Tuesday, July 5, 2016

WisGOP budget stunt means UW buildings start to crumble

More evidence came in over the Holiday weekend about how the WisGOP wrecking crew continues to fail when it comes to the day-to-day work of running state government’s business. This time, it was in the form of a long, in-depth article on the lack of maintenance being done for the UW System’s buildings and electrical systems, and the Journal-Sentinel’s Karen Herzog pointed that this is a direct result of choices made by the Walker Administration in the 2015-17 state budget.
In prior years, the UW System received funding from the state for major maintenance, repairs and renovations to campus buildings, utilities and related infrastructure. That money — which the state borrows through bonding — was "zeroed out" by lawmakers in the 2015-'17 budget.

The money would have covered many of the expenses that come with running large campus operations: elevator replacements and fire alarm system upgrades; modifications for handicapped accessibility; replacement of emergency
generators and worn-out heating; ventilating and cooling systems; major repairs to roofs, utility structures, walls and loading docks.
This is how Scott Walker can run around saying “we have the lowest amount of bonding in years,” despite borrowing $850 million for roads. If you look at the state’s Capital Budget for 2015-17, the tens of millions of new money usually set aside for UW maintenance was reduced to $0, and only about $27 million of left-over general funds for specific projects and $54 million of left-overs for general projects was left to pick up the slack in the 2015-17 budget. The Walker/WisGOP budget also continued a UW trend of shifting the burden for many projects from the general taxpayer, and putting it onto the students themselves in the form of higher fees and dorm costs. This is a big reason why the cost of attending UW for in-state students will go up by an average of more than $200 next year despite the alleged “tuition freeze” that GOPpers still try to prop up.

As a one-time solution, using existing borrowing authority may not be a bad trick to pull. But just like with using left-over reserve balances, that figure has now dwindled to where it can’t be grabbed from again, meaning additional funds must be set aside in budgets starting in 2017-19 to make up the difference. Combine that with a 2-year delay for many UW maintenance projects, and the Walker/WisGOP decision to strike poses over performing needed maintenance and paying our bills on time may well end up costing Wisconsinites more in the coming years.
But university officials say that small and major capital projects across the UW System — if funded — would correct code deficiencies, improve safety and reliability, and ultimately decrease operating costs. They also argue that by eliminating funding, the Legislature essentially kicks the problem down the road….

"Carry-over funds are not a good way to budget or do planned maintenance and repairs," William Elvey, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning and management at UW-Madison, said of the deferred maintenance backlog at the state's flagship campus.

"There's a lot of duct tape and silicone sealer," he said. "We do whatever it takes to keep it going. ...This will manifest itself in some place, some time, that eventually will affect student classrooms. We've got a long way to go to July 2017."
In addition, the “don’t borrow to fix the buildings” gambit doesn’t look so smart now, as interest rates have tanked in the last few months, and borrowing for a project wouldn’t come with much more in debt costs for the future.

By the way, failing to borrow for maintenance should not be confused with the “scoop and toss” maneuver that Walker’s Administration pulled in May. That case involved a $101 million BILL that could have been paid off by now, and instead was kicked into future budgets (with added interest) for no reason other than to avoid a possible budget repair bill. That’s very different than refusing to do projects that need to be done, and different than choosing to borrow money for road projects when a small tax or fee increase would pay for all the projects and prevent further backlogs from happening.

So just like with failing to pay for needed road projects and maintenance, we see how the Walker Administration has refused to shell out for needed fixes at the UW System. And just like with the mess of road funding, it looks like there are higher bills and additional budgets crunches that await us next year for the UW System’s facilities as a result of failing to set aside enough to “run the state like a business.” You know, the way we were told the “business-savvy” GOP operated, but then we grew up and found it isn’t the case at all.


  1. Jump in front of the parade when things start looking good. Make sure you're gone before it's time to pay the band. Not a bad plan really if you can pull it off.

    1. Same act Scotty pulled in Milwaukee County. And it's gonna crash down soon, I just hope that crashing isn't literal like it did in Milwaukee, as James Rowen reminds us.