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Wisconsin Republicans To Blame For Transportation Funding Mess

May 31, 2015

When voters talk about politics it often centers on the inability of elected officials to make decisions on the pressing needs of our time.  In Washington that might mean no all-encompassing immigration bill or congressional backing for dealing with ISIS.

When Wisconsin voters talk of such topics they can rightfully argue that legislators have no ability to craft a well-reasoned and much needed transportation bill with the required funding to meet our needs.  The news this past week that the Joint Finance Committee has not been able to hurdle the issues confronting our state transportation requirements and the means to fund them is troubling.

Over two years ago the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission after exhaustive and bi-partisan work released a report that pointed a way forward to making sure transportation needs were funded.  The proposals were honest and ones that we all needed to hear.

Among other things the commission asked Governor Scott Walker and lawmakers to adopt a 5-cent hike in the state gas tax, an increase in annual vehicle registration fees based on miles driven, and a big jump in heavy truck registration fees.  Just to stay current with services the report showed that we need to raise over $15 billion in the coming decade.

At a time when our state needs to lure more business and create more jobs the ability to move product and material to and fro is not hard to understand.   It also should come as no surprise that borrowing for our infrastructure needs is not the best route for our state to use when it comes to this matter.    We all can counter what past governors did but it is time for mature leadership on future funding.

But finding that leadership in Madison leads to nothing but utter frustration.

What we all should find objectionable is the gnashing of teeth that can be heard from under the dome as those who wanted the responsibility of governing now quake in their shoes over the task at hand when it comes to this funding question.

It has long been a sore point with me that too many think taxes should only always go down, and additional revenues are never to be found or increased to maintain our services which allow our society to function.   The need to raise revenue for Wisconsin’s transportation needs should not be controversial.  There is no doubt that without increased amounts of money, or new ways to fund our systems the state’s infrastructure will falter, and our economy will be placed in a further long-term pinch.

It is a sad place to be when after decades of ripping government spending Republicans now have no ability to frame the debate as to why additional tax dollars are most important to have and use. For Walker to think that any tax dollar for transportation needs should be found with a cut to some other program means he is simply experiencing too much jet lag from his out-of-state traveling.

When Walker and others talk like that they undercut the sensibilities of the electorate. We all realize that more revenue is required to make sure our state roads continue to be a source of competitive commerce.  No licensed driver believes they do not have a stake in maintaining the roads they use, or insuring new ones are built to support the added growth we will need as the economy expands.  This is not a hard conversation to have with the electorate.   That is unless the only conversation up to now has been one where government is always to get smaller and no one should ever pay more for the services we use.

What was the purpose of the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission if not to use logic to arrive at a series of proposals to set our transportation funding policy? If there is no serious intent to use the guidance of such experts than why spend the money to study such matters in the first place?

I am under no illusion that legislators in Madison are any more able or interested in tackling the big issues than are the members of congress. Too few spines exist in those we elect and it would do no good for us to commission a study to find out why that is so.

4 Comments
  1. Artful Dodger permalink
    June 2, 2015 12:12 PM

    Walker already thunk of that. Another $85 million in health insurance contributions with 0% and 0% in raises for the next year. That’s of course if you aren’t Mike Huebsch or other patronage hacks who go from secretary of this to administrator of that and get $10-15,000 raises for a demotion. But, steering WEDC giveaways to campaign contributors is very stressful and must be rewarded!

  2. Mark E. Bye permalink
    June 2, 2015 7:40 AM

    Gee whiz. There’s *got* to be more that we can squeeze out of state employees in order to shoulder the burden of Walker’s disastrous economic policy, isn’t there?

  3. June 1, 2015 10:19 AM

    ” The proposals were honest and ones that we all needed to hear.”

    In fact, they were not honest. For starters, WISDOT claims to be supporting the state’s economy. During the committee process, I asked WISDOT for the TPF materials that demonstrated a net economic benefit for the state of the projects they recommended for enumeration.

    Sure, the words “economic development” appear in the scoring criteria, but what that actually means is WISDOT looks at the immediate corridor for net impacts, but not the entire state. So we don’t know if corridor growth projected by WISDOT is coming at the expense of growth in another area of the state, or if it is genuine statewide net growth that would not have occurred without the project.

    I have also asked the Governor for materials the demonstrate a net benefit for the state. His office responded with the same narrow-analysis materials I got from WISDOT. You can review those materials here:

    http://www.forwardlookout.com/2015/05/state-transportation-up-at-2pm-today/23473

    I would also like to highlight the fact that my concern arises from the fact that national studies of the net return of highway projects show a steady decline since the 1960’s, with returns dropping below the return of leaving the money in the private sector in 2005:

    http://research.upjohn.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1118&context=reports

    I have brought this study up to WISDOT staff, and various transportation groups. Nobody has been interested in digging deeper. That lack of curiousity is a serious red flag that calls into question whether there is a department-wide bias that favors viewing highway expansion as an economic generator.

  4. May 31, 2015 10:30 PM

    Reblogged this on The New American Ideal and commented:
    Idiots

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