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The Latest: Panel approves 2 new scientists at Wisconsin DNR

May 29, 2019

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Latest on the Legislature’s budget committee action (all times local):

7 p.m.

The Wisconsin Department of Resources would be able to hire fewer scientists than Gov. Tony Evers proposed under a vote by the Legislature’s budget committee.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted Tuesday to approve hiring two new scientists. The Democratic Evers had wanted to hire five and create a new Bureau of Natural Resources Science. Republicans killed creation of that bureau.

The two new positions Republicans approved would be charged with researching water pollution, particularly from substances known as PFAS.

The committee also approved Evers’ plan to spend $200,000 on determining the extent and locations of PFAS contamination in Wisconsin.

Republicans also reduced from $25 million to $4 million the amount of increased borrowing authority to pay for cleaning up contaminated sediment from Lake Superior and Lake Michigan and their tributaries.

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5:55 p.m.

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross says he feels like he’s been “kicked in the shins” after Republicans who control the Legislature’s budget committee approved spending $69 million less on UW than Gov. Tony Evers proposed.

The budget committee voted Tuesday to increase funding over two years by $58 million, $45 million of which will only be given after lawmakers approve how UW wants to spend it.

Cross says he is “really frustrated and disappointed” after lawmakers had told him until Thursday that he UW’s budget proposal was reasonable. Lawmakers on Tuesday killed proposals to address high-demand areas including nursing and engineering.

Cross says, “The Legislature missed an opportunity to meet the future needs of the state.” Cross calls the committee’s decision “shocking” and “very short-sighted.”

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5:33 p.m.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has voted to continue a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze for another two years and give the system about $58 million more in state funding, with a catch.

Most of the money, $45 million, would only be turned over after UW if lawmakers approve of how they want to spend it.

Total new funding approved Tuesday by the committee is about $69 million less than Gov. Tony Evers proposed.

Evers wanted about $50 million to pay for the tuition freeze, but the committee rejected that while extending the six-year-old freeze.

The panel also rejected Evers’ proposals to spend $45 million to attract and retain students in high demand areas. It also rejected a $10 million Evers proposal designed to increase teachers in the nursing school.

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3:38 p.m.

The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee has approved increasing reimbursement rates for private attorneys who offer to work as state public defenders for clients who can’t afford to hire their own lawyer.

The Republican-controlled committee voted Tuesday to go along with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to increase the hourly reimbursement from $40 to $70. The move is designed to address a shortage of attorneys willing to take the cases because of the reimbursement rate, which is the lowest in the country.

Evers proposed tying future reimbursement rate increases to inflation, but Republicans did not do that.

The panel also voted to raise the salaries of public defenders and prosecutors by 2% each of the next two years, in line with what other state employees receive. The committee also voted to add 34 assistant district attorney positions across the state.

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11:23 a.m.

Continuing a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze for another two years and adding back scientists positions at the Department of Natural Resources are both up for key votes in the Legislature’s budget committee.

The Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to vote Tuesday on UW funding and issues related to the DNR. The Republican-controlled panel was also deciding whether to go along with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to increase pay for assistant district attorneys and public defenders.

The committee is voting on changes to the Evers budget as it prepares to send the two-year state budget to the full Legislature, likely in June.

Republicans are expected to go along with Evers’ call to continue the UW tuition freeze, but they will likely pare back the $110 million in additional funding Evers had for UW.

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