9/6/2017, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – By Ernst-Ulrich Franzen
Couple of notes on the GOP transportation package approved by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee Tuesday night:
Legislators shied away from the exorbitant borrowing that had been proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and state senators. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad: The work won’t get done. Instead of borrowing or raising revenue or finding new ways to pay for transportation, significant road projects are being put on hold.
It’s not just the can that’s being kicked down the road; whole roads are being booted down the freeway.
Among them are the north leg of the Zoo Interchange and the widening of the east-west freeway in Milwaukee. While everyone acknowledges that Milwaukee is the state’s economic engine, too many GOP legislators don’t care if that engine has the lubrication it needs to move goods and traffic.
GOP legislators once again couldn’t help show their disdain for local governments. They placed limits on how the city of Milwaukee can fund its streetcar project (which isn’t getting any state funding but which some legislators still want to control), and they approved a measure that would bar local governments from enforcing ordinances that conflict with the letter or even the spirit of state laws. Sen. Jon Erpenbach said the measure was so broadly written that it would greatly constrain the powers of local officials. And legislators barred local governments from regulating quarries, such as those used by road builders to collect gravel. As Erpenbach noted, “I don’t know why we have city councils anymore,” he said. “Don’t know why we need county boards. Don’t know why we need town boards.” Why indeed, when Big Brother in Madison can impose its will wherever it wants?
The Department of Transportation would have to cut 200 jobs. As the Journal Sentinel reported, this comes “four years after the Walker administration and lawmakers agreed to hire 180 engineers because they found it cost less to use state engineers to design projects than contract with private engineering firms. Now, many, if not all, of those engineering positions could be cut as the department sheds staff.” So who will do the work, and will the state once again be spending more to contractors? And how does that make sense?
The state will assess higher registration fees on hybrid and electric cars. That makes sense to me since owners of those cars pay less in gasoline taxes, and I think all users should pay their fair share. But those who argue for a fee based on weights of vehicles make a good point. Yes, charge the hybrids and electric car owners more, but then implement a system that charges more for vehicles that cause the greatest wear and tear on the roads. That would be fair.
Look for more to come on this, but for now let me just repeat what Erpenbach said: “This doesn’t do anything to fix the problem.”
And that, too, is an understatement.