Updated – Stewardship Debt Service Costs Wisconsin More Than $90 Million Annually

DNR has $1.4 Billion in Additional Stewardship Bonding Authority Through Fiscal Year 2020

MacIver News Service | May 15, 2013

Updated Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 6:36PM

[Madison, Wisc…] The Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) will vote today on providing additional bonding authority of $115 million for the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson Stewardship program for 2013-2015.

Under 2011 Act 32 DNR may not obligate more than $60 million in bonding authority annually for the stewardship program. This program issues 20-year tax-exempt general obligation bonds to pay for land acquisition and property development in the state.

Governor Scott Walker’s budget borrows $32 million annually for land acquisition and $25.5 million annually for property development and local assistance.

The bonding authority under current law also gives the Department of Natural Resources bonding authority of $1.4 billion through 2019-2020 according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

Along with the additional bonding authority, Wisconsin is also responsible for paying annual debt service payments for previous borrowing. LFB estimates that, under Walker’s budget, the state will face debt service payments of $91.8 million in 2013-2014 and $94.6 million in 2014-2015.

Debt service payments in previous budgets were much lower because principal payments were deferred until a later date. Wisconsin is now beginning to pay that principal.

At least one Republican expressed concern over the Stewardship program. “I take public land management seriously as Commissioner on the Board of Commissioners for Public Lands, but I don’t want to see exponential growth in this area if it creates a burden to the taxpayer or takes away from other much needed programs,” State Treasurer Kurt Schuller said about the program.


Rep. Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade) and Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) motioned to reduce the stewardship bonding authority by $63.5 million over the biennium, place multiple restrictions on the DNR, and require the DNR to sell a small portion of land that it owns.

The motion would reduce bonding authority during this budget and also place restrictions on future budgets. With the reduction in bonding, LFB expected the state will save $600,000 in 2014-2015 and $98 million over the life of the program in debt service payments.

The DNR would not be allowed to use more than one-third of bonding authority to acquire land and is restricted from acquiring any land outside the boundaries of projects established on May 1, 2013 unless approved by 12 members on JFC.

Motion #267 also requires that DNR offer for sale 10,000 acres of property located outside of the project boundaries by June 20, 2017 and must sell at least 250 acres of farmland annually.

JFC passed the motion on a 12-4 vote. See the full text of the motion here.