Wisconsin Capitol Occupation Ends With Fishy Damage Figures

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 4 2011 11:11 AM

Wisconsin Capitol Occupation Ends With Fishy Damage Figures

The two week sleep-in at the Wisconsin state capitol is over; protesters will no longer crash in the building. The decision comes after a court battle (a polite, short one) over whether it was legal for the state to limit access to the building, and the state's case was that protesters were doing damage.

[S]tate officials said that damage from the demonstration to the marble inside and outside the Capitol would cost an estimated $7.5 million: $6 million for damage inside, $1 million for damage outside and $500,000 for additional expenses.

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How do they estimate this?

But the state provided no explanation for their figures or the kind of evidence that one expert said they would need for such a figure.

Officials said in court that the damage came from tape used for posting fliers and papers and other materials.

But DOA spokesman Carla Vigue said she could not immediately provide any detail about how state officials arrived at such a figure.

I've got my own call in on this. There's no precedent for the occupation of the Capitol, nothing to compare this number to, but protesters were very conscious to limit damage to the building. The conservative MacIver Institute reported that the door to the Supreme Court had been damaged, but I did not hear about or see any physical damage to the building. After the first day, according to student organizer Tom Bird, only blue electrical tape was used to put up signs -- this tape left no noticeable impression on wood or marble. There was a little vandalism of toilet paper dispensers in bathrooms, but by the time I got to the state the doors to every bathroom had signs on them asking people not to "tag" anything.

The only times I looked at the Capitol and said "wow, this is going to need cleaning" were when I saw carpet in the rooms being used for strategy and protest-staging, like the third floor room occupied by teaching assistants. There wasn't filth; there was just some of the liquid spatter and food crumbs you'd expect after two weeks of people living in these rooms. But will it cost $6 million to scrub the building's carpets and floors? It's worth checking back in a few months to see if this $7.5 million estimate actually panned out; also worth checking how much it usually costs to clean the building.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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