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Pennies for my thoughts?

By Paul Snyder

It was somewhat interesting to watch the political punches thrown last week over the $17 million renovation of Carlson Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

A bill allocating the $17 million for the project passed the state Assembly last week, with its author, state Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, calling it a means to create “vitally needed jobs” and state Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, calling it a “$17 million state contribution” to help Hixson’s re-election bid.

I’m not sure that the project would have received any less criticism from Nass had it made it into the 2009-11 state budget as originally intended, but we shouldn’t forget the project is up for consideration this year because bids on four other UW System projects came in so low.

In an economy where any kind of $17 million construction project is good news to builders throughout Wisconsin, it’s hard to portray any work as a bad thing. And for all we know, the bids for work on Carlson might come in well under $17 million, too.

On the other hand, the state is facing deficit-ridden transportation and unemployment insurance budgets, and while $17 million is not going to solve everything (though it might solve a ton of my problems), I wonder if there are opportunities to be had in reaping those kinds of savings.

Even if the money could only be used for UW System projects, there is more than $1 billion worth of maintenance work needed throughout UW campuses.

Is that to say Carlson Hall is an unnecessary project or wouldn’t be more expensive if the state waited? No, not necessarily. But in an economy where a lot of people are counting their pennies, $17 million decisions will prompt strong afterthoughts.

Paul Snyder is a staff writer with The Daily Reporter. You can make out the $17 million check to his middle name, Cash.

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