Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Roads and state buildings keep crumbling in Fitwalkerstan

Today's big story at the Capitol was a hearing that followed up on the brutal audit released last month by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Scott Bauer of the Associated Press will remind you of what that audit showed, as well as what might be done to try to fix the problems.
The audit found that 19 major highway projects completed in the past decade cost a total of $1.5 billion — twice as much as the $772 million original price tag. It also said the cost of 16 ongoing major highway projects more than doubled to a total of $5.8 billion — increasing by a staggering $3.1 billion — from the time they were approved through August 2016.

Failing to account for inflation was a major driver of the cost overruns, but the audit recommended a number of other cost-saving steps.

The Audit Committee's bill would require DOT to account for inflation in its original cost estimates, report on changes annually to the Legislature, explain any changes, give an update on when the project is expected to be completed and offer an opinion on whether the work will be done on time under the original budget....

The audit found that Wisconsin's roads have consistently deteriorated over the past five years and are in "considerably" worse shape than roads in six other Midwestern states. The proportion of state highways in good condition decreased from 53.5 percent in 2010 to 41.0 percent in 2015, the audit said.
New DOT Secretary Dave Ross and the Republicans on the Audit Committee indicated that they hoped to find new ways to make the DOT more "performance-based", and possibly save money through that and other methods (like wage suppression).

But doesn't the fact that these highway projects are running well over budget, as well as the fact that roads are falling apart in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, indicate that more investment is needed, or at least getting more local projects done as opposed to shelling out big money for a few choice developments? And State Senator Kathleen Vinehout pointed out that maybe it's better to have the Legislature use some of its power to demand information, and use their power of the purse to say "Yea or Nay" to any major changes and additions to these projects.

While the Audit Committee was discussing one type of construction today, Gov Walker released his plans for another type of construction- one that deals with the state's buildings and facilities. That was shown as part of Governor Walker's Capital Budget, which was released today and will be voted on by the State Building Commission next month.

The Capital Budget gives information not only on the projects Governor Walker wants to see funded, but the ones that state agencies requested and didn't have Walker sign off on. Here are the topline figures. The state media makes the $803 million in projected Capital costs for the 2017-19 seem like a lot, but it would be the smallest amount of total building costs of Walker's 4 budgets (although the amount of new borrowing does go up from $101.2 million to $449.9 million). In fact, the last 2 Walker budgets have been significantly lower for spending on buildings and upkeep.

Total Capital Budget expenses
2011-13 $967.0 million
2013-15 $1,454.8 million
2015-17 $848.7 million
2017-19 (proposed) $803.5 million

And one area in particular that is losing Capital funding is the University of Wisconsin System. The UW System asked for nearly $635 million in specific capital improvements across all of its campuses and offices, and Walker's office only signed off on $128 million of those requests, including ZERO going to UW-Madison.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz from Oshkosh (another UW campus shut out by the Governor) noticed the horrid double-whammy of lower spending along with higher debt for both the state's roads, and had an apt picture to go along with his press release- a falling house of cards.
Governor Walker’s inability to effectively govern on transportation infrastructure funding is now causing problems for the state’s crumbling building infrastructure. For the fourth straight budget, Governor Walker has failed to address Wisconsin’s transportation funding crisis, choosing to instead rely on increased borrowing and delaying scheduled highway projects, despite the state’s sorry status of having the third worst roads in the country. Under Governor Walker, debt service as a percent of transportation revenue has nearly doubled, and Wisconsin now spends over 20 cents of every dollar of transportation revenues paying debt.

As a result of the increased debt issued to fund transportation, Governor Walker has decimated the state’s building infrastructure programs for the UW System and other state agencies. In October, 2016, the UW Board of Regents indicated that the backlog of needed repairs in the University of Wisconsin System has grown to an estimated cost of $2 billion. Governor Walker’s 2017-19 Capital Budget proposal funds just more than 50 percent (53.5%) of the level in the 2009-11 budget.

“Nothing says 21st century economy like 1970s university facilities. Governor Walker is intentionally holding up capital projects as a way to cover up his increased borrowing for roads. Our state – whether it be our roads or state buildings or universities – is literally falling apart,” said Rep. Hintz, “Meanwhile, as projects and repairs are ignored, the costs to maintain our infrastructure is steadily increasing. What family or business makes decisions like that?”
I know who makes decisions like that, Gordon.Someone who doesn't care what happens to the state after he's out of power, and someone who wants someone else to clean up the messes he has caused. And everyone in Milwaukee County is nodding their heads- they've seen these borrow-and-defer tricks from Scotty before.

No, this Walker gimmickry and "governance" ain't working.

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