Update on Water Impacts in the State Budget Process

May 28, 2015 | DNR, Water Policy

We’ve been monitoring the state budget process with a mixture of apprehension and relief. While there is still time for more big impacts to clean water, here is the rundown to date on our primary issues of concern:

Initial efforts to make the Natural Resources Board an advisory body were removed from the budget (but will likely be introduced as stand-alone legislation in the near future);

Funding for county conservationists was trimmed but not eliminated, as the Governor’s budget first proposed. Grants for non-point pollution abatement were also protected;

18 permanent DNR staff scientist positions were unfortunately eliminated in the budget, though a last-minute budget motion may protect an additional 95 limited-term employees (LTE) from losing their jobs. We worked hard to shed light on the potential for the loss of such a high number of LTE positions. Check our Facebook posts from May 28 and 29 to see clips from a news conference we organized (featuring five prominent scientists) and the significant resulting news coverage.

In a surprise last minute motion last week, major rollbacks to NR115, the shoreland zoning rule, were added to to budget and passed the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) by a 12-4 vote. This is purely a policy change (no fiscal impact) and a major attack on both local control and clean water protection (see recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel coverage). Few interests are happy to see such controversial issues snuck into the budget, where they receive no scrutiny or public input, but we are hopeful that lawmakers have heard enough about the major unintended impacts to consider removing this item entirely from the budget.

Hopefully, Wisconsin residents will not be ambushed with more destructive policy surprises as the JFC wraps up its budget process. We will continue to keep a close eye on all of these issues and evaluate how they impact clean water in Wisconsin.