State Budget Proposals Threaten Conservation Programs
The newly elected governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle, has submitted his budget proposal to the state legislature. As with most states, Wisconsin is no exception in needing to cut spending in the coming biennium. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be suffering greatly from budget cuts. Programs that will be completely cut or severely impacted include all wetland management programs ($194,000 eliminated), all grassland management ($200,000 eliminated), the purple loosestrife bio-control program, and various wetland restoration projects. Other general issues of concern with the budget are:
- Loss of Legal Support at DNR. Removing attorneys from all state agencies and consolidating attorneys into the Department of Administration. Without a staff of informed and experienced attorneys at the DNR, the regulated community (industry, agriculture, developers) will easily avoid tough enforcement actions, permitting issues and other legal challenges.
- Loss of Stewardship Fund dollars. During every budget cycle the conservation community has to fight for the $60 million/year Stewardship Fund support used for ecologically-important land acquisition. Although the bond program has been very popular among Wisconsin citizens and has been approved by the Legislature, there are continual challenges that could erode the level of support.
- Motorboat gas tax allocation. In Wisconsin, gas tax from 50 gallons of gasoline per registered motorcraft goes into a segregated fund used for lake and river clean up, restoration and management. Neighboring states have similar programs, that may allocate the taxes for up to 110 gallons.The conservation community would like the gas tax allocation to increase from 50 to 80 gallons per motorboat and personal watercraft (including “JetSkis”), and would like for the additional funding to be spent on new water protection programs, including wetland restoration.
- Reduce Transportation Support. The state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) continues its unprecedented new roads program despite a flagging economy. Many new and expanded roads are costly and completely unjustified, but are supported by the powerful road builders’ lobby. The Governor, supported by the conservation community, has proposed that $500 million from the DOT’s segregated roads account be used for general budget deficit relief.This reduction in transportation dollars would slow the rate of environmental destruction—and wetland losses due to highway construction.