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Brownfield bill targets minimum spending

By: Adam Wise//December 5, 2011//

Brownfield bill targets minimum spending

By: Adam Wise//December 5, 2011//

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By Adam Wise

Two lawmakers are trying to guarantee the state will continue to hand out brownfield grants by proposing a bill that would set minimum annual spending at $1 million.

The brownfield program is budgeted for $4.5 million between July 2011 and July 2012.

What we want to do is just get the program in a position where it can continue to exist for a while as we’re going through the current economic crisis,” said state Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska, a bill co-sponsor. “We wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost.”

Doyle said the timing of the bill was important because oversight of the program switched hands July 1 from the now-defunct state Department of Commerce to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a public-private entity. He said the bill, which would create statutory language requiring WEDC keep the program, was an effort to ensure the Blight Elimination and Brownfield Redevelopment grant program survived the transition.

The program, which was formed in 1998 and directs money to developers and local governments to clean up groundwater and soil contamination on redevelopment sites, has experienced budget declines since 2007, when spending was at $7 million,

But Doyle said the legislation was not intended to suggest the budget could or should drop to $1 million, nor, he said, was there any indication the program was in danger.

“If we were worried about it being cut further, it would be because we put in a spending cap,” he said. “This is simply a floor with no other end limit on it.”

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, the bill’s author, said partisan politics kept her from seeking a higher minimum spending amount.

Schilling said proposing a much larger figure increased the possibility that sticker shock could kill any chance for the bill.

“In this day and age, I think legislators are a little gun-shy with a large fiscal note,” she said.

But the program might not really need a hero, despite the spending decreases, said Al Rabin, manager of the brownfield program.

“It’s a very competitive program,” he said. “We are very oversubscribed.”

Since its inception, the program has awarded about $75 million to 191 projects that created 7,720 jobs, not counting the current budget, according to data provided by WEDC. Rabin said he received about three times as many applicants as there were projects awarded money.

Shilling said she wanted a public hearing for the bill in early 2012. If Republicans sign on to the bill, then the spending floor could be increased, she said.

“I hope a colleague of mine would suggest, ‘Let’s put even more dollars in this program and have a stronger commitment,'” she said. “Hopefully, we can change its trajectory of seeing its overall budget decrease.”


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