Friday, March 3, 2017

WisGOPs keep flailing on DOT as "tidal wave" of potholes set to appear

As the debate on the state budget approaches, it's becoming obvious that Wisconsin's transportation funding crunch is getting worse, not better. This week, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Patrick Marley had an article revealing that DOT officials told new DOT Secretary Dave Ross that delaying highway projects would make an already-bad situation much worse.
“The tidal wave is coming, as this critical work can’t be delayed forever,” the January memo says...

Based on earlier budget projections, the memo determined taxpayers would spend $200 million over the next 10 years on temporary repairs because the state is putting off rebuilding highways in southeastern Wisconsin.

After that, taxpayers would have to spend $125 million each year to maintain deteriorating roadways in southeastern Wisconsin — for the next 30 years, according to the memo.

Under [Governor Scott] Walker’s budget, the effects would not be as severe because he proposed spending $669 million on major projects over the next two years — compared with $563 million the DOT recommended.

Even so, the memo makes clear the state would face added costs for temporary repairs to keep roads and bridges functioning before they could be rebuilt.
And given the $3.1 billion in project overruns that the Legislative Audit Bureau uncovered, that extra $106 million that Walker is kicking in (and $480 million in added borrowing) may not result in more work being done that what the DOT recommended anyway.

Walker responded to that report later this week by saying that even more projects could be delayed or their scopes diminished to keep down costs. That didn't seem to go over well with Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald, as Fitz came out today recommending that general tax dollars be sent to the Transportation Fund.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) told reporters Friday he remains skeptical of raising the gas tax, but said he is interested in transferring money from the state's main account to increase road funding.

The idea would put more money toward roads while avoiding a fight over the gas tax that has already divided Republicans who control state government. But transportation advocates and some Assembly Republicans say they believe the best way to keep highway funding stable is to provide it with a dedicated funding source.

The state's general fund is made up of collections from income taxes and sales taxes and is used to fund a host of programs, including schools and health care. The transportation fund consists primarily of collections from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Using general fund money for roads would mean lawmakers would likely have to reduce increases for other programs that have been proposed by Gov. Scott Walker. Fitzgerald said he wanted to learn more about spending at University of Wisconsin schools, particularly after a lawsuit was filed over how UW-Oshkosh funded building projects.
Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Fitz grumbling about a UW-Oshkosh controversy that was due to the misuse of funds in a WEDC-style public-private partnership with the UW_Oshkosh Foundation, Fitz has another problem with targeting General Fund money. There's no cash lying around to transfer.

Let me remind you of what Governor Walker's budget looks like, complete with rosy projections of revenue growth that seem less likely by the day.

Wisconsin 2017-19 General Fund balance
2016-17 projected closing balance +$453.0 million
2017-18 closing balance +$297.8 million
2018-19 closing balance +$81.7 million
Required Reserves $75.0 million
Total money to play with $6.7 million

In addition, Fitzgerald apparently also said today that the Legislature can still add Walker's proposed $649 million boost to K-12 schools. So where could the hundreds of millions of dollars come from? It's not like there are a lot of spending increases proposed for other parts of the budget, so the best ways to come up with the cash seem to be getting rid of the $267 million in unfunded property tax relief that is part of in this budget, and booting Walker's absurd $3-a-paycheck income tax cut that is projected to cost $200 million.

But even if that were to happen, and that extra money would be sent to the Transportation Fund, that still leaves no room to spare if the rosy revenue scenario doesn't pan out. And we're not even mentioning this wild card from DC that would majorly screw the state budget.

Even thought the state didn't expand Medicaid, they certainly are taking advantage of federal Medicaid funding for children, the elderly and the disabled (PWDS= "people with disabilities"). So the state would have to make up that difference, or a whole lot of vulnerable Wisconsinites are going to be facing extra financial hardship. Neither choice is going to help the state's bottom line, or improve our state's economy, and good luck facing an already-angry electorate with that record in 2018.

So Republicans in the Capitol are realizing that the "hope and a prayer" mentality on transportation isn't going to be acceptable to Wisconsin voters who are seeing roads go back to gravel in increasing numbers of places. But it's also pretty obvious that they have no realistic solution to the problem of neglect and deteriorating roads that can satisfy "no-tax" Bubble-World puppetmasters like Grover Norquist and the Kochs, while also avoiding potholes on the state's highways.

No comments:

Post a Comment