Gov. Scott Walker, for the second time in less than a week, said Monday that he won’t agree to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees to break a legislative impasse over how to pay for highway projects.
“I’m going to keep my campaign promises,” said Walker, who didn’t specifically promise not to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees, but did say he wouldn’t let the overall tax burden go up in his second term.
Most of the highway projects proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation are actually pork for road builders, who are generous campaign donors. A federal judge recently recently ruled that WisDOT used vastly inflated projections to justify a major widening project on Highway 23, where traffic is way below WisDOT’s figures.
Fleecing taxpayers to keep road builders happy is an ongoing pattern in Wisconsin, said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. He said money for bogus construction projects are the primary reason that local roads in the state are in such disrepair.
When Walker was re-elected to a second term in November, he promised swift action on the budget given a larger Republican majority in the Legislature.
But the process is taking just as long this year as it did in 2013. That year the budget committee finished its work on June 5 and Walker signed it on June 30.
Figuring out how to finance all the unnecessary highway projects is one of the last pieces of the state budget puzzle to fall into place this year. The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee had hoped to finish its work on Friday, but couldn’t get it done. It has yet to set its next meeting date, which was expected to be its last.
Once the budget clears the committee, it heads to the Senate and Assembly — both controlled by Republicans — for votes later this month. Walker has said he won’t announce a presidential run until after he signs the budget into law.
Republicans lawmakers are balking at Walker’s proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for roads by issuing bonds, but they haven’t been able to come up with an alternative the governor will back.
“We need to come to an agreement with the governor,” Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the budget committee said Friday. “He’s pretty much taken all of our options off the table and we don’t see the bonding out there as a great option.”
Walker didn’t budge Monday.
“I made it clear that while I support a vibrant transportation system, I don’t support raising revenues be it a gas tax or a vehicle registration fee without an offsetting reduction in taxes somewhere else in the budget,” Walker said. “And so far that hasn’t been in any of the proposals.”
Another sticking point in the budget is a financing deal for a new $500 million-plus arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing unidentified sources, reported last week that the deal would include $250 million from taxpayers and $250 million from current and past owners of the Bucks.
Progressives view the arena deal as yet another fleecing of taxpayers, who will shoulder for far more of the costs than its supporters have revealed. Nearly every day, buried costs to taxpayers are uncovered by reporters examining the deals’ details.
Walker said he hopes to have a deal on the arena by the end of the week.