Saturday, February 16, 2013

Walker's ALEC-fueled transportation budget

It was remarkable to see how yesterday's rollout of Gov. Walker's 2-year DOT budget went as the day progressed. Early on, the story was about the initiatives itself- extra money for the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee, and also plans to work on the Hoan Bridge and freight railroads. The concentration was on the $6.4 billion price tag over 2 years, and it seemed to be a relatively typical Walker puff piece where he took credit for things that were already asked for.

And then a little segment showed up way down in the original story.
Presenting the broad outlines of his roads plan, Walker said he will not recommend raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees - ideas advocated by a commission he and legislators set up two years ago. Walker made the announcement at the headquarters of the 9,000-member International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 in Pewaukee.

Walker said state property could be sold and the proceeds used to pay off an undisclosed amount of highway bonds. Asked if he envisioned selling the state plants as a means of raising more money to repay bonds, Walker replied, "Could be."
And amazingly, the Journal-Sentinel used that quote and did some real journalism to follow up on it. Within hours, we found out that Walker wants to repeat the selloff of state power plants similar to the 2011 scheme, where he tried to give our state assets to his buddies at Koch Industries. In 2011, the plan was to have it be a no-bid, negotiated deal, but that was too much, even for GOP Senators like Rob Cowles and Mike Ellis, so it went under. By the end of the day, it reminded me of that Friday 2 years ago when Walker "dropped the bomb" and as I kept reading the bill and learning more about what was in it, I was constantly like "What the hell is this? What the hell is that?"

In 2013, the Koch selloff part of the bill will allegedly allow for bids on the plants (just ask Skyward and service providers bidding against Logisticare how well THAT'S going under this DOA) But I sure want to take a look at the full budget when it's released next week to see just how much Walker is counting on getting from these sales, and what shell game results from it.

And even projects such as the Hoan and the Harbor Assistance Program and the Freight Railroad work are nothing more than OKing what projects that DOT said they needed to get done. In fact, the Freight and Harbor Assistance approvals seem to be lower than what they asked for- with Walker yanking out any costs associated with tax revenue and deciding to borrow for the whole thing.

Because it's not like Walker is adding a lot of cushion for projects in this budget, if you look at the DOT's budget request. Walker's announcement does raise the request by another $500 million, but since he's claiming he won't raise gas taxes or other forms of income, it makes you wonder where the funding will come from.

So if Walker doesn't want more taxes for this and federal funding from above is declining (and the budget request says it will by $50 million...before any sequester), how do we pay for these $500 million in extra expenses? This is where the ALEC-style selloff of state assets plays in. And it might not just be power plants. Check out this item, buried deep inside the DOT budget request.
Request a statutory modification to create a program revenue appropriation for the receipt and expenditure of revenue from private or governmental sponsorship and partnership agreements and to give the Department explicit authority to execute such agreements, subject to limitations of federal and state law. Under such agreements, the Department would receive revenue from a sponsor in exchange for recognition of the sponsor through signage on a state highway or roadside facility (such as park-and-ride lots and rest areas) or the placement of the sponsor's logo on a Department product, equipment, or website. Revenues could be expended for maintenance of roadside facilities or for state highway maintenance and traffic operations.
Hey cool, it's the Diane Hendricks/ ABC Supply interchange in Beloit, and the Charlie Sykes Park n' Ride lot in Ozaukee County! And you thought the movie "Idiocracy" was a satire.

Debt and a rosy revenue scenario from ALEC-style selloffs of assets seem to be the main methods of paying for things if you look at this Transportation budget, which will kill it for the future. The budget request already includes $48 million more for debt service in the next 2 years (item 6 in the budget request). Not a good sign when you realize projects already are running behind schedule, and according to the state's Transportation Finance and Policy Commission the state has to invest another $680 million a year for the next decade just to keep up with needs. And with local governments constrained with tax levy limits and shared-revenue cuts, they can't make up the difference to keep on fixing the streets.

But corporate front men like Walker never care about the future, they just want to make their numbers for the short-term. Once the profits are used up, they get to "parachute out a rich man" as Gordon Gekko would say, and we get left having to clean up whatever's left of it. There's even damage in this DOT budget to the General Fund Budget, as noted in the Journal-Sentinel article
Walker wants to fund mass transit with money from the state's main account instead of its separate transportation fund, as has happened for years. Walker tried that in 2011, but failed to get the proposal passed. Transit advocates say keeping their funding in the transportation account provides them more protection in the long term.

In all, Walker wants to use $129 million from the general fund for transportation, the vast majority of it - $106 million - for transit.
This has the double-whammy of making transit have to fight out schools and prisons and Medicaid and related services for funding, leading to inevitable cuts from the state side, and also raising costs to the general fund by $212 million for the next 2 years. We already know that Walker's 2013-2015 budget is in deficit, perhaps by as much as $332 million, so this now means $544 million has to be cut from budget requests that already aren't meeting all needs.

So within 24 hours, what Governor Walker expected to be a good press event designed to show hs "moderate" credentials has collapsed, and exposed him as even more corrupt and fiscally reckless than we already knew him to be (and those of you in Milwaukee sure know it). Makes me wonder what we'll see when whole budget get released, because between the Medicaid and Transportation disasters of this week, we know it's already an unsustainable, deficit-ridden budget that'll leave us further in the hole and economically behind much of the rest of the nation. How many other departments are getting their services and budgets destroyed over the next 2 years?

I just hope there's something left for this state's finances to redeem when the new person takes over in 2 years. Then again, FUBARing services, funneling taxpayer dollars to campaign contributors and eventually forcing those services to be sold them off to campaign contributors is right out of the ALEC playbook, so why would we NOT be surprised to see a pile of debt-ridden junk in the Transportation budget?

No comments:

Post a Comment