State budget writers have cut scientists at the DNR, while scaling back Governor Scott Walker’s proposed changes to a popular conservation program. Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee moved on Friday to cut 18 of 58 positions in the DNR’s Bureau of Science Services – over the objections of Democrats.
“When you take science out of the DNR, it’s kind of like taking physicians out of hospitals,” said Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison). Half of the eliminated positions are not paid for with state revenues – so Democrats questioned any savings to taxpayers, and suggested that there were other motivating factors at work. In all, the governor’s budget deletes 80 DNR positions.
“It’s not their political bias getting in the way, it’s the actual facts getting in the way,” said Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). “If we keep going on done this road, people are going to be laughing at us. We might as well just be flat-earthers and get it over with.
“We’re not gutting the department in any way, shape or form,” said Representative Mary Czaja (R-Irma). “We’re bringing it into a size that is sustainable economically.”
The panel’s GOP majority also tweaked Governor Scott Walker’s plans to stop new land purchases by the state, instead moving to cap spending by, and reduce bonding limits for, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. “We’ve authorized bonding of $1.365 billion for stewardship, and our debt payment on it is $1.7 million a week,” said Czaja. “To put that in perspective, 10 weeks of stewardship debt pays for SeniorCare.”
The budget panel moved on to the UW System budget following more than three hours of debate on the DNR provisions. Still to be settled before the JFC completes its work next week are a funding package for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, and a plan to fund state transportation projects.
“There is no agreement on transportation, so I don’t believe we’ll be coming back until we have an agreement,” said committee co-chair, Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette). “Stay tuned,” said co-chair Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).