I am a cranky old man when it comes to the building projects in the University of Wisconsin System.
So when I heard delayed UW System building projects are going to cost the state an extra $30 million, according to a Fiscal Bureau memo, placing the overall cost for seven building projects at $257.3 million, I wasn’t the happiest camper. The cause of this hold-up, though, comes from the state itself.
Back in 2014, Gov. Scott Walker and the state Legislature decided to forgo funding for the construction projects which caused them to stall. Two years later and the UW System is asking for the same seven projects — two projects for UW-Lacrosse, two for UW-Milwaukee, one for UW-Platteville, one for UW-Parkside and one for UW-Steven’s Point.
Now, I understand that buildings must be maintained to make sure they don’t do anything bad — like collapse. But, I do take issue when funding is requested for buildings that are not primarily to educate and house students.
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Of the seven buildings, four of them are for the above purpose. These projects ask for a vast majority of the money — 64.5 percent of the requested funds. The other projects, which are for a new recreational facility, a new soccer field and a new basketball practice facility, are where I take issue, given the political climate in Wisconsin surrounding education. What Wisconsin needs is to maximize students’ ability to learn. I don’t see how a basketball practice facility does that.
When we compare the UW System’s proposed 2015-17 budget to their latest 2017-19 proposal, we find that most of the increases in spending do not come from the three recreational facilities. These facilities represent a measly 13 percent of the additional $30 million the system is asking for. The remaining 87 percent of the increase is due to increased costs in the academic buildings.
If Walker and the rest of the state politicians approved this spending, just for the academic buildings, back in 2014, they would have saved nearly $26 million.
But even worse is this excerpt from the Fiscal Bureau memo, regarding funding once it is granted to the system:
“In addition, it is not uncommon for the UW System to request an increase in a project’s budget after it has been enumerated. It is possible that, had the Legislature enumerated any of the major projects … the UW System may have requested an increase in the budget for that project at a later date.”
This kind of increase in spending annoys me more than any other. Basically, the Fiscal Bureau is implying that the system cannot stay on budget.
I know and understand that problems arise in construction. But, you know there is a problem when a Fiscal Bureau memo dedicates a paragraph starting with, “It is not uncommon for the UW System to request an increase in a project’s budget after it has been enumerated.”
I guess the beauty of this issue is everyone involved shares blame for this mess.
Aaron Reilly ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in social work and economics.