Facing a record deficit that forced them to raise taxes and fees by $2.1 billion to balance the budget, Assembly Democrats added millions for projects they can brag about back home – a $500,000 upgrade for an opera house; $50,000 for a shooting range; and $46,000 for a town’s recycling bins.
As they erased a $6.6 billion, two-year deficit, Assembly Democrats added $36.7 million in regional favors, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau summary.
Five of the projects – including the $500,000 for the Oshkosh Opera House, $500,000 for an Aldo Leopold Climate Change Classroom and Laboratory, and $125,000 for the Phillips Library in Eau Claire – have not been recommended by the state Building Commission, which is supposed to approve construction and maintenance spending.
The shooting range is in Eau Claire, and the recycling bins are for the Town of Wrightstown.
Some of the so-called earmarks don’t cost money, but get around limits on the number of liquor licenses in communities. The Assembly-passed budget would award a new liquor license in the Madison suburb of Monona, for example, and hand out three more liquor licenses in St. Francis.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said Assembly Democrats behaved just like Assembly Republicans, who controlled that half of the Legislature for a 14-year period that ended in January.