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Governor's wife requests $478,000 kitchen renovation

Published On: Dec 10 2012 06:45:46 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 10 2012 09:05:01 PM CST

Wisconsin's first lady is hoping to pay for the majority of kitchen renovation costs at the executive residence with private donations but some of that cost could fall back on taxpayers.

Tonette Walker is looking to raise funds to cover $478,000 in improvements to the industrial kitchen and residential kitchenette at the executive residence in Madison.

The Department of Administration sent a request to the State of Wisconsin Building Commission in the past week, asking for permission to move forward with the project.

Gov. Scott Walker and his wife would not go on camera to talk about the proposal, and cameras were not allowed into the kitchen Monday.

At Bella Domicile, Al Curran spends most of his time remodeling typical household kitchens. He said for a house valued at $250,000 to $350,000, it will cost anywhere from $35,000 to $70,000 to do the work. In a more executive home, he has seen that cost range from $100,000 to $300,000.

Curran added that the executive residence is no normal house but one that is built to entertain hundreds of people at one time.

"In a sense, it can't fail. It always has to be in operation and be prepared for whatever is going to take place at the residence," Curran said.

Curran said that taking into consideration appliances, storage and other associated costs, kitchen renovations at the mansion could be expected to cost about $478,000.

Curran said he's surprised the request to update the cooking and eating space didn't come sooner. He said most kitchens are renovated every 20 years or so. The executive residence kitchen was last remodeled in 1986.

"Yes, it is a large sum of money," Curran said. "But in the scale of what takes place, it's like opening up a restaurant."

"A kitchen for the entire state, $500,000 isn't really big by comparison, but I understand it will make some people unhappy," said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Berry said people shouldn't look at the executive residence as a home, pointing out how little time Walker and his family actually spend there. Instead, he said people should look at it as a space to entertain and another state-run facility that uses state money to fix it up.

"I don't think most people would want the Capital to go into disrepair and not be used, and I guess that's probably the way to think about it," Berry said.

Tonette Walker said in a news release that any contributions to the Wisconsin Executive Residence Foundation will limit the affect on taxpayers.

Even if fundraising fails, Berry said this project costs very little compared to others in the state building budget.

"There was about a $1 billion in building projects over two years. I could not find one that was as small as half a million," Berry said.

Whether paid for by taxpayer or donor dollars, Curran said it all goes back to representing the state well.

"It does reflect all of the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin," Curran said.

Jay Heck with Common Cause said that contributions should be limited. He said if donors can give any amount of money they can afford, it may cause some indirect influence over the governor and his administration.

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