State-mandated recycling, in place in Wisconsin since 1995, would be eliminated under Gov. Scott Walker's budget. And payments to local governments to run those programs — a total of $32 million this year — would be halted.
The change is likely to dramatically affect many of the 1,018 counties, cities and villages to which the state Department of Natural Resources now provides recycling grants, said Mary Teves, community financial assistance director for the agency.
"Some communities will cease to have a program," Teves said.
Teves said small communities are especially dependent on the grants and will have a harder time running their programs on their own, especially with other cuts to local governments that are included in the governor's budget. Larger cities with well-established programs will have an easier time maintaining their recycling efforts, she added, though even a city such as Madison receives a substantial $1.1 million recycling grant from the DNR.
Other DNR programs fared somewhat better in the budget. The state Stewardship Fund, a land-buying program that has protected more than 600,000 acres of land since 1990, will continue under Walker's budget though changes in how money can be spent are likely to result in fewer land purchases.
Though many expected a cut in funding for the program, Walker's budget did not reduce the amount of money the agency can borrow to pay for land purchases. The state borrows money to pay for the program by selling bonds and bonding for the program was increased in 2007 from $60 million a year to $86 million a year.
Walker did, however, propose substantial changes in how stewardship money is spent. The budget plan, for example, would eliminate the payments the DNR makes to local governments to make up for the loss of property taxes on lands purchased under the program. Kurt Thiede, administrator for the agency's land division, said that amount is substantial — a total of $12 million in 2009-2010.
Also, under the proposed changes, local governments would have to pass a nonbinding resolution in support or opposition to purchases and the DNR would be required to consider such votes before moving ahead with a purchase.
The DNR would also be required to buy land outright and would not be allowed to purchase development rights.
Thiede said it is likely that the changes will result in fewer purchases under the program.
Also included in the budget are changes to controversial rules that would limit the emission of phosphorus by municipalities. The budget would change the rule so limits on phosphorus, which causes weed and algae growth in lakes and streams, are no more strict than such rules in neighboring states. And communities would no longer have to meet the standards by 2013.