MADISON (WKOW) -- The state budget comittee's plan to erase a $6.5 billion deficit includes plenty of funding cuts, but also hundreds of thousands of dollars on pet projects in the districts of key lawmakers on the committee.
Funding for these projects includes $500,000 for Eco Park in La Crosse; $500,000 for the Oshkosh Opera House; and $250,000 for the Madison Children's Museum.
"The Madison's Children's Museum renovation, $250,000, wow," committee member, Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Ashwaubenon) said indignantly during the committee's debate, as he ticked off thousands in cuts in programs for veterans.
But museum executive director Ruth Shelly does not see the appropriation as a powerful lawmaker's earmark, but instead the result of hard work to help expand the successful facility into a larger building to accomodate more children.
"We've been working with our legislators over the past year, building relationships," Shelly told 27 News.
"We stayed on the capitol square to serve the 67,000 fourth graders who come from all over the state for their capitol field trips every spring."
Executive director Todd Berry of the non-profit think tank, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance said there's a long history of lawmakers of the majority party inserting spending items in the budget which tend to benefit their constituents and burnish political credentials come election time.
"Whether it's stoplights in Peshtigo, or equipment for a fire department in southwest Wisconsin, this kind of stuff finds its way into the budget," Berry told 27 News.
Berry said these items are particularly glaring in this budget proposal, given a recessionary economy forcing government contraction and thousands of state worker furloughs.
"Those (items) are earmarks. In the venacular, 'pork' ."
In a 2003 veto message, Governor Doyle deleted an appropriation from the state budget for a community center in Milwaukee, praising the center's mission but criticizing the method of funding it. "I...object to the last minute introduction of these provisions in a late-night, budget amendment."
While funding for the museum and other projects was added to the governor's budget proposal in a late night session, gubernatorial spokersperson Lee Sensenbrenner said the projects were vetted by the state building commission, and objected to any characterization of the items as earmarks.
Sensenbrenner said the governor will consider whether to retain the items in the budget, after the legislature decides whether the projects survive its review of the joint finance committee's proposal.