Beyond the Budget: The Surge of Non-Agency Pork in Wisconsin

WI Taxpayers potentially on the hook for record amount of pork projects, WILL believes the JFC should intervene

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) released its newest policy brief, “Beyond the Budget: The Surge of Non-Agency Pork in Wisconsin.” In this policy brief, we show how non-state agency capital requests have increased, raising concerns about the appropriate use of taxpayer dollars for the good of the state.

The Quote: WILL Policy Director, Kyle Koenen, stated “The state legislature will have to consider if these non-state agency requests have a state-wide impact and serve the public interest. The government should use discernment and practice good stewardship of people’s money, not just green light every request that comes their way.”

Why It Matters: The capital budget represents a significant cost to Wisconsin taxpayers; and, much of the spending in the budget is financed through borrowing supported by the general fund. With rising interest rates, the cost to taxpayers could be higher than ever, meaning any projects financed through the capital budget should be absolutely necessary and represent good stewardship of taxpayer money.

Governor Evers’ proposed 2023-25 capital budget—a record high of $3.8 billion—earmarks an historic amount of $270.7 million in all funds for non-state agency requests, with nearly $62.8 million in proposed taxpayer dollars supporting these projects. Since 1997, the State Building Commission has allowed non-state entities—such as non-profits and local governments—to request state aid for the construction or renovation of a facility. Over the last three proposed capital budgets, Governor Evers has approved 96% of non-agency capital requests, compared to just 45% under Governor Walker. 

The Bottom Line: WILL asks lawmakers, specifically the Legislative Joint Finance Committee (JFC), to judge whether the $3.8 billion overall is essential, and if this embodies sound government accountability in managing the state’s tax dollars.

Key Findings:

  • Governor Evers has proposed a record $3.8 billion in capital spending over the 2023-25 biennium. 47% of this spending is dedicated to projects at the UW System, while 17% is dedicated to the “All Agency” program, which is dedicated to maintenance, remodeling, and renovation of existing buildings.
  • Under Governor Evers, capital spending requests from agencies have been approved at a higher rate than under Governor Walker. Under his tenure, Evers has approved 75.1% of agency and non-state agency capital spending requests, while Walker only approved 53.8%.
  • Non-state agency or “pork barrel” projects account for 7% of the overall 2023-25 proposed capital budget. Under his proposed capital budget, Evers diverts $62.8 million of taxpayer funds to pay for a number of private projects including the following:
    • $15 million in cash for a new sports and convention center in Janesville;
    • $9.3 million in cash to build a private soccer stadium in Milwaukee;
    • $7 million in cash to expand the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay;
    • $5 million in cash to build the Bronzeville Center for the Arts in Milwaukee;
    • $1 million to upgrade the dormitories of the Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County.
  • Over the last three capital budgets, Governor Evers has approved 96% of non-agency capital requests. By comparison, over the course of his tenure, Governor Walker only approved 45% of non-state agency requests.

Dig Deeper:

Kyle Koenen

Kyle Koenen

Director of Policy

Will Flanders, PHD

Will Flanders, PHD

Research Director

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