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Dental study gets building money

Paul Snyder
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The state is gambling $200,000 of its building trust fund money that an oral health study will lead to a construction project.

“No one’s opposed to rural dentistry,” said state Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, a member of the state Building Commission. “But if this kind of thing is being paid for in the private sector, I don’t see the point of us getting involved or using building money for it.”

But the state Building Commission on Wednesday freed up the money for the study, which will investigate the need for expanded oral health education and policy in northern Wisconsin. The Wisconsin departments of Administration and Health Services are leading the study.

The state budget, signed by Gov. Jim Doyle in June, authorized spending $500,000 on the study, but state Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, knocked the financing down to $200,000. He said it’s justifiable to use building money.

“A building project could result from this,” he said. “We want to provide a clear look at creating a rural dental school.”

However, according to the Department of Administration, the Marshfield Clinic also is studying dentistry needs in northern Wisconsin. Clinic representatives were unavailable to comment on their study before deadline Wednesday.

But the clinic study shows the state is risking building money on a study that could be redundant, further evidence that the commission is making a mistake, Kanavas said.

But state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said there’s no guarantee of redundancy. And, he said, the building trust budget has financed plenty of studies that have not resulted in building projects.

“If they decide they’re going to put up a building and the state finances any of that,” Risser said, “the trust fund money is figured into the budget, so that gets replenished.”

Even though medical-related projects are typically driven by the private sector, the state has in the past helped pay for such work, including the Marquette University School of Dentistry, which is the state’s only dental school, Risser said.

“The bottom line is this already went through the legislative process and was approved and signed by the governor,” he said. “All we’re doing is implementing it, and $200,000 is better than $500,000.”

The Building Commission on Wednesday also directed money toward such other nonstate projects as a library remodel in Eau Claire, the Madison Children’s Museum, the Myrick Hixon EcoPark in La Crosse and the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh. The difference, Kanavas said, is that money came from the state’s general budget, not the building budget.

The fact that an oral health study warrants the same commission consideration and access to construction money as building projects, he said, highlights a problem in state government.

“It’s not an appropriate use,” he said. “Building money should be used for buildings, and I think we need to get back to that mind-set in Madison.”

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