The Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has voted overwhelmingly to ignore the availability of state stewardship funds and forego buying private lands. The 12-4 decision marks the first time the state has refused to spend bonded funds set aside for land acquisition.
The stewardship fund sets aside $60 million in bonds every year to purchase private land and protect it from private development through state ownership. The stewardship purchases are especially favored by anti-development groups.
But “it’s not free money,” noted Joint Finance Committee co-chair Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah). “You have to pay the bonds back.”
Wisconsin is already experiencing a budget crunch, as the state is expected to run a $3.2 billion deficit over the next two years. With the state already spending $5 million every year to pay off previous land purchases, the Joint Finance Committee was unwilling to spend still more money, bonded or not, to take over private citizens’ property.
Although the Committee separately approved a $2.9 million program to buy more than 1,000 acres of railroad corridors and turn them into nature trails, it was unwilling to spend another $60 million this year on other acquisition proposals.
Among the more noteworthy proposals rejected by the Committee were a plan to spend nearly $1 million on a mile-long corridor to link two pre-existing nature trails, and a nearly $2 million grant to help the Nature Conservancy pay off debt on land it acquired three years ago.
James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].