Monday, January 27, 2014

Plow and fix the roads before cutting taxes

As we get sucked into another polar vortex, it's natural to look into how this severe cold is affecting our services, especially our roads and the ability to get from place to place.

1. Among the many items this snowy and cold winter is causing is salt shortages. Just in the last week, we had media stories from Dane County communities, or the Town of Waukesha, and Stevens Point, where the City's supplies and snow-plow budget were almost gone before this recent extra blast.
[Stevens Point Public Works Director Scott] Schatschneider’s manpower budget, which has a total of $38,390 set aside for overtime, also is taking a beating. Road crews in December worked a combined 900 hours of overtime at a cost of $27,350. In the first two weeks of January, the same crews worked 172 hours of overtime at a cost of $5,540. He said all of the snow removal needs have taken away from other jobs that would typically get done in preparation for spring, such as sign maintenance, painting and preventative maintenance throughout the city.

“If we’re constantly plowing snow or picking up snow, we only have X amount of folks, so there’s other things that don’t get done, whatever that may be,” he said. “If that’s all you’re doing, it’s all your doing. It becomes so intense and so inclusive that it’s constantly on your brain.”

In the village of Plover, the public works road crew of 10 also has plowed and maintained streets around the clock this winter. Plover Administrator Dan Mahoney said his crew is as worn down as the city [of Stevens Point]’s.
Services like snow and ice removal and the filling of the potholes that will inevitably result are mostly locally funded, and having to pay above the budgeted amount would likely have to take away from other services in the rest of 2014.

2. There are ways that our state helps to pay for these bills, both through shared revenues (which have been limited in the age of Fitzwalkerstan), and through specific aids for transportation-related duties. As Page 29 of this LFB report shows, the most recent state budget added $2.5 million for maintenance on "state highway maintenance and traffic operations" for 2013-'14, and $50 million for 2014-'15.

With this in mind, one way you could deal with the upcoming issues in road repairs in 2014 is to add $25 million of these added funds to this year, and keep the (now higher) 2013-'14 funding level at that same level in 2014-'15. Not only would this move provide needed relief for this year, but it would lower the $1 billion structural deficit for the next budget in the Transportation Fund, since the next budget would start off $25 million lower.

3. And this isn't the only area that we could move funds around to take care of our increased transportation needs. For example, we could use move some of the projected $1 billion surplus in the General Fund to the Transportation Fund, and accelerate some of our projects for the next 18 months, such as the Zoo Interchange. This would lessen the expenses needed to pay for this construction in future budgets, and/or could be used to reduce the $900+ million in borrowing for highways projects that this budget has, by paying in cash instead.

Taking care of these road needs would seem to be a much better strategy than Walker's proposed tax cuts, which the Wisconsin Budget Project says will disproportionately benefit the rich. Instead, using the one-time General Fund surplus to take care of road maintenance would give more stability to local government finances and taxes, reduce the amount of debt that has to be paid off in later years, and would be more likely to lower unemployment by putting people to work right away on these accelerated projects.

But that would be a responsible, long-term strategy that won't lead to budget crises and selling off of services to corporations. So of course, this administration isn't going for it.

1 comment:

  1. There answer is privatize the schools: