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Scott Walker Is Wrong About Transportation Needs

September 18, 2016

It never ceases to amaze me how Wisconsin’s elected Republicans have continuously talked about job creation, helping business, wanting to create a vibrant economy but all the while not finding a credible way to fund our ever-growing transportation needs.

The issue of roads and the way they are funded is a topic many citizens are again addressing.  The whole state is awash in news stories about the upcoming budget and Governor Walker’s proposed cutbacks to some projects while trying to find a level of borrowing so not to alienate members of his own party in the legislature.  At the end of the day it is a sad commentary on our state and those who proclaim they want to make it stronger.

I grew up in a home where roads and local infrastructure was often talked about as Dad was a town board supervisor for over 40 years.  There was no other topic that generated more comment from constituents than about the roads which took them to work in the morning and back in the late afternoon.  So while he would much agree with the proposed increase for local road aids he would very much disagree with authorizing $500 million in new bonding.  Not because he would not want to see new projects completed but rather due to the fact Dad was a conservative Republican for much of his life and thought paying as one goes along–and finding the means to do that–was the best way to govern.

That idea is a far cry from how the current GOP leadership in Madison views the required infrastructure needs of the state.  The proposed transportation plan would not increase any taxes or fees and in so doing creates a severe disserve for those who care about a logical way of budgeting. The state currently spends 20 cents on the dollar on transportation debt service.  That is just not what my dad–or any true conservative–would say is a credible way of doing the people’s business.

The fact is our state needs to have roads built along with the good salaries which comes from the jobs created by such projects.  Reasonable people can differ on which projects are more important in the short term but all will have to agree that the costs for any construction plan only increases over time.  It would make sense to find the means to pay for the projects now rather than wait and pay more in future budgets.

Walker understands all this but prefers to play politics with the transportation budget.  Every logical person knows what needs to be done–it is the same way folks around the kitchen table build the new garage or pay for the car for their teenager.  They simply make the purchase knowing it is a needed item which will pay for itself in the long run.

Even the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission–a creation of the Walker Administration–in their final report years ago proved our state needs to get  serious about where the tire meets the road.  The members  were not a bunch of liberal, big-government types but rather consisted of eight of the ten voting members being appointed by Republicans, including six named by Walker.  They minced no words when saying state citizens need to pay more in taxes and fees as revenue is required to meet our transportation needs.  At the time of the report the commission found that over the next 10 years there is anywhere between a $2 billion and $17.1 billion funding gap for transportation infrastructure in this state.

The need for revenue and the projects they will fund are obvious to all.  Whatever political campaign Walker keeps dreaming of should take a back seat to doing the business of governor. He should heed the advice of his own commission.  They urged an increase in the state motor fuel tax by 5 cents per gallon, voted for an adoption of a new “mileage-based registration fee”, supported increased fees for registration and driver’s licenses, while removing a sales tax exemption for trade-in vehicles.  They even allowed  for the creation of regional transportation authorities with the power to collect sales taxes.

Being a conservative means not shying away from doing the people’s business, and certainly not using the bonding power of government to the degree it has been done under Walker. Citizens can handle the truth and know that taxes can not always go down and still maintain the qualify of services and life we demand.

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