By JASON SMATHERS
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Protests at the Wisconsin Capitol over public workers’ collective bargaining rights cost more than $7.8 million for police, and damage to the Capitol will cost about $270,000 to repair, a state official said.
Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said during a news conference Friday that local law enforcement incurred $3.9 million in overtime costs from Feb. 14 to March 13. Another $3.5 million was spent on overtime for state agencies that helped cover security such as the Capitol Police, Wisconsin State Patrol, Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Criminal Investigation. Huebsch said that the state has not paid any claims yet, but will pay overtime and some justified food expenses incurred by local law enforcement once they’ve been audited.
According to DOA officials, a Capitol damage report written by restoration expert Charlie Quagliana found that protesters caused “3-5 years of wear” on the building in the course of two weeks that will cost $161,050 to repair. About $112,000 should be spent repairing damage to stonework, while another $30,500 has already been spent on extra custodial staff for cleaning. Quagliana’s assessment cost about $13,000.
The damage was related to nearly monthlong protests that saw daily demonstrations of tens of thousands of protesters in and around the Capitol.
Several thousand protesters flooded the Capitol rotunda daily, with many setting up camp under the dome and staying the night. The Capitol walls were filled with signs affixed with blue painters’ tape, which protesters used to avoid damaging the marble. Despite a handful of arrests over the course of the demonstrations, protesters maintained a peaceful presence and made efforts to clean parts of the building nightly.
In his report, Quagliana said that the most significant damage was chipping and nicks to stones on the ground and first floors, which would have to be repaired through a process that includes trying to match the color of the stones.
Quagliana noted residue left by tape from protester signs and oil damage from cardboard pizza boxes hung as makeshift signs. While he recommended a full cleaning of surfaces in public areas to remove the tape and residue, he also noted they have not had a full cleaning since the late 1990s’ and were covered with layers of dust and grime.
Another $108,500 will be spent repairing damage to the Capitol lawn and its shrubs that were damaged by rallies of thousands held outside.
Huebsch said there was no evidence of “malicious destruction” of the Capitol by protesters, but only “carelessness.”
“I think $270,000 in damage to the Capitol is a huge amount,” Huebsch said. “That being said, it could have been much worse.”
Huebsch initially estimated during a court case regarding access to the Capitol that the damage to the building would cost $7.5 million to repair. Huebsch said he did not regret making the estimate, which he says was the best information available at the time.
“The DOA staff responded in the best way they could, and you’ve certainly seen the memos as to the ground work that they did … and just basically went back to what the restoration costs were 15 years ago when the Capitol was renovated,” Huebsch said. “So I don’t think it was a mistake because we were specifically asked that question in court.”
Huebsch said that DOA will work with the Legislature to fund the reimbursements, but that they would likely come from taxpayer dollars.
Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, who has been a critic of Capitol access issues since the protest, decried the cost of the added security to taxpayers.
“The costs of these excessive security measures are still being incurred and remain in clear violation of a court order,” Risser said. “The protests that occurred this spring were peaceful. It is unnecessary to turn the people’s house into a fortress where the people are not welcome.”
Huebsch said that although security around the Capitol is being constantly evaluated, the extra security would likely remain in place until after the collective bargaining issue has been resolved in the Legislature.
DOA is also waiting on a report from the Department of Military Affairs that would detail the Capitol protests and security concerns arising from the event.