Tag Archives: highway funding

Walker, GOP leaders differ on plugging $1B shortfall for fixing Wisconsin roads

With Wisconsin roads rated among the nation’s worst, raising funds to shore up the state’s crumbling infrastructure will be one of the biggest issues facing the Legislature next year.

It’s an issue that pits Gov. Scott Walker against his own party. He and the  state’s Republican leaders have created a nearly $1 billion gap in Wisconsin’s transportation budget, but now Walker refuses to support raising taxes or fees to plug that hole. As he prepares for a likely third gubernatorial run, Walker probably doesn’t want to be seen as going back on his pledge never to raise taxes or fees.

But Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren says increasing funding for Wisconsin roads has to be an option. To help make his case, Nygren scheduled an unusual mid-summer conference call with reporters to release a memo by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau showing that just to pay for road projects that have already been approved, the state will need to come up with $939 million more.

Nygren urged Walker, lawmakers and the public to be open to all options — including raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

“We need to have a dialogue about how we’re going to fund our transportation needs,” said Nygren, who is from Marinette. “All options need to be on the table.”

Walker responded by reiterating his position in a statement saying, “Raising taxes and fees is not the answer.”

“Under our administration, we will keep it a priority to live within the means of the hardworking people of Wisconsin,” Walker said. “That is a commitment I will honor.”

Walker, however, has slashed state revenues by giving massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Wisconsinites and many millions of dollars in tax incentives to corporate cronies who failed to produce promised jobs. He’s also spent millions of dollars on politically motivated lawsuits to fight against LGBT and immigration rights. At the same time, he’s funded federal lawsuits for partisan gerrymandering, as well as for restrictions on abortions and voting rights. All of those issues were already winding their way through the court system in cases filed by tea party leaders of other right-wing states.

Walker delays upkeep on Wisconsin roads

Walker directed his Department of Transportation secretary to deliver a budget that identifies cost savings and prioritizes needs, but that doesn’t raise taxes or fees. Doing that will delay road expansion work and upkeep on all but the state’s most-traveled highways.

The department’s budget is due on Sept. 15, and it will serve as the starting point for the governor and Legislature as they work on the state’s two-year spending plan to be passed in mid-2017.

In the last budget passed in 2015, Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion, but the Legislature scaled that back to $850 million. They rejected recommendations from a bipartisan transportation commission in 2013 that called for increasing the gas tax by 5 cents per gallon, raising other transportation fees and using a mileage-based vehicle registration system.

Republicans have neglected Wisconsin road funding and they’re only talking about it now because an election is looming, said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

“On this issue, the Republican leadership’s word means nothing,” Barca said in a statement.

Nygren said borrowing more money and delaying projects is “not necessarily the fiscally conservative position.” But, he added, not addressing the problem will force future generations to pay for higher levels of borrowing without a substantial benefit.

Still, he took no position on how much additional borrowing he would agree to endorse.

Nygren said his preference would be to raise the gas tax because everyone who drives in Wisconsin, not just those who register vehicles in the state, would be affected. The state’s 30.9 cents per gallon gas tax is has not been raised since 2006.

Reporting for this analysis was provided by The Associated Press.

Republicans threaten to nix Scott Walker’s road-building plan

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says Republicans are discussing delaying $1.3 billion worth of highway construction projects across Wisconsin since Gov. Scott Walker is unwilling to raises taxes or fees to pay for it.

Vos’ remarks come in the wake of a federal court ruling that halted U.S. funding for an expansion of Highway 23 between Fond du Lac and Plymouth. The court found that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation inflated traffic projections used to justify the construction.

Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, a land-use watchdog group, has called for a moratorium on all major roadway projects in the state until traffic projections can be audited.  His group has found that the vast majority of highway construction projects in the state are based on overblown data in what is perhaps a strategy to keep construction companies at work.

Highway builders are among the most generous campaign donors to both major parties.

Vos said Wednesday that Republicans are talking about not doing any of the additional borrowing Walker asked for in his budget to pay for roads projects.

Other Republicans have talked about lowering the amount of bonding by between $300 million and $800 million.

Vos says, “Maybe there should be no new bonding. Maybe that’s one option.”

Walker has repeatedly said he won’t approve a gas tax increase or higher vehicle registration fees. Vos has said higher fees should be considered.

Transportation funding is one of the last unsolved pieces of the budget.

News analysis | On top in Iowa, Walker says he’ll borrow rather than raise taxes to build highways

Gov. Scott Walker wants to borrow money that won’t have to be repaid long into the future rather than increase gasoline taxes to fund questionable transportation projects over the next two years.

The governor’s decision comes as a new Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll finds the self-described tea party founder leading among Republicans in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation nominating caucuses early next year.

Released last night, the poll found Walker was the first choice of 15 percent of respondents, up from 4 percent in October. That puts the Wisconsin governor slightly ahead of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who polled at 14 percent. Mitt Romney, who has since withdrawn from the race under pressure from the Republican establishment, was third at 13 percent.

Ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who supports biblical rule of law, was in fourth place, with 10 percent of voters’ support.

Kick the can

Walker’s new transportation borrowing plan calls for $1.3 billion to be raised through issuing bonds. The governor wants to offset that borrowing by delaying the construction of buildings, including projects in the University of Wisconsin system.

Walker’s borrowing plan would allow him to illustrate his opposition to tax increases as he runs for president at a time he faces a budget gap of at least $2 billions. But his borrowing plan to fund highways might not go over well with his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature.

“The can keeps getting kicked down the road,” complained GOP state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who has overwhelmingly supported Walker’s policies in the past.

Darling, who co-chairs the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, said she wants to see Walker’s overall plan before deciding how much borrowing she could support. She also said she wants to see a sustainable system for funding roads.

Unneeded highways

Many — if not most — of the highway construction projects that have been approved are unnecessary, according to traffic studies. The number of miles driven on most highways earmarked for massive expansion projects has either flattened out or decreased.

Meanwhile, the unnecessary projects cause countless accidents and traffic delays that cost millions in lost productivity, according to experts.

But roadbuilders are among the most generous contributors to political campaigns, and they generally get the projects they want — needed or not. Good government leaders such as Steve Hiniker of 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin call the highway planning process a legal form of corruption. He and others say that highway construction companies virtually represent an unofficial arm of state government.

On Tuesday, Walker plans to formally introduce his proposal to borrow money from the future to construct his backers’ multibillion-dollar road projects. Lawmakers will spend the next few months reshaping his plan.

Two years ago, Walker and GOP lawmakers approved $2 billion in borrowing. About half was for buildings and maintenance and about half was for highways.

In November, Walker’s transportation secretary Mark Gottlieb recommended increasing gas taxes and vehicle fees by $751 million over two years to give to roadbuilders. Walker’s office rejected those proposals after the public and his fellow Republicans complained.

Walker’s critics say he nixed the taxes for political reasons.