Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ex-DOT Secretary says Walker avoiding reality on funding and fixing roads

Today’s Capital Times has a long article by Katelyn Ferral that discuss Wisconsin’s transportation funding situation, and includes an in-depth interview with former DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

Gottlieb was a former member of the Assembly that served as DOT Secretary from the start of Walker’s tenure in 2011 until he was forced out resigned in late December 2016. That end came after Gottlieb continued to answer questions candidly regarding the state’s deteriorating highways.

Gottlieb was echoing findings from Wisconsin’s Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, which took over a year to study the state’s entire transportation infrastructure and service needs, and released a report titled “Keep Wisconsin Moving” in January 2013.

Gottlieb says that when the Wisconsin DOT asked Walker to back up the report the findings with actual cash, it didn’t happen.
The commission, championed by Walker and created through legislation signed by him, had 10 members, eight Republicans and two Democrats. Members confirmed its findings unanimously.

In his agency’s subsequent budget request, Gottlieb, a Republican appointed by Walker, asked for money to respond to the commission’s findings.

“It was well understood at that time by the governor and other people in the governor’s office that that’s what we were going to do, that we were going to propose a budget that we felt addressed these issues. That’s what I thought we had been asked to do,” Gottlieb said. “It took the governor less than 48 hours to reject that budget.”
And why did Walker reject the need to add more funding for roads for 2014-15? Because Scotty was planning to run for president in 2016, and kissing up to anti-tax DC BubbleWorlders like Grover Norquist was more important to him than a minor responsibility like FIXING HIS STATE’S ROADS.

In each of the last two budgets, the Governor’s office and the WisGOP-controlled Legislature have talked about how they want to add more money for highways and local roads. But they have failed to come up with the extra money via taxes and fees to do so, leading to a total of $1.2 billion in borrowing and more delays on already-overdue highway projects.

As Ferral points out, even with this increase in borrowing, the amount used for highways is less than we were using before Walker took office.
Much of Walker’s “actual” dollars were borrowed dollars, according to LFB figures. And although local road aids have increased, they have come at the expense of total highway spending, which, according to LFB figures, is the lowest it has been in 10 years.

Total highway funding has been on a steady decline during Walker’s tenure, from $3.11 billion in the 2013-15 budget to $2.79 billion in 2015-17 to $2.54 billion in 2017-19, according LFB reports. Money allocated for the highway improvement program is down 8.8 percent from the last two-year budget, according to the LFB…

“Don't they claim to have cut taxes by billions of dollars? Taxes have been cut but there has been no corresponding increase in transportation revenue,” Gottlieb said. “This administration has prioritized not raising fuel taxes over maintaining the transportation system, and they need to accept the consequences of that decision.”

This map shows some of those consequences

As the instructions for Walker’s 2017-19 budget were developed, the Governor’s Office told the DOT that spending should be limited, particularly when it came to the Zoo Interchange and other heavily-traveled areas in Southeastern Wisconsin. Gottlieb said that was the last straw, because it wasn’t realistic.
“They wanted the department to submit a budget that pretended if we just went along like we were going along, everything would be fine," he said. “That is not the budget I would have submitted based upon my judgement of what was needed.”

Prescribing a specific cabinet agency’s budget request is atypical, Gottlieb and others familiar with the process say. It’s a move Gottlieb said shows how the DOT, once a relatively apolitical agency, has become increasingly politicized under Walker.

“We got to a place where the facts were being ignored in favor of political spin,” Gottlieb said.
Anyone who’s followed Scott Walker’s career knows that place is the only one he’s ever been in, where poses and politics matter more than policy and results. And that non-strategy of avoiding honest solutions continues in the instructions Walker released yesterday for the deficit-ridden 2019-21 budget.

Walker tells most agencies to assume no inflation for the next two years (when the Congressional Budget Office says inflation will get higher due to increased deficits coming out of DC), and spreads that order to the DOT, ruling out gas taxes or fee increases to pay for the roads.
• The zero-growth policy will also apply to the SEG-funded administrative operations appropriations in all agencies that are supported by the transportation fund, the conservation fund, the environmental fund and the lottery fund.

• Funding requests for other types of appropriations and other funding sources in both years should be limited to revenue availability and only the highest priority programmatic needs.

In 2017-19's budget, the funding for regular state highway repair was $225 million below what the Finance and Policy Commission said was needed, and $273 million below what the Commission said was needed for freeways outside of Milwaukee. That's on top of the shortfalls that we saw in 2015 and before then.

Also note that some projects got moved up the pike under Walker’s “leadership,” moving others even further back. Scotty had no problem with throwing $386 million to the Foxconn-sin region to upgrade those roads ($252 million for I-94 and having his DOT send $134 million to upgrade the two-lane roads in the region). But Walker wouldn’t enumerate an expansion of I-94 to 3 lanes in the fast-growing Twin Cities exurbs last year, despite the fact that the St. Croix County project wouldn’t have to be paid for until the next budget at the earliest.

Given the higher inflation and the $500 million in the hole on highways that we’re already in due to the needs that have been put off in previous years, a "0% increase" DOT budget means there we are guaranteed to see even more potholes, delays and borrowing for the next two years if the voters of this state are stupid enough to return Walker to office after November 2018.

Instead, maybe we should have a governor who recognizes that it costs money to fix the roads and have a 21st Century infrastructure, actually PAYS THOSE BILLS instead of putting it on the state’s credit card, and realizes that the full state needs to be invested in, not just the Foxconn-sin region. None of these things will happen under a 3rd term of Scott Walker, and the "politics over everything else" mentality behind of Walker's inaction have already set this state back plenty. We can't afford to lose even more.


  1. It's just sad. Union construction jobs used to pay enough to support a family and so contributed so much to our economy. Wisconsin has a lot of roads because the milk from family farms had to get to processors. I get that there are fewer farms but the roads are still used and are still a draw for bikers and tourists. Keeping them up is just basic to keeping our economy in rural areas afloat.

    1. And it's not just defunding the roads from a state level, it's also not allowing the local communities to make up the difference through higher local sales taxes (so tourists pay for the roads they use) or even through local property taxes, if they so choose.

      These were policy choices that were made by Walker and WisGOP, and people should vote accordingly.