,” Schmidt said Thursday. “Certainly, I wish we could have had a positive vote on our project coming out of (the commission). The key thing is it didn’t stop the process. I am feeling very good going forward.”
Area legislators have toured the school’s current science building, Schmidt said.
“They see the need; they see the opportunity,” Schmidt said. “We have strong bipartisan support from the Chippewa Valley legislators. We have a strong case to make to the Joint Finance Committee.”
Each of the 84 construction projects on the list was voted down on a 4-4 tie. The $2.5 billion borrowing package is three times the size of the last capital measure brought forward under then-Gov. Scott Walker. Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, said that was certainly a factor in the decision to not move the funding measure forward.
“That list is a wish list,” Bernier said. “Joint Finance will weed these projects down. Depending on who you talk to, they are all important. But we only have so much bonding authority.”
Bernier added: “The bottom line is it’s up to Joint Finance; we knew that anyway. I wouldn’t be anxious on that vote, one way or another.”
Bernier is supportive of the UW-Eau Claire science building.
“This is a very important and needed project,” she said. “Science and technology is important to our economy.”
Rep. Rob Summerfield,” R-Bloomer, said it is “unfortunate politics got involved” in approving the capital project list. He echoed Bernier’s comments that each item will be scrutinized but is by no means denied at this point.
“There will still be another kick at the can for this,” Summerfield said. “I’m disappointed about (Wednesday’s vote). I’m confident we’ll be able to do building projects. I’ll continue to work with UW-Eau Claire officials and make sure we continue forward.”
Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, expressed disappointment that the measure didn’t pass.
“Republicans are now on the record with votes against public safety, investments in our UW System, youth mental health facilities, cancer research, improvements to veteran’s homes, and state parks,” Emerson said in a news release. “Not having the approval of the Building Commission makes it much harder to get the desperately needed new science building for UW-Eau Claire, which will greatly impact the residents of the 91st District and beyond.”
Nearly half 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.
Democratic legislators 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; 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.