7/12/2017, Racine Journal Times – In the Great Transportation Debate that has thus far defied resolution by state Republicans and delayed the passage of a state budget there are clear choices — borrow or pay as you go.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed borrowing $500 million to patch the state transportation budget hole of $1 billion in the two-year budget cycle and the state Senate, lead by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, wants to jack it up even higher to $850 million.
Local legislator and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has resisted those calls to run up the state’s credit card approach to road funding and has advocated for raising state revenue by a combination of fee increases such as a heavy truck fee, an increase in the sales tax on gasoline, DOT savings and cutting the minimum markup on gasoline.
In our view, that’s a more sensible road to take toward a long-term solution to meeting the state’s road construction and repair costs.
In the latest go-round on the transportation budget, Gov. Walker said he would cut $200 million off the borrowing and keep major interstate projects in Southeast Wisconsin on track by getting more federal money.
That’s a nice plum to dangle in front of Vos and local State Sen. Van Wanggaard, both of whom have argued strongly for completion of I-94 work from Milwaukee to the Illinois line to handle the growing demand for good roads to serve the booming development appetites along the interstate here in Racine County.
But are those real dollars or rubber dollars? According to recent news reports, Walker is relying on seeking $341 million in federal redistribution money to do that. An Associated Press story last week said: “That is 10 times the roughly $34 million the state has received on average in the past five years.”
One GOP lesiglator’s response was “That is not going to happen.” And last we heard, President Trump was calling for a 13 percent cut in the federal transportation budget.
The fact is that Wisconsin began running up its borrowing for roads a few decades ago and it is getting out of hand. A Wispolitics report last month said the state’s transportation bond debt service was $93 million a year at the end of the administrations of former Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum — which was 7 percent of the transportation budget. It went to 11.5 percent of the budget under former Gov. James Doyle. Under Gov. Walker’s plan, the amount allocated to debt service would double and put the state’s debt service at more than 20 percent of the transportation budget.
In our view, that is unsustainable. We cannot borrow our way to prosperity and put money into debt service when it needs to go to concrete, asphalt, rebar and girders.
Moreover, the proposals by Walker and Fitzgerald run in opposition to genuine conservative values and responsible fiscal planning.
As Rep. Vos put it last week in opposition to more road borrowing: “I continue to remain optimistic that Republicans can focus on the core value we all hold that it’s not conservative to borrow and spend.”
There are any number of ways to reach a true compromise on raising revenue for roads — whether they be an increase in the gas tax, higher fees for licenses, a heavy truck fee to pay for the pounding they put on roads, a fee hike for hybrid vehicles that use roads but pay less in gas taxes, a gas sales tax hike — and even open-road tolling on the Interstate sometime in the future.
Wisconsin needs good roads for economic growth and state motorists are willing to pay their fair share — as we go — to make sure our transportation system is up to the job.
We stand with Vos.