Bad Budget: Threatening Wisconsin’s special places and environmental traditions

, By Clean Wisconsin

In February, Governor Walker introduced his draft of the state’s 2015-2016 biennial budget, and guess what: it’s bad for the environment. In its current form, the budget threatens Wisconsin’s environmental science and research, our clean water, and our special places and outdoor traditions

Here are a few ways how.

Over $15 million in cuts to science, research and education

Eliminates all state funding and positions for the Wisconsin Energy Institute (Bioenergy Initiative – LFB Summary pg. 461)

  • An $8.1 million reduction, and 35 positions eliminated (on top of the $300 million cut to the UW System) – representing 90% of WEI’s funding.
  • WEI performs research that provides key technical expertise to companies that develop new energy projects that lead to private sector innovation and job creation for Wisconsin companies – research on the cutting edge energy technologies of the future like smart grids.
  • Last year, Johnson Controls, a Fortune 500 Company in Wisconsin, partnered with WEI to study commercial HVAC system efficiency.
  • WEI has played a key role in bringing in one of the biggest federal government grants ever to Wisconsin – over $350 million over the last ten years to support one of only three DOE funded research centers, which could be jeopardized without state matching funds.

Cuts 18.4 to DNR Science Services staff (LFB Summary pg. 299)

  • These staff perform research in: sustainable fisheries, invasive species, Great Lakes, game management, sustainable forestry – they’ve been involved with over 300 projects in the last two years alone, including the Governor Walker’s Walleye Initiative.
  • The Science Services staff bring in several million in research funds. The aquatic research section alone brought in $3M between 2012-2014, funding which could be jeopardized without dedicated science services staff to conduct the research.

Numerous cuts to environmental education

  • Eliminates 11 DNR educator positions, which help engage citizens and students on important natural resource issues (LFB Summary pg. 299)
  • Eliminates $788,200 in grant funding for the UW Extension Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center, which is playing a critical role in working to develop markets for agricultural plastic and helping poultry farmers manage manure through composting (LFB Summary pg. 462)
  • Deletes $312,200 for UW Solid Waste Research for students doing applied research related to recycling, waste reduction and alternative uses of waste (LFB Summary pg. 462)
  • Eliminates the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, which has awarded nearly $4.5 million in grants to almost 2000 organizations across the state and leveraged $5 million in support (LFB Summary pg. 461)
  • Risks over $1 million in private and public funding for the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education, which runs the forestry education (LEAF) programs, energy education (KEEP) program, Green & Healthy Schools initiative, the Nature Center Collaborative and assists teachers in enhanced learning opportunities to connect to natural resources (LFB Summary pg. 503)
  • Eliminates the Environmental Education Consultant at DPI, which supports school-based initiatives in STEM and outdoor learning to develop Wisconsin’s future workforce and entrepreneurs (LFB Summary pg. 339)

Designates $250,000 for a duplicative wind energy health study

  • The one area of research that is funded amongst all these cuts is a directive for PSC to study the health impacts of wind, despite the fact that the Wind Siting Council in fall of 2014 just completed a study which was unable to conclude that wind turbines have a direct and negative effect on human health. (LFB Summary pg. 378)

Cuts over $15 million from Wisconsin Environmental Traditions

Freezes the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program (LFB Summary pg. 300) 

  • For 25 years, the Stewardship program has been protecting our most precious lands and preserving them for future generations to hunt, fish, swim and recreate and bringing in millions to our tourism economy and increased property values
  • Because the Stewardship program is only authorized through 2020, this freeze effectively ends all land protection for Wisconsin
  • This is the third budget in a row that has targeted cuts to the Program, even though polling shows 90% of Wisconsinites support land conservation even in tight fiscal times

Makes Natural Resources Board advisory (LFB Summary pg. 304)

  • The Natural Resources Board represents 100 years of citizen involvement in natural resources management, and this change will mean power will be consolidated solely with the Secretary
  • Board approval of DNR rules takes about 2.5 months in total, while the changes made through 2011 Act 21 and its extra analysis and consolidation of rule-making power in the Governor’s office has turned what was once about a year and a half long process into an average three year process.

Cuts $9.2 million in GPR support for the state parks system, including 46 parks, 14 trails and 4 recreational areas (28% of their budget) (LFB Summary pg. 312)

  • While some of that cut will be backfilled through an increase in park admission and camping fees, there is still a total cut of $2,888,600 to the parks system, which draws 14 million visitor-days a year, and generates $1 billion in economic activity annually
  • In other states that have shut off state support for the parks system, parks have had to eventually close or severely limit their accessibility

$4 million cut from recycling program (LFB Summary pg. 326)

  • This would make cuts to the recycling program 50% in the last 5 years, meaning higher fees recycling fees or less recycling services for businesses and residents
  • Residential recycling rates have been dropping since the program has been cut, threatening the supply chain of recyclables that many WI businesses, such as paper mills and foundries, use to produce new products.
  • This explanation for this cut was a deficit in the environmental management account. But it is important to understand that deficit is in large part because of transfers made since 2011 of roughly $30 million per year that now go to funding the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the transportation fund.

Eliminates $2,316,600 in grants to non-profit conservation organizations

  • These grants help build capacity in citizens to participate in the management of natural resources and form partnerships between citizens and the DNR. The grants leverage countless hours of volunteer manpower for resource management. (LFB Summary pg. 308)

Over $6 million in cuts to polluted runoff management efforts

Cuts to DNR and DATCP nonpoint pollution programs

  • $1,631,800 cut to land and water conservation staff (LFB Summary pg. 51), the boots on the ground staff that work with farmers to identify practices that reduce polluted runoff
  • $920,000 cut to the nonpoint account, which funds nutrient management planning – $458,300 DATCP and $450,000 DNR (LFB Summary pg. 60 and pg. 323)
  • $1,626,400 in reduced funding for urban grants to control urban sources of polluted runoff (LFB Summary pg. 322)
  • $1,540,000 eliminated for contracts to state agencies or nonprofit organizations for research, education or technical assistance (LFB Summary pg. 322)
  • $400,000 reduction for Targeted Runoff Management which provides grants for agriculture or urban and rural targeted geographic management practices in targeted, critical geographic areas with surface or groundwater quality concerns (LFB Summary pg. 322)

Stand up for Wisconsin’s environment. Attend a budget hearing near you!

The Joint Finance Committee will hold hearings on the state budget at the following times and locations:

Wednesday, March 18, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Brillion High School
Endries Performing Arts Center 
W1101 County Road HR 

Friday, March 20, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Alverno College
Pitman Theatre 
3400 South 43rd Street, Milwaukee

Monday, March 23, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
UW-Barron County
Fine Arts Theatre
1800 College Drive, Rice Lake

Thursday, March 26, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. 
Reedsburg High School
CAL Center Auditorium 
1100 South Albert Avenue, Reedsburg