- Views & Opinions
Data released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Transportation found the condition of Wisconsin’s roads to be fourth worst in the nation. According to DOT, 71 percent of the state’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
But Wisconsin’s transportation chief said he wouldn’t ask for any major tax or fee increases, acknowledging that such a move would delay road expansion work and upkeep on all but the state’s most-traveled highways.
Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb told the Wisconsin State Journal that his budget due in September will focus on maintaining the state’s bridges and highways, instead of expanding the well-traveled roads and preserving those lesser traveled.
In contrast to the budget proposal he submitted two years ago, it wouldn’t outline ways to increase funding for Wisconsin roads, Gottlieb said.
“The decision about whether or not that’s enough investment in transportation — or whether additional revenues should be raised to make more investments — is a decision that the Legislature and the governor will make,” he said.
Gov. Scott Walker told reporters that he stands by his commitment not to add a gas tax or raise vehicle registration fees unless there’s a corresponding decrease in state taxes.
“I’m not going to add to the overall tax burden on the hardworking people of the state,” Walker said.
Walker has initiated massive tax cuts for corporations and the state’s wealthiest citizens, but virtually increased taxes on the poorest and hurt the middle class.
In the 2015–2017 budget, Gottlieb asked for about $750 million in new taxes and fees, including those on fuel sales and new-vehicle purchases. But the Republican-controlled Legislature rejected those proposals, fearing it make them politically vulnerable after promising not to raise taxes.
The Legislature has slashed funding to the University of Wisconsin system and public schools in order to pay for tax cuts to the wealthy
If his latest budget request is adopted, Gottlieb said it would delay highway projects throughout the state, but it’s too early to tell which projects would be delayed and for how long. Many projects that are well underway could be halted, prolonging massive traffic jams and driver safety.
Walker said his priority would be maintaining existing infrastructure and addressing safety concerns.
“There will probably not be any whole new wave of major projects,” Walker said. “For the ones we’ve talked about, we’ll have to figure out ways we can continue those, but we won’t be adding huge new projects on top of it.”
Republican state Rep. Keith Ripp of Lodi said rural districts like his own “have already been hit hard by delays” in funding in the current budget.
“We really need to be looking at long-term funding solutions before our infrastructure starts negatively affecting Wisconsin’s economic growth,” he said.
Gottlieb said maintaining bridges and U.S. interstates and highways will be a priority. But he acknowledged that would come at the expense of maintaining other roads.
“That non-backbone system, which is about 90 percent of the state highway system, is going to continue to deteriorate in condition,” Gottlieb said.