Republicans on the legislature's budget committee have approved a plan that would reduce borrowing for Wisconsin's Land Stewardship Program and force the state to sell off thousands of acres it already owns.
The measure would shrink the state's bonding authority for Land Stewardship to $50 million dollars a year by 2016. That's down from the $60 million a year the governor proposed and way down from the $86 million a year that was law before he took office.
Republicans say the growing cost of paying off old debt drove their decision, as did the 1.4 million acres of Stewardship land the state already owns. State Senator Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) said that Stewardship land produces little revenue for the state:
"We're getting to that point where a bigger and bigger percentage of our land is being untaxable because it's owned by the government and we should have a greater influence and control over that."
GOP lawmakers would also require the state to sell off 10,000 Stewardship acres by 2017. Rep. Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade) plan would also require the sale of 250 acres of farmland every year through 2020.
"We'd like to have that farmland be back to the farming community and being productive farmland."
The plan passed with only Republican support. Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) said it would gut Stewardship.
"It's a great program. Why we would want to take this step and effectively gut the program and start selling land that the public purchased through Stewardship is a real mistake."
Republicans also approved the governor's plan to spend more money to develop existing Stewardship property with additions like parking lots and electricity.