I see that DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb was interviewed by Mike Gousha over the weekend, discussing the meetings the DOT is holding around the state to discuss transportation needs and funding for the future. I've mentioned that the $1 billion Transportation Fund deficit is a huge lurking issue that hasn't been talked a lot about in this election cycle so far, and I credit Gottlieb with doing the interview and raising awareness of it. It's also worth noting in the story that the Secretary mentions added General Fund money as an option for finding more Transportation funding.
The problem with grabbing more General Fund dollars is 1. We already have a $650 million General Fund deficit for the next budget, so any additional money being sent over drives up the deficit further and 2. This assumes General Fund dollars will be there to be taken. With two rounds if tax cuts kicking in and a decent possibility of another recession and/or stock market drop in the next 3 years, revenues already look to be very limited.
In addition, the 9 inches of snow forecast up North this week remind us yet again of the larger-than normal costs that state and local governments have had to take on from this winter. The tab from this has yet to be made. apparent, but it could limit any carryover or cushion that might have existed. So barring the release of federal disaster funds to help pay for the high costs of this long winter, there are going to be higher-than expected expenses beyond any new construction projects and highway expansions.
So with that in mind, is it possible that RTAs, wheel taxes or some other locally-based tax is the solution to this issue of underfunded roads and transit? This would be a very Walker-like move, shoving off the extra borrowing and needed costs onto the local communities, and not having to raise gas taxes or other state fees as a result.
Regardless, this is becoming a very big issue outside of the political world, and as we spend this Spring dodging potholes and construction barrels, many will be asking "Can we get these things fixed, and can we afford to?" We should start looking at the numbers, looking at the options, and seeing how we can. Before our revenues are so constrained that we can't.