While it’s sure to dominate state budget talks next spring, the debate over how to fund transportation in Wisconsin already started to pick up momentum this fall.
Much of the fight has focused on how to handle a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the state transportation fund, with Governor Scott Walker firmly on the side of cutting back spending. Many Republicans in the Legislature are open to exploring new revenue to pay for roads.
Walker has vowed to stick to his campaign promises when lawmakers look to pay for transportation projects, saying several times this fall that he will veto any budget that includes a gas tax or vehicle fee increase that is not equally offset by some other form of tax reduction.
When the governor’s Department of Transportation submitted a budget request this fall that included more funding for local projects and delays in several larger projects, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos questioned it. “It seems to me that it’s penny-wise and pound foolish, when all you’re doing is delaying projects and driving up the cost,” Vos said.
Outgoing Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb defended the plan at a hearing earlier this month, citing conditions laid out by the governor. “The governor has made a determination that he doesn’t think this is the right time to raise taxes and fees on Wisconsin businesses.”
Still, Gottlieb admitted the current plan would lead to roads in the state continuing to deteriorate. Walker’s office announced Tuesday that Gottlieb would depart the agency early next year, with a new secretary taking over during the upcoming budget process.
Majority Republicans in the Legislature are split on finding new revenue for the road projects. Assembly leaders want to explore tax or fee hikes, the Senate sides with the governor. That divide promises a repeat of the extended negotiations over transportation that delayed final passage of the last state budget.