By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Legislature’s budget-writing committee voted Thursday to reduce by $26 million a year what is available to be spent on Wisconsin’s primary program to protect land from development and preserve it for recreational use by the public.
The Joint Finance Committee voted 13-3 to reduce bonding authority under the program Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program from $86 million a year to $60 million annually. Democratic Rep. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse joined 12 Republicans in supporting the move, which the other three Democrats opposed.
The recommendation must pass both houses of the Legislature, which are controlled by Republicans, and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker before taking effect.
The Stewardship program has preserved more than 600,000 acres of land for hunting, fishing and recreational uses since it started in 1990. Local governments and private land trusts apply for matching grants from the fund to buy land they want to protect.
Democrats on the budget committee objected to the move to reduce money for bonding, saying it was part of a Republican effort to gut the program.
Warren Knowles and Gaylord Nelson, environmentalists the fund is named after, would be ashamed of the move, said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.
Also invoking the names of Knowles and Nelson, committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling said they would understand the changes and appreciate how much land has already been protected. Rep. Dan Meyer, R-Eagle River, said $60 million was still a large commitment by any measure.
Gov. Scott Walker had proposed keeping bonding at the same level but limiting how much could actually be spent every year. While the committee voted to cut money available for bonding, any unused money in a given year would not be rolled over and available in later years as it is now.