MADISON, Wis. — The Legislature's Republican-controlled budget committee on Thursday voted to extend Wisconsin's contentious land stewardship program for four years, rather than another decade as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wanted.
The Joint Finance Committee also voted to provide half the funding for the stewardship program than Evers wanted. Evers proposed $70 million a year in borrowing authority and Republicans approved $32 million annually. That is currently the amount allowed.
"I think that he kind of shot the moon on an amount that was based on getting a number out there and a time length out there we could work off of," said Republican Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, a member of the Joint Finance Committee.
The funding level and four-year review was approved on a party line vote, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against. The panel is working on its own version of the state budget and is slated to complete its work next week, sending the two-year spending plan to the full Legislature for its consideration.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources uses stewardship funding to purchase land for the state and help conservation organizations purchase land. Republicans have criticized the program for running up too much debt and taking too much property off tax rolls.
Loudenbeck said renewing the program for four years, rather than 10 years, and reducing the funding was a "good fit" and financially prudent. The program was last renewed for two years for a period that ends in 2022. Under the new plan, the program would be due for renewal again midway through 2026.
"I think it's appropriate for us to take another look at it in a few years," Loudenbeck said at a news conference before the committee planned to vote later Thursday.
In other action, the committee also voted to provide $450,000 in funding over the next two years for the public affairs network WisconsinEye. On the air since 2007, the network has been seeking taxpayer support for the first time to help pay for its operation that includes gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Legislature and a wide array of other government-focused programming.