This ongoing discussion of highway funding in Wisconsin continued today, with Governor Scott Walker telling his buddies at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce why he wanted more money to go towards roads. Walker gave his blessing to DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb to ask for the extra borrowing in a letter sent yesterday to the GOP co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee.
The request will ask for $200 million of the $350 million in General Fund borrowing that was set aside for JFC approval in the 2015-17 State Budget, with $125 million going to major highway development, and $75 million going to state highway maintenance. In the letter, Gottlieb argues that investing these funds saves higher costs later on, and keeps the state’s infrastructure development on track.
….Approving the additional bonding early in [State] FY 16 will:Gottlieb goes on to say that the remaining $150 million in contingent borrowing will be requested from JFC at a later point, which would reduce delays on large road projects in Northeast and South Central Wisconsin from 2 years down to 1 year.
· Reduce the declining condition of state highways. An investment in infrastructure now will prevent more costly repairs later.
· Maintain a more consistent highway program. Avoiding large fluctuations in funding supports a state transportation industry and promotes more competitive pricing.
But Walker’s and WisDOT’s plans met opposition on this idea from one of the people that received Sec. Gottlieb’s request.
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), the co-chairwoman of the Joint Finance Committee, said Senate Republicans would be unlikely to support the Walker administration's request. That's because the governor has cut bonding in other areas but hasn't been willing to address the persistent funding gaps in the state's road fund that are driving up borrowing in that area, she said.But there’s a simple answer to help Bertie Dahh-ling avoid extra borrowing and allow Scott Walker to keep his Road Builder supporters happy, and it won't even involve raising taxes or fees. Just use the money that’s already there.
"We're in a very tight box, and the governor has put us in this box," Darling said.
I alluded to this last week, and if you look at the Appendix of the recently-released Annual Fiscal Report for the state of Wisconsin, you’ll see the Transportation Fund’s balance sheet on Pages 4 and 5. Then compare those numbers to the projections in the State Budget for 2015-17.
Wisconsin Transportation Fund
Projected starting balance, 2015-17 $63.8 million
Actual ending balance FY 2014-15 $203.8 million
Amount above 2015-17 budget projection $140.0 million
So my question is simple. Why can’t we use that extra $140 million as cash to pay for projects, which means some of these delays on projects can be removed, and we’re not borrowing from the General Fund to do it? This seems like an win-win all around, buys some time for next year to see if things improve further, and wouldn’t put the Transportation Fund in a further hole for the 2017-19 budget (since the ending balance is the same as projected).
All it would take is a bill approved by the Joint Finance Committee and the State Legislature to do so. And with 2016 elections looming, you’d think this would be the type of “getting things done without kicking the can down the road” action that would be approved of on both sides of the aisle.
Is this just too easy, or am I missing something here?