Republican lawmakers say they might not meet until September to sort out how to fill a potential gap in funding for state-run juvenile corrections centers left by Wisconsin’s budget committee.
The plan comes after GOP lawmakers on the Joint Finance Committee Tuesday shifted funds to give $40 million more to counties to build regional youth prisons. The full Legislature and the governor still have to weigh in on the budget.
Under a bill passed in 2018, a handful of new county and state-run juvenile lockups will replace the troubled Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Irma in northern Wisconsin in 2021.
The $40 million increase to counties approved Tuesday was meant to address their concerns that an original $40 million set aside for them wasn’t enough.
But lawmakers on the committee came up with the $40 million by taking away the $25 million originally allocated for new state-run, or “type 1” youth prisons and shifting the $15 million for an expansion of the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Dane County.
They filled the gap for the Mendota facility by authorizing $44 million in funds but did nothing to provide money for the construction of two new state facilities.
“The type 1’s will be funded, it’s just going to be done at a later time,” said Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh.
Schraa and Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who both were heavily involved in drafting the bill closing Lincoln Hills, said they could come back in September to work out the funding for those facilities, although they didn’t specify how much money they’d provide.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ plan would have provided counties an additional $60 million for a total of $100 million; state-run detention centers an additional $90 million for a total of $115 million; and Mendota an increase of $44 million for a total $59 million investment.
Wanggaard said Republicans on Joint Finance may have declined to authorize money for the state-run lockups because of questions surrounding the total cost of construction and the final locations of those facilities.
Democrats are skeptical of the shift in funding. Joint Finance Committee member Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said withholding funds for the state-run facilities will only delay the closure of Lincoln Hills.
Milwaukee, Dane and Racine counties have expressed serious interest in building county facilities that can house youth offenders from their regions
Two counties, Fond du Lac and La Crosse, backed out of plans to build and operate regional youth prisons due to concerns over the cost of operating such facilities.
The comments from the lawmakers come as the debate heats up on whether to extend the deadline for Lincoln Hills’ closure to allow more time for counties and the state to build replacement facilities.
Evers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Tuesday that closing Lincoln Hills by January 2021, as required under current law, may be “physically impossible.”
Schraa and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers pushing a bill to extend the closure of Lincoln Hills by six months are more optimistic, arguing the bill provides a backstop by allowing for some counties to house youth offenders if the replacement facilities aren’t finished on time.
“It’s not impossible,” Schraa said.