Committee approves Walker plan to authorize sale of state properties

The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has approved a controversial bill that would allow governor to lease or sell state-owned properties – including the Capitol – without soliciting bids for the transaction.

Gov. Scott Walker, who had a history of privatizing government when he was the Milwaukee County executive, is seeking the state provision.

The committee approved the measure along a party-line 12-4 vote, with Republicans backing their governor.

With some modifications, the state Budget Committee would have to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before any transaction could be completed.

Critics say the no-bid process lacks adequate legislative oversight and accountability. They say state properties could be sold to parties that contribute to political campaigns and then leased back to the state with “sweetheart deals.”

Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) said the measure could lead to “wholesale sales of state properties without even a competitive bid.”

Richards said there’s nothing in the measure to preclude sales of highways, university dormitories or prisons.

“The scope of this is breathtaking. It’s huge,” Richards said.

However, committee co-chair Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) downplayed the concerns said the budget still says that if either the Department of Administration or the Building Commission used a negotiated price for a sale, it would have to be through “a competitive and transparent” process.

“Who would sit on this committee and make a decision that’s not in the best interest of the state and who on this committee would approve a sale if it hadn’t been transparent and it hadn’t been competitive?” Darling said.

Democrats feared the move would give donors pause before giving money to a university, for example, to cover one-fourth the cost of a new building if it could later be sold.

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