Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker requested $1.3 billion in borrowing for transportation projects when he proposed his 2015-15 state budget. Legislators on the Republican controlled Joint Finance Committee ended up cutting that amount by some $450 million, despite warnings that the reduction would result in project delays. Negotiations over the transportation piece of the budget consumed several weeks, and were a contentious issue for Republicans.
Now, numerous projects around the state are being delayed.
Democratic lawmakers in Madison say those delays needn’t have happened, if the legislature had adopted some of the recommendations contained in a report on long-term transportation fund needs. That report, issued by a commission headed by Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, was released nearly two years ago, and went essentially ignored.
“It would be nice if we actually looked at some of those recommendations and decided to adopt them,” said Representative Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau), who serves on the Assembly Transportation Committee. “Secretary Gottlieb offered a number of viable options, and I think they’re still viable.”
The Transportation Finance Policy Commission released the recommendations in January of 2013, after meeting for over a year. They included a gas tax increase, and a new vehicle registration fee based on miles driven, to help the state close a funding gap estimated at about $5 billion for the next decade. Those recommendations were immediately rejected.
“We will not support raising the gas tax or instituting mileage-based registration fees as a means to fund our roads,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said at the time.
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said the budget negotiators failure to consider any revenue enhancements – like those contained in the commission report – can be tied to Governor Walker’s presidential ambitions. “It was good for Walker’s campaign for president, because he was tough in not raising taxes. But the result of that is that major projects all over the state of Wisconsin are going to be put on hold,” Erpenbach said.
Recently reported two-year delays include phase two of the Verona Road project in Dane County, and the I-90/39 expansion in Rock County.
“The Republicans, if they’re going to be in the majority, have to be able to govern,” Erpenbach said. “They have to be able to say to Governor Walker, ‘look, for the good of the state of Wisconsin, we do need to raise the gas tax.’ Otherwise, our roads are going to fall apart, and we’ll never finish the projects started.”