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Proposed plan would fast-track new UWEC Science Building

Eau Claire (WQOW) – State Senator Kathy Bernier is pushing a plan that could fast-track the new UW-Eau Claire Science Building. Bernier, (R-Chippewa Falls) revealed the plan at the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues” meeting Friday morning.

Normally, state building projects are handled by the Department of Administration, which collects 4% of the total project money to cover their costs for supervising it.

Bernier says she has proposed using the UW-Eau Claire Science Building as a test project for bypassing the DOA. That could mean the science building could be built sooner, and for about $8 million less.

The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee recently approved the UW-Eau Claire building, the first phase of which is expected to cost over $109 million. Mayo Clinic has pledged $13.7 million of that, since their employees would work with students in the new building.  The building would replace Phillips Hall, which is nearly 60-years-old and plagued by outdated and failing systems, such as air handling.  Maintenance on the old building costs over a half-million dollars per year, according to UWEC leaders.

While they were united on the UWEC project, state lawmakers from the Chippewa Valley expressed differing views on other parts of the state budget at the Friday-morning meeting.  Freshman Democrat Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) said the new budget represents “missed opportunities” by not including a gas tax increase to pay for fixing state roads and for refusing to accept federal Medicaid expansion money.

Republican Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona) said it was clear the GOP majority would never approve a gas tax hike, so he supported the alternative plan to increase fees for vehicle titles and registrations.

Democratic State Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) and Republican Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Eleva) clashed over the money budgeted to help K-12 public schools in Wisconsin.

Petryk said only in government would a multi-million dollar increase in funding be considered a budget cut.  But Smith pointed out that the increase approved this year still leaves schools short of where they were before the school budget cuts in 2012.

The spending plan now goes to the full Assembly and Senate for votes, expected next week.

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