Area bipartisan support for replacing UW-Eau Claire’s Phillips Science Hall is a good start in seeing the project become a reality, state Revenue Secretary Peter Barca said Thursday.
“I think that project would have a shot,” Barca said during an Eau Claire interview.
“I don’t know where it stands on our priorities list, but infrastructure pays off. It’s vital to our future. I think this project is really an important one,” he said.
Area Republican and Democratic state legislators have shown strong support for the proposed $256 million UW-Eau Claire building project.
Barca believes Democratic Gov. Tony Evers would look favorably on the project because science and technology are top priorities for him.
“I know the governor is partial to projects of that sort,” he said.
Because the state Legislature is controlled by the GOP, Eau Claire area Republican legislators need to tout the project, said Barca, a former Democratic assemblyman and congressman.
“Their first step is to lean on their colleagues from the (state) Building Commission,” he said.
And that would be a welcome step from the Evers administration, Barca said.
“We’re making every effort to strike a bipartisan chord,” he said.
The Eau Claire science building is one of 82 proposed projects in Evers’ capital budget.
As for Evers’ proposed 2019-21 state budget, Barca said there are three main proposals he is particularly interested in concerning the state’s economic growth.
The first is improving the state’s transportation infrastructure. Evers is proposing an 8-cent per gallon increase in the state gas tax.
“We all know our roads have slipped tremendously,” he said.
Because of the condition of the roads, public safety is an issue and motorists are spending an average of $400 a year for car maintenance related to the roads’ effect on vehicles, Barca said.
“We’re all better off paying a little more at the pump,” he said. “It’s penny wise and pound foolish not to invest in better roads.”
The second involves broadband expansion in the state’s rural areas, which is important for companies when they make investment decisions, Barca said.
“Eau Claire is good for internet services,” he said, “but you don’t have to go too far outside of Eau Claire and you’ve got major problems.”
The third is the technical college budget “to try to close that skills gap,” Barca said.
About 30,000 people could be put back to work immediately in Wisconsin if those people received the proper skills. “Private-public partnerships are very important,” he said.
As for another budget issue, Wisconsin should no longer turn down federal Medicaid expansion dollars. Wisconsin is one of just 14 states not taking the money, which lessens health insurance coverage, Barca said.
“This would cover people in a more vibrant manner,” he said. “It’s our money we sent to Washington that we’re not collecting on.”