Monday, June 13, 2016

Even WisGOPs say Walker is nuts not to fund the roads

The fallout continues from Governor Walker ordering the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to not request tax or fee increases for the 2017-19 budget. This is despite a severe backlog of road projects and increasing amounts of debt that has resulted from similar can-kicking in recent years, and what’s remarkable is that criticism of Walker's stance isn’t just coming from Democrats and others who generally oppose Walker, but from Walker’s own Republican Party.

When obnoxious right-wingers like George Mitchell write articles openly disagreeing with Walker on the Right Wisconsin site, you know the gig is up. In his article, Mitchell quotes Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb admitting that the majority of state highways will worsen under the budget demands Governor Scott Walker put onto him.
"That non-backbone system, which is about 90 percent of the state highway system, is going to continue to deteriorate in condition,” [Gottlieb said].

Got that? Ninety percent of the state’s roads comprise the “non-backbone system.”…

The Governor’s directive to Gottlieb presumably means that Walker intends to include no gas tax or vehicle fee increase in his budget. This would be one piece of a 2018 campaign strategy buttressed by reductions in property taxes and state general fund taxes.

Gottlieb’s public recognition that there are clear consequences to not increasing revenue is commendable. As I wrote here several weeks ago in advocating a gas tax hike, those who reject that idea need to be accountable for the result. In simple terms, they need to own a “deteriorating, non-backbone” system of roads.
More criticism of Walker’s pose came over the weekend from Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who revealed a large deficit in the state’s Transportation Fund, and admitted Walker’s pose isn’t sustainable.
Appearing Sunday on "UpFront with Mike Gousha," Steineke said the fund has a more than $600 million shortfall and the Department of Transportation is having to look at delaying projects and maintenance....

Steineke said he respects the governor's position, but an offset is "unrealistic" given other budget pressures.

"I think we're letting our rigid ideology get in the way of reality," Steineke said.

He said local units of government are already imposing wheel taxes or considering referendums to raise money for roads and the state is "not doing its part in leading to a solution on this issue."
If the Bradley Foundation's print communications wing at Right Wisconsin is giving a dissenting voice to Governor Walker on road funding, and if the Number 2 Republican in the Assembly says Scotty is being “unrealistic” in not asking for new fees or taxes, you know the state GOP’s polling has to be horrendous on this issue. And rightfully so, as people notice the bumpy roads they are driving on, many are paying added wheel taxes and vehicle repair costs, and they are asking why this situation is allowed to continue.

Isthmus’s Alan Talaga had an interesting theory as to why Walker is keeping with his losing strategy when it comes to (not) funding transportation. Talaga thinks Walker is making this no-tax, no-fee pledge to curry favor with right-wing oligarchs on the national stage rather than do his taxpayer-funded job back home. And that’s because Talaga thinks Scotty’s next election campaign won’t be in Wisconsin in 2018.
To keep this pledge, we’re putting off relatively cheap road maintenance now that could lead to much more expensive repairs later. It’s as if, because of a pledge not to change the oil in his SUV for 15,000 miles, Walker were to drive it until the engine breaks down rather than get a $30 oil change.

Alternatively, to get road repairs now, he’s busted out the metaphorical credit card. Walker wanted to borrow over a billion dollars for road repairs. The Legislature lowered that to a still-ridiculous $850 million. Walker runs our transportation programs the same way he ran his still-in-debt presidential campaign.

Speaking of presidential campaigns, with these tactics it doesn’t look like Walker is thinking about the gubernatorial campaign in 2018. It looks like he’s thinking about 2020. Walker wants to stick to these anti-tax pledges should he make another attempt at the presidency. I guess he doesn’t have much faith in Donald Trump winning in November.

Once again, Wisconsinites are hurting so Walker can build up his resume for Iowa.
Now combine that thought with last week’s conjecture being floated out about how Walker could be a possible replacement for Trump as the GOP nominee (and who floated it? The Bradley Boys? The Kochs? Walker himself?) It sure seems like Scotty has one foot out of the Executive Mansion, and doesn’t care what he leaves behind in Wisconsin.

It also might explain why GOP legislators and other Wisconsin right-wingers are being increasingly vocal in opposing Walker’s plans to continue to underfund the state’s transportation needs. That crew needs WisGOP to stay in power at the Capitol to keep the ALEC agenda movin along, and they know the anger of a state electorate that has been let down by 5 years of failed policies in Walker World is rising. They have to at least appear to question Walker in public, because they don’t want to be seen as accomplices in this failure, even though most of them did vote for the bad legislation that is now harming the state’s infrastructure and economic competitiveness.

And it’s not like there are funds coming over from the General Fund to help the roads. In fact, any additional money that gets transferred on top of the $77 million that’s already getting sent over in this budget will add to our structural deficit in the next one- and that won’t be a small number given the debt deferments and other one-time tricks the Walker Administration and his WisGOP allies have signed off on to make the numbers add up in previous years.

EDIT: John Peterson at Democurmudgeon has more on this road funding issue.

Let’s see if this week’s Marquette Poll bears out what other WisGOPs are signaling with their recent statements- that Scott Walker is as unpopular as ever in the state, and voters aren’t buying into his no-tax, no-fee pose on road funding. And let’s see if Talaga’s theory holds as well- that Walker doesn’t care much about that reality because he’s not going to be running for governor again.


  1. Business interests are becoming more vocal about this. Businesses don't want to deal with shipments being delayed due to bad roads, or increased repairs on their trucks. The ripple effects are being felt all over Wisconsin, finally.

    1. Funny how they didn't speak up when Walker was cutting our economic competitiveness by defunding education and passing regressive social legislation.

      But failing to fix and improve the roads, and not allow the businesses (who are paying next to no taxes) to benefit from the public investment? That's just too much.

      Very good point, and something to keep an eye on as we go forward.