9/16/2016, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – If the state is going to stop kicking the can down the road, then Vos and his colleagues in the Legislature need to step up and start making those fundamental changes.
On the face of it, Gov. Scott Walker’s transportation budget makes sense: provide more money for local governments so they can keep up their roads and bridges; delay work on some major freeway projects until the state has the money to finish them; don’t raise taxes or fees; don’t go crazy on borrowing money for roads. That’s fiscally prudent and keeps the governor’s pledge to not increase the burden on taxpayers.
Couple of problems though: While some delays might be warranted, significant delays could increase the costs of certain projects. Delaying finishing work on projects such as the Zoo Interchange, the state’s busiest, for example, means more costs and inconvenience and possibly safety problems for those who use the interchange.
Delays also could put Wisconsin at an economic disadvantage in relation to neighboring states when it comes to attracting businesses. As Suzanne Kelly of the Waukesha County Business Alliance noted in a commentary on this page Thursday, “businesses make siting decisions based on access to interstates. We can’t let our system crumble.” Or stay in a perpetual “road construction ahead; expect delays” mode.
Beyond all that lies a larger problem, to which Assembly Speaker Robin Vos alluded Wednesday: “I’m concerned that his solution does nothing more than kick the can down the road for two years,” Vos said.
Vos is right. The larger problem is that the traditional means of funding transportation can no longer match revenue to the challenges. The freeway system is more than half a century old and needs to be rebuilt. Because of fiscal constraints and other challenges, local governments are having trouble maintaining their roads. Transit needs are also difficult to meet. And the revenue for funding all of that, the gasoline tax, is dwindling because of ever more efficient vehicles and a general refusal to raise taxes.
That’s not a sustainable structure. At some point, it will collapse, and Walker’s budget doesn’t begin to address the long-term issue.
A state transportation task force studied the issue for two years and released a report in early 2013 with a number of recommendations for meeting the challenge, including a nickel gas tax hike, an increase in driver’s license fees and a new vehicle registration fee based on miles traveled. The recommendations went nowhere.
Currently, the “Just Fix It” campaign by the Transportation Development Association, a statewide alliance of 400 transportation stakeholders, is looking at those and other issues.
The Walker administration needs to understand that something more fundamental is needed than delay and borrowing.
This budget proposal, while it makes a good start, doesn’t get at the larger issues. Vos and his colleagues in the Legislature need to improve on Walker’s proposal with an eye farther down the road.