BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Gov. Tony Evers joined Democrats in the Green Bay area Monday to pledge support for legislation to fund a new Experience Greater Green Bay Visitor Center. However, the visit did not go over well with state Republicans who represent Northeast Wisconsin.
The bipartisan backed legislation would set aside $2 million for the project in the next state budget. The bill was authored by state Democrats Dave Hansen and Staush Gruszynski.
Evers held a brief news conference in Ashwaubenon to vocalize his support of the project. CLICK HERE to watch.
The Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau has raised about $4 million of the $6.5 million project.
The CVB says tourism accounts for $1.1 billion each year in Brown County. The organization says a state-of-the-art visitors center will help promote attractions and help recruit people to the area.
The previous visitors bureau operated out of the former Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena and Shopko Hall.
The news conference quickly turned into partisan political bickering.
"Although it was rejected by Republicans on the building commission, I'm glad to see this project introduced," says Evers.
Hansen says it was Republicans who removed funding for the CVB project in the previous budget. “It is unfortunate that the Republicans in Madison deleted funding for this project that was contained in Governor Evers' budget. However, it is my hope that our Republican colleagues from our area will work with us to restore this much-needed funding for this worthwhile project,” said Hansen.
Republican Rep. John Nygren says it was the governor who killed the funding with a veto. "Unfortunately, Governor Evers chose to veto funding specifically for local projects in the budget. As a result of his veto, Gov. Evers unnecessarily delayed this important project," says Nygren.
The Office of Republican State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the governor's news conference a "stunt."
Other local Republicans said Evers was making a "token gesture" to Brown County. Rep. John Macco, Rep. Dave Steffen and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke all released statements calling out Evers for issuing vetoes on funding for local roads and infrastructure.
“People expect their legislators to work with each other to support Brown County. It is disingenuous for legislators to say NO to increased funding for UWGB, NO to increase funding and fix Brown Co. roads, NO to increase money for public education, NO to make our community safer by replacing an outdated and dangerous prison, NO to help our overworked District Attorneys, and NO to promoting tourism for the area. Yet when it is politically expedient, they stand and clap for a proposal they voted NO on just two months ago! Leading from the front is recognizing ideas that will advance our communities, not waiting until an idea is in the rearview mirror," says Macco.
Steffen called Evers' news conference a "goofy, sophomoric display."
"After vetoing our year's worth of work on this project, Evers sneaks into town for an impromptu press conference to take credit for a project he removed from the budget just six weeks ago. While I'm glad we are getting this matter addressed, this type of petty political antic is better kept in high school class president races versus the office of the governor," says Steffen.
Steineke said he was "unimpressed" with the governor's visit.
"If he wanted to support Green Bay and northeast Wisconsin, we gave him every opportunity. Today’s showing is an insincere bid for attention. He slashed our budget that funded northeast Wisconsin priorities, and in doing so, Governor Evers turned his back on our communities," says Steineke.
Sen. Dave Hansen shot back at the Republican criticism of Evers.
“Rather than understanding they could all benefit from being seen by the public as working together with Governor Evers and Democrats to help our area, these Republicans chose to go along with their leaders in Madison to remove the visitors center and other projects in favor of creating their own special slush fund so they could deny Governor Evers any credit for his efforts," says Hansen.
Politics aside, the funding bill is welcome news for Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau President Brad Toll.
"This is a great day. We've been working on the project probably between two or three years, and we've gotten great support from really both sides of the aisle from the Republicans and the Democrats," says Toll.
The $2 million bill could be in front of the legislature by next month.
"We're expecting probably by the end of September, beginning of October it will be in front of the legislature. Hopefully, we can get it through both the Assembly and the Senate and through the Governor's office," says Toll. "And we're hoping to be in the ground by the end of October, because of course next year we have the Ryder Cup taking place down in Kohler. We also have the Badgers playing Notre Dame. Those are huge opportunities to tell people that are perhaps first time visitors to Wisconsin about our area as well as about our state."
Toll discuss the visitors center and other projects on our Get 2 the Point podcast with Cami Rapson. CLICK HERE to listen.