The Wisconsin Department of Administration today detailed the cost of alleged damage to the state Capitol sustained during weeks of protests over Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union agenda.
It turns out this cost, which the DOA originally estimated at $7.5 million, is even lower than the subsequent revised estimate of $347,000. Indeed, the actual total comes to just $269,550 -- $161,050 for internal repairs and $111,750 for the Capitol grounds. It's an amount that's dwarfed by the $7.8 million the state reckons it will have to come up with to pay for increased security through March 13.
At a press conference this morning at which these numbers were released, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch sought to provide damage control regarding the original damage estimate. He said the $7.5 million amount had been "a purely preliminary figure" based on what information was available at the time.
Included in the materials distributed to the press was a March 4 memo (PDF) to Huebsch explaining that this higher estimate was "based on the experience of" a single manager with the DOA's Division of State Facilities. Also included was a copy of Huebsch's subsequent letter (PDF) to a Dane County judge, explaining why he used the erroneous $7.5 million figure in testimony to the court.
Huebsch, asked by a reporter whether his use of the $7.5 million figure was a "mistake," declined to agree: "I don't necessarily think it was a mistake." He said it was based on estimates made during a time when it was difficult for "our people" to even get into the building.
The new, much lower, estimate is based on a report (PDF) prepared by Charles Quagliana, a historic preservation architect who works for the UW-Madison. Quagliana conducted an "initial walk-through" of the building on March 10, just after the last of the major protests, and subsequently returned to verify his findings.
"Essentially the building experienced 3-5 years of wear within a two-week period of late February and early March, 2011," Quagliana's report says. Most of the damage consists of "nicks and chips" that are difficult to repair.
But Huebsch pointedly did not blame protesters, saying "there was no malicious damage to the Capitol, though there was that opportunity." He said there were times when the protesters had control of the building and could have engaged in behavior that would have made the state's costs much higher.
As for the security costs, a breakdown provided by DOA (PDF) says the $7.8 million cost is divided evenly between state agencies like the State Patrol and Capitol Police and the 200 law enforcement agencies that provided services under memorandums of understanding with the state.
These, it turns out, also served as memorandums of misunderstanding. Huebsch says many police agencies billed the state for costs beyond the scope of these agreements, like meals. But the DOA has decided to pay for these as well.
What about the dozens of agencies that did not bill the state for meal costs? Huebsch said that they would still be able to do so, by submitting fresh claims. Indeed, more than 30 of the agencies that entered into agreements with the state to provide services have not yet submitted any claims.In addition, Huebsch acknowledged there are substantial ongoing costs, but was unable to provide dollar amounts. He justified the continued high law enforcement presence and restrictions on Capitol access, including weapons screening of visitors. He said the judge who ordered the Capitol restored to former access levels also gave DOA authority to do what it thought was needed to keep the building secure and safe.
Others disagree. A hearing on a motion seeking to have the state found in contempt for failing to restore the building to its former levels of access is set for May 24. The plaintiff is the Wisconsin State Employees Union, represented by former state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.
Huebsch gave no indication as to when the heightened security now in place at the Capitol would end. As he put it, "The issue that really instigated the demonstrations in the first place has by no means been resolved."