Monday, April 24, 2017

Walker claims there's money to fix the roads? Not today there isn't!

Lots of things in GOPland these days make me double-take and say “What the WHAT?” And so I guess I can add this one from our Fair Governor.
Reports last week indicated the governor might be willing to consider raising registration fees, but Walker told reporters at the Capitol he doesn't have "any interest" in doing that. He said he has explicitly stated his opposition to a gas tax hike because lawmakers have raised the possibility.

"I don’t know of anyone in the Legislature who’s talking about vehicle registration fees," Walker said. "For us, I think there is more than enough revenue out there. I’m willing to work with them."
First of all, if no legislators are “talking about vehicle registration fees”, then explain this comment from 3 days ago, Governor.
"Transportation’s going to be the biggest challenge. I think everything is on the table right now," Joint Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, told reporters Friday.
When “everything” is up for discussion, particularly involving DOT funding, that includes the registration fees that go into that funding, Governor.

Second of all “more than enough revenue out there”? For what? Not for any type of adequate funding of transportation projects, unless you want to include major cuts or delays. As mentioned previously, Walker’s DOT budget basically assumed that somehow an extra $107 million in highway spending would end any chance of delays on major projects in the Fox Cities and on the Verona Road/Beltline project in Madison (as was noted in the DOT’s budget request from September). The Walker Administration insists these projects will continue on schedule and on-budget despite the brutal audit that showed $3.1 billion in cost overruns from past highway projects, with much of that amount resulting from an inability to adjust projected costs to inflation. Call me skeptical on that assumption.

And despite what the Walker Administration propped up a couple of weeks ago, the $38 million in “added revenue” that the DOT is projecting into its Transportation Fund is merely a drop in the bucket when looking at the $6 billion DOT budget. Combine that with the fact that Walker’s budget would have spent $100 million more than it took in to the Transportation Fund, and there’s nowhere near enough revenue to cover the needs there.

Oh wait, Scotty wasn’t talking about generating more money from the Transportation Fund. He instead wants to raid the General Fund to pay for the roads.
“I’ve said repeatedly in my meetings with the (Assembly) speaker and the Senate majority leader that I think we can free up some more money, looking at general purpose revenue in the state budget and some other areas we think we can save on,” Walker told reporters.
Sounds good in theory, except for one major problem. THERE IS NO MONEY IN THE GENERAL FUND TO RAID. We just saw on Friday that General Fund revenues were down nearly 5% for March, and are currently on pace to fall short of the projected totals for this year as well as the 2 years in the 2017-19 budget.

In addition, Walker’s budget spends $366 million more than it takes in, and only has $12 million in breathing room. That’s before we even get to the prospect of a revenue shortfall, or the fact that the budget bakes in $60 million in health care savings from a self-insurance scheme that may not pass and is far from guaranteeing when it comes to delivering those lower costs.

So given the tightness of the budget, there are only 2 ways that a huge transfer from the General Fund can happen

1. A bailout from DC in the form of huge increases in Federal spending, which can then be used to replace state money. Given that this GOP Congress and Drumpfian White House are going to have enough problems trying to keep the government from shutting down this week, I wouldn’t count on any help coming from those guys.

2. Getting rid of a number of Walker pre-election budget gimmicks. One possible move would be to reduce Scotty’s proposed $618 million increase in per-pupil aids for K-12 education, but WisGOP legislators don’t seem willing to risk the political damage that would result from that.

So the next option would be to take out some of Walker’s proposed tax cuts and shifts. The most likely one to go would seem to be an attempt to get rid of the state’s Forestry Mill tax, which is currently part of your property tax and goes to fund the DNR’s conservation fund. Instead, Walker wanted to spend over $180 million of General Fund money to make up the difference that resulted from dropping Forestry off the property tax. This plan got panned by many speakers during the Joint Finance Committee’s public hearings throughout the state, as many citizens rightfully were concerned that this would make the conservation fund an easy target for cuts in the future once the dedicated funding was taken away and General Fund money became scarce.

Another idea was to give a 0.1% income tax cut, which would give barely more than $1-a-week to the typical Wisconsin taxpayer, but would cost the state $203 million during the 2017-19 budget.

$22 million more could be restored from getting rid of Walker’s silly idea of a sales tax holiday in August for school supplies, which won’t do much to help overall sales and might prove more trouble than it’s worth for businesses to adjust staffing and registers for.

Now if Scotty’s signaling those 3 tax proposals can be taken out, then that’s over $400 million that could go to roads for this biennium without raising gas taxes or registration fees. But that would contain its own set of difficulties, because transferring that $400 million would increase the state’s $1 billion structural deficit in the next budget, since the structural budget doesn’t count on that money being taken out of the General Fund (although the effect is only $225 million, since the Forestry tax shift is assumed to happen).

So let’s see what Scotty is talking about when he claims “there will be enough revenue” for roads to be funded well in this budget. There sure isn’t enough revenue right now to make it happen, so that must mean there’s a deal in the works to make major changes to Walker’s budget, and we’ll see soon enough what it is.

Either that, or Walker is living firmly in Fantasyland. If so, those illusions will crash to Earth soon enough.


  1. I was at my rep's listening session last week, and the discussion was *all* transportation. People in the room were all for cutting the DNR and stuff like that, but there was real frustration there. The rep indicated registration fees were bad because they didn't catch vehicles from out of state, and he basically said toll roads are coming, but that's years away. I learned a lot--including a handout that indicated that corporate taxes make up a mere 6% of GPR. Jesus.

    1. That corporate tax number keeps dropping, Chuck. And guess whose big trucks wreck the roads the most, while not paying nearly as much to fix it in either registration fees or income taxes? (cough-Schneider National-cough)

      Interesting to hear the Rep with that take on Registration fees, because while I admit we do get a nice break at $75 a car, I had a similar reaction. At least gas taxes and tolls make the FIBs and other tourists pay something. Registration fees put all of the costs onto Wisconsinites, which made it doubly odd that Walker would go that route. Is it because Grover said fees could be OK but "taxes" weren't?

  2. Of course there's enough revenue, it's just that we're spending too much on those workers,
    er...union hacks, that build the roads. Once Walker got more union-busting in his head, he didn't need to listen to anything else.

  3. Gas taxes, toll roads, or registration fees continue the practice of pushing more costs onto the plebeians and off of the corporate donors. The corporations got a big tax cut and haven't used it to create jobs. (Another failure of trickle down.) Roll back the cuts, put them in the general fund, and invest in the people.