Thursday, October 8, 2015

Wisconsin road deficits causing GOP dysfunction

Anyone else sensing this transportation issue is really hampering the Republicans? How else do you explain Gov Walker and the rest of the GOP crew at the Capitol constantly trying to talk their way out of the mess they caused with their "split the baby" solution in the state budget, which had the remarkable double-whammy of increased borrowing AND cuts in road spending?

Today's developments featured Walker claiming in the morning that he could find $150 million in savings from the Zoo Interchange project (naturally, Walker didn't have any document which showed where these savings were derived from), but then he later dropped that savings estimate to $50 million in interviews later in the day. What that means is that Walker is now saying he plans to ask the Joint Finance Committee for $300 million of the $350 million in contingent borrowing to remove delays from several non-Milwaukee highway projects, but there's no guarantee that the JFC will take up that request any time soon, and that is leading to serious conflict within the GOP caucus. Check out this passage from Channel 6's report in Milwaukee today.
Walker on Tuesday urged Senate Republicans to free up the maximum-allowed amount, immediately running into headwinds among GOP leaders. Increasing the amount of bonding would be a “tough sell,” a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said....

Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, said last week that Assembly Republicans were ready to meet about the request and blamed Senate Republicans for the impasse.

“It would appear that the Senate has had second thoughts on the agreement that was passed,” Nygren told WLUK-TV. “That’s the reason we’re not meeting.”
And you thought the House of Representatives was the only place where the GOP can't get their shit together. Funny how that happens when a party that's got no central thought ideology other than "cut taxes", and only gets elected by blaming government and "others" for society's ills. Governing isn't really high on their list of priorities.

And while the Madison and Appleton-area freeway projects are getting the most attention for being held back due to the Walker/WisGOP cuts to the DOT, they're far from the only ones, as this strong summary piece from Patrick Marley and Jason Stein points out (yes, I know I ripped the JS yesterday, but part of it is because those guys can do good, detailed articles on inner workings of state government. Which makes you wonder why they sometimes pull their punches).
Walker's administration announced last week the state was delaying five major projects, but a list compiled by the DOT shows scores of other, smaller-scale projects are being pushed off for the next six years. That's because of funding cuts that Walker and GOP lawmakers made this summer, Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb told legislators in a letter this week.

Some of the 225 projects outlined by the department are segments of much larger projects. For instance, widening I-39/90 from the Illinois state line to Madison is listed as 32 separate projects. Nonetheless, the new DOT list means dozens of other projects will be delayed in the coming years...

The additional projects being put off include everything from simple resurfacing jobs to top-to-bottom reconstructions. They include bridge rehabilitation work on I-43 in Milwaukee County and the resurfacing of a segment of Highway 18 in Waukesha County.

The DOT rewrites its six-year plan regularly, with a particular eye toward updating it after lawmakers approve the state budget every two years. Gottlieb told lawmakers the changes were being made because of reductions lawmakers approved for parts of the department's budget.
Oh, and all of this assumes the feds continue to fund highways at the levels the DOT assumes it will- not a sure thing when the highway bill expires in 3 weeks and any agenda work is being held up because the GOPs can't find a Speaker. In addition, road construction season will pretty much end in the next 2 months in the state, so holding up those state funds much longer will likely push out a lot of this work into Spring 2016.

As I mentioned earlier this week, all of these problems are a direct result of Scott Walker and the GOP Legislature being more interested in striking a "no tax or fee increase" pose for DC oligarchs instead of listening to the Wisconsin DOT's recommendation of a 5-cent increase in the gas tax or any other proposed revenue enhancers. Because no matter how much Republicans don't want to admit it, tax revenues are needed to operate projects like road repair, and you can't keep spending more money without getting more in taxes. And no matter how much Republicans want to believe in trickle-down magic, it tends not to happen, especially when taxes are already comparatively low and not holding back people's behaviors.

Maybe it's time for the adults to get back in charge at the Capitol instead of the Bubble-Worlders that are currently taking up space there, and actually come up with the money to pay our wants and needs. Seems like a good idea to me.

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