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The Green Sheet

The Green Sheet

April 14, 2011

2011-2013 Biennial Budget Update  (AB-40)

Governor Walker’s first budget is breathtaking.  It upends more than a generation of environmental progress in the name of saving money – even though it adds hundreds of millions of dollars in new highway spending.  Local units of government are left virtually powerless to provide environmental protection programs at the local level because the budget prohibits virtually any increase in the local property tax.  Here is a rundown of the major provisions:

Comprehensive Planning

  • Eliminates Funding for Comprehensive Planning Grants for communities in 2012-2013.

Stewardship

  • Eliminates payments for aids in lieu of taxes to local units of government.   Requires local governments to pass a resolution of support for any Stewardship purchase in its jurisdiction.  (This will mean fewer Stewardship purchases.)
  • Prohibits purchase of development rights EXCEPT for preserving logging rights or trails. (This eliminates a cost effective way of protecting land.)

Working Lands

  • Eliminates the conversion fee for rezoning land out of a farmland preservation zoning district.
  • Eliminates the PACE program (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements) and the $12 million of GPR supported bonds.

Recycling

  • Eliminates state mandate for recycling and moves recycling grants into economic development fund and environmental fund. (The environmental fund is, in turn, used in part to fund road construction.)

Transit

  • Transit (buses, shared ride taxis and special ride services for the elderly and disabled) has always been considered an integral mode of transportation and has always received significant funding from the transportation fund.  Governor Walker’s budget removes all transit funding ($107 million) from the transportation fund and reallocates the money for new highways.  Transit aids will come from the general fund and will face stiff competition for funds for schools, Medicaid and other important social programs.
  • Removes $100 million in bonding authority for transit in S.E. Wisconsin (kills the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train.)
  • Requires binding referenda for sales tax increases imposed by Regional Transit Authorities.  (A separate bill would eliminate RTAs entirely.)

Bicycle Program Funding

  • Eliminates $5 million for state bicycle funding. This state funding supports vital bicycle projects across the state like bicycle plans that help build more bicycle-friendly communities and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure such as paths and bridges.

Office of Energy Independence

  • Eliminated but some of the duties relocated to the Department of Administration.  Removes requirements for state fleet automobiles to meet more stringent fuel efficiency.

Erosion Controls

  • Transfers enforcement of soil erosion controls from DNR to new Department of Safety and Professional Services.
  • Lowers recent phosphorous standards to a level no more stringent than neighboring states.  (Phosphorous is the leading pollutant that degrades water quality by nourishing blooms of aquatic plants such as blue green algae.)  Wisconsin has previously been looked to as a leader in setting standards for water quality – this will ensure that we are prohibited from becoming a leader in water quality protection.  (The language in the bill may lead to U.S. EPA decertifying Wisconsin’s ability to implement the federal Clean Water Act.  This would make it much more difficult for developers to get water permits for construction activities.)
  • A new requirement states that non-point runoff regulations may be no more stringent than federal law.  Wisconsin had the strongest runoff laws in the country.  This would make our law the weakest in the country.

Highways

  • Increases debt spending by $100 million.
  • Transfers automobile taxes from the general fund to the transportation fund. ($35 million in the first year)
  • Increases Transportation Funds available for roads by $107 million by removing transit aids from the road fund to the general fund.
  • Transfers vehicle environmental fees from the environmental fund to the transportation fund.
  • Petroleum Inspection Fees are transferred to the transportation fund ($19.5 million).