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Hixson, Nass differ on UW-W building project

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Kayla Bunge
March 4, 2010
— The Whitewater area’s two representatives in the Assembly are butting heads over a proposed $17 million UW-Whitewater building renovation.

Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, believes the state should use $17 million in bonding authority that’s already approved to renovate the vacant Carlson Hall to house the College of Letters and Science, including classrooms and department and faculty offices.


Rep. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, said $23 million the state expects to save when several building projects come in under budget should not be borrowed to avoid expanding the state’s ballooning debt.


The measure to allocate funding for the remodeling project is up for debate and a possible vote today. The bill passed out of the Colleges and Universities Committee on Tuesday.


The Carlson Hall project was among several UW System projects delayed during the 2009-11 state budget deliberations, but the building projects that were funded came in $23 million under budget. Hixson, who represents Whitewater, including the university, and Nass, who represents the area east of Whitewater, differ on how the state should use the savings.


Hixson calls the project a “win-win-win for our area.” He said UW-Whitewater will benefit from having the entire College of Letters and Science under one roof. It now is spread out among several buildings. He also said the project has economic benefits.


“I feel we would be saving taxpayers money by doing it now,” Hixson said. “The economy is down, and construction companies need work and are willing to bid lower to get the work. … If we wait a two or three years, then the cost is probably going to go up. … It makes a lot of sense to do it now.”


Nass calls the project a “pork-barrel project” to help Hixson buoy his reputation among voters ahead of the November election. He said the Legislature has no business “meddling” in a process that includes identifying potential building projects, prioritizing them and approving funding. He said it would be smarter to use the extra bonding authority to pay down the state debt rather than spend it on a remodeling project.


“We are $2.7 billion in debt and climbing,” Nass said. “Our bond rating is in the tank. … I think like businesses or families, when you have newfound money, you don’t just run out and spend it; you save it. Our spending in Madison is out of control.”


Hixson and Nass differ on whether the Carlson Hall project is considered a high or low priority for the state.


The Carlson Hall renovation was the very next item on our to do list after those (other projects) funded in the state budget,” said UW System spokesman David Giroux. “The state approved a certain level of bonding, and it’s already in the state budget, and now it’s available to use it on the next item on our list.”



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