State Building Commission Deadlocks on Gov. Evers’ Capital Budget

The State Building Commission (SBC) met March 23 (agenda) to review Gov. Evers’ (D) 2023-25 capital budget recommendations. The capital budget (highlights) includes plans for purchasing, constructing, maintaining, and disposing of state-owned buildings, facilities, and other properties. Gov. Evers proposed spending $3.8 billion on capital projects over the next two fiscal years, including nearly $1.8 billion for University of Wisconsin System projects.

At the beginning of the meeting, Republican members moved to forward the governor’s capital budget to the Joint Committee on Finance without any recommendations; this motion failed on a 4-4 vote. The commission then voted on Gov. Evers’ recommendations on an agency-by-agency basis. The SBC failed to recommend any of the governor’s proposals, voting 4-4 each time.

This is very similar to what happened during the 2019-21 and 2021-23 capital budget processes. As with the last two budget cycles, Republican legislative leadership and the Joint Committee on Finance will adjust and set the 2023-25 capital budget as they see fit. The SBC’s failure to recommend any of the governor’s proposals does not mean that these items have been removed from the capital budget or excluded from the process.

Gov. Evers issued a press release before the meeting, promoting his proposed budget, and another after the meeting, criticizing the commission’s Republican members for their votes. Senate Majority Leader LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) issued a statement applauding the outcome, saying Republican members acted “as a vital check on cost overruns.” According to Sen. LeMahieu’s statement, “the Department of Administration’s inflation estimate has added as much as 50% to construction costs for some building projects. This faulty calculation could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary cost overruns.”

State capital budgets since 2011 have enumerated between $850 million and $1.7 billion worth of capital projects. According to Wisconsin Public Radio, Gov. Evers’ “last two capital budget requests were also rejected by [Republican] commission members. But eventually, many of those requests were approved. In 2019, Evers proposed a $2.5 billion capital budget, lawmakers approved $1.7 billion. In 2021, Evers proposed a $2.4 billion capital budget and the commission approved about $1.5 billion.”

The SBC has eight members including the governor, who chairs the commission, a citizen member appointed by the governor, and three legislators each from the Senate and Assembly, appointed in the same manner as legislative committees (meaning the majority party gets a majority of the available seats). The Republican members are Sens. Ballweg and Jacque and Reps. Swearingen and Wittke. The Democratic members are Sen. Wirch and Rep. Billings.

The capital budget is distinct from the state’s operating budget, which finances state employees, agencies, and programs. For more information about Gov. Evers’ proposed operating budget for 2023-25, see our executive budget highlights article. For more information and updates about the budget process, follow our 2023-25 State Budget page.