The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) has received $66.4 million in redistribution funds from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The redistribution dollars announced today by FHWA represent federal transportation improvement funds that were allocated, but not used by other state DOTs. The funds are not tied to any specific project and will greatly assist the Department in it’s efforts to improve the safety and quality of the roadways in Wisconsin.Sounds pretty good, as getting these redistribution dollars means Wisconsin doesn't have to use as many state dollars to pay for their many highway needs. But let's also remember that this is far less than what Governor Scott Walker was looking for when his administration sent in that request 2 months ago. Remember this memo?
Based on FHWA records, the $66.4 million is the highest amount ever received by Wisconsin. The previous highest amount received by WisDOT was $39, 472,925 received back in Federal FY 2014. “We could not be more pleased with this historic amount of funding that is being received,” stated WisDOT Secretary Dave Ross. “ I would like to thank the people at FHWA and the hard work that the team here at WisDOT have put in working together to arrive at this record level of funding.”
In an analysis provided to this office, DOT officials indicate that the Department may submit a larger-than-typical request for redistribution funds, totalling $341 million, which they indicate could result in a larger amount of redistribution aid received by the state than in past years. If this amount were obtainable, a delay in the passage of the budget would likely limit the state's ability to obligate sufficient state funds to match this federal amount. However, any expectation of a significant increase to the state's share of this federal redistribution funding should be tempered by the following considerations: (a) in past years, regardless of the size of the state's redistribution request, the amount of aid received has been similar to the state's obligation authority as a percentage of the national total (on average, slightly less than 2% of the national total); and (b) the Department's potential $341 million request may include $211 million of project work related to the southeast Wisconsin freeway megaprojects, which would require a minimum state match of $52.8 million. This match would require $41.3 million more in state funding than is included under the Governor's 2017-18 recommendations for this program.
So we got less than 20% of what we requested, even with Paul Ryan and Scott Walker likely trying to kiss up to Donald Trump with the Foxconn deal. And yes, those two items could well be related, as added federal highway funding is a part of the Fox-con bill, as noted in this segment of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's analysis.
The bill would authorize $252,400,000 in general fund-supported, general obligation bonds, which may be used for the I-94 North-South corridor project in the southeast Wisconsin freeway megaprojects program. The bill would create a general fund-supported, sum sufficient appropriation that would be used to pay any debt service associated with the issuance of these bonds and specify that the Department of Transportation (DOT) would not be able to expend the proceeds from the bonds authorized under this provision unless the state receives an award of federal moneys for the I-94 North-South corridor project. The bill would require DOT to receive Joint Committee on Finance approval in order to expend the proceeds of the $252.4 million in bonds. In order to receive this approval, DOT would be required to submit a plan for the expenditure of the bond proceeds to the Committee. No later than 14 days after receiving such a plan, the Committee would be required to meet to approve or modify and approve the plan.But the fact that the federal redistribution money is only $66.4 million means that state taxpayers would have to come up with the rest to pay for work on I-94 near the Foxconn site (wherever that may be). So this is a double loss, as there aren't enough Fed dollars to lower borrowing or do more projects on the already bare-bones DOT highway budget, and now the General Fund will face even more strain due to having to pay for more on I-94 for the Fox-con.
Although the administration indicates that these bonds would be used as the state match for a potential federal "FASTLANE" ("INFRA") grant that would fund remaining work on the I-94 North-South corridor project, as drafted, any award of federal moneys for this project, in the 2017-19 biennium or beyond, could provide DOT with the authority to use these bond proceeds. For instance, if the state did not receive a "FASTLANE" grant, but instead received some amount of federal redistribution aid for this project, it is possible that the receipt of the additional aid could be interpreted as satisfying the criteria required to expend the bond proceeds.
I suppose it's good that we know this before the Joint Finance Committee meets on the DOT budget the day after Labor Day. But we'd better not hear the GOPs on Joint Finance try to indicate that these new federal funds put any kind of a meaningful dent in the $1 billion of unmet needs that exist in the Transportation Fund. We'll see how much gets added in from the state side and how much more debt we have to take on, and the fact that it will likely be jammed through in a massive, multi-part omnibus should make all of us concerned that the GOP leggies will choose gimmicks and one-time stunts over real solutions.