A newly released memo by one of the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee shows Wisconsin could face a road funding shortfall of nearly a billion dollars in the next biennium, just to keep current projects going.
State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) said the LFB is projecting a $939 million shortfall, which amounts to about one-third of the transportation fund. Nygren noted that the figure does not include payments on existing state debt. “Our state’s principal repayment currently stands at $4.3 billion in bonding; a whopping $3.5 billion of this repayment is owed by the transportation fund and the rest is set to come from the general fund. Moreover, some of the transportation bonds that were approved last budget have yet to be issued, which means Wisconsin’s debt service will only continue to rise.”
The Marinette Republican is not advocating for a specific fix, but he believes everything from raising gas taxes to toll roads should be explored. “I think all options need to be on the table,” Nygren said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
Governor Scott Walker has repeatedly said he opposes any move that would increase taxes or fees – a position he reaffirmed in a statement released Wednesday. “Raising taxes and fees is not the answer,” Walker said. “Under our administration, we will keep it a priority to live within the means of the hardworking people of Wisconsin. That is a commitment I will honor. Leadership will require us to identify cost savings and prioritize our needs, as I have directed my Department of Transportation secretary to do, especially when it comes to safety and maintenance. I am confident we can do better than placing new taxes on Wisconsin citizens.”
Nygren called it “unrealistic” to think the state can get away with making no changes to how it funds transportation. “We need to have a dialogue about how we’re going to be able to fun our transportation needs, to be able to provide a system that is not only safe, but actually provides for economic growth long term.”
Lawmakers will begin work on the next two-year state budget next spring. Walker has asked the Department of Transportation to submit its budget request by mid-September.