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Vote reversed on Racine County harbor dredging

By Dan Shaw

The speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly’s residency in Racine County “might have had something to do with” why Republican members of a state finance committee voted in favor of a project to dredge a harbor after voting against a similar proposal only minutes before, the chairwoman of the committee said Tuesday.

During a hearing Tuesday on transportation proposals in the governor’s proposed 2013-15 budget, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee split on a non-party line 10-6 vote in favor of a motion that would allocate $700,000 to dredge a harbor at the mouth of the Root River that empties into Lake Michigan. That vote came only minutes after the same committee had voted 9-7 against a proposal that would have put $750,000 toward the same project.

In between came a short recess in which many of the lawmakers exited the hearing room. Asked if the fact that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, hails from Racine County influenced the different outcomes of the vote, state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, acknowledged, “It might have had something to do with it.”

Still, she said, the proposed dredging is an important project. She noted that the water level in Lake Michigan had fallen to extreme lows following an unusually dry stretch in the last year.

Vos did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, who voted against the amendments both times, said decisions about which harbors receive maintenance should be left to the state’s Department of Transportation, which has a system to determine which projects should get underway first. He noted that the committee was already considering a proposal to take the $10.7 million the governor’s budget had originally allotted to harbors and increase it to $15.9 million.

That additional money was to go specifically to dredging a harbor in Door County, a project that Grothman said already had a high priority attached to it. That was not the case, he said, for the harbor in Racine County.

“If the Racine County proposal is merited,” he said, “they will find a way to put the project into the $15 million they have allotted.”

Both motions concerning the harbor in Racine County came from state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine. Mason said he did not know why the vote outcome was different from one proposal to the next, saying that he could only speculate that the removal of $50,000 made a difference in lawmakers’ minds.

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