11/19/2016, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram – Wisconsin’s road problems will finally reach the “boiling point” in the upcoming state budget after the issue had been simmering for two decades, said the president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance in a Friday morning visit to Eau Claire.
“In this budget, clearly what will preoccupy them will be transportation funding,” Todd Berry, leader of the nonpartisan advocacy group, said to about 65 local business and government leaders during the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly “Eggs and Issues” breakfast gathering.
The state’s roads are aging, he said, but revenue from the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees historically used to pay for them is flat or falling. Retiring baby boomers driving fewer miles and millennials moving to metropolitan areas where owning a vehicle is not a necessity have been underlying factors in that trend, Berry noted.
Both Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his predecessor, Democrat James Doyle, borrowed to pay for roads and it’s gotten to the point where 22 percent of the transportation fund goes to debt payments, Berry noted.
“It’s pretty much to the boiling point,” he said of the state’s transportation funding situation.
And Berry said that road conditions declining in rural areas were a factor in the Nov. 8 election. He viewed President-elect Donald Trump’s margin of victory among voters in several counties not necessarily as support for Republicans, but a message to the entrenched leaders in Madison and Washington, D.C., to pay attention to economic woes in rural areas.
“I would argue that what’s going on is sort of the wilderness crying out,” he said.
Berry mentioned Buffalo and Trempealeau counties as an example. Voters there ousted incumbent state Rep. Chris Danou, a Democrat, to make Mondovi Mayor Treig Pronschinske, a Republican, the new District 92 Assembly representative.
When reached by phone, Pronschinske agreed with Berry’s assessment that rural voters swung the way they did because they felt their voices hadn’t been heard by incumbent state politicians. And the representative-elect noted that much of his campaign was about fixing roads, which had taken a pummeling in recent years from a few major floods.
“I’m all about lower taxes, but you still have to provide good infrastructure so we can be prosperous,” he said.
And though many of his Republican colleagues oppose raising the gas tax, Pronschinske said he’d entertain hearings on it as long as the additional revenue goes only to fixing roads.
In addition to aging roads, Berry said other pressures faced especially by rural Wisconsin areas are stagnant population growth and declining school enrollments. Pronschinske said those also are indeed issues for the 92nd District.
State agencies made their budget requests in September, and Walker is required to deliver his version of the 2017-19 budget by late January.
The state Legislature has until July 1 to get the biennial budget to the governor for his signature.