July 22, 2014

Budget plan borrows $1 billion

Governor Scott Walker’s proposed state budget would borrow over $1 billion, with almost all of that money directed at state transportation projects.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau says about $400 million would go to improve major highways, $300 million would be used to upgrade Milwaukee’s Zoo freeway interchange, $200 million would be borrowed to improve Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge, and $60 million would be spent on rail projects.

The state transportation fund normally covers those projects, but revenues in that fund have been sagging due to a drop in federal aid. The use of more fuel-efficient vehicles is also driving down gas tax revenues.

A task force recently called for increasing the gas tax by five cents a gallon, along with numerous transportation fee increases. But Walker and majority Republicans in the Legislature have refused to even consider tax or fee hikes.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and both co-chairs of the Legislature’s Finance Committee have said they are uncomfortable with the heavy borrowing. However, state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb says their only other choices are to cut projects or find new revenues. He said major projects like the Hoan Bridge have been delayed for too long, and borrowing is favorable right now because interest rates are low.

State lawmakers are expected to start the process of reviewing Governor Walker’s proposed state budget later this month.