Wednesday, July 12, 2017

WisGOP dysfunction could mean budget "solution" = years of highway delays

Nearly 2 weeks after the start of the 2017-18 Fiscal Year, Wisconsin still doesn’t have a budget. And if the comments from Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos are any indication, we aren’t going to have a budget for a while. And even if something does get through, it is going to ridden with (pot)holes and other unmet needs that will keep this behind.

Vos indicated to the media today that the Senate Republicans were not willing to take on new taxes or fees in this budget, which left him resigned to the fact that the revenue increases he and other Assembly Republicans wanted wouldn’t become law. Which means there’s only one solution left if Vos’s goal of reduced borrowing is to stay in place.
Vos said that means he has accepted there won't be any new revenue from increased gas taxes or vehicle registration fees for roads projects -- new revenue sources he asked Senate Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker to consider for what he has called a "long-term solution" to a troubled transportation budget.

But passing a state budget with his support would mean Senate Republicans need to agree to a budget without new bonding unless a way to pay for it is part of the package.

Vos' comments suggest lawmakers are closer to a scenario that would spell trouble for highway work in every corner of the state. A budget with no new money or borrowing for roads would force sweeping delays to highway projects -- both those currently under construction and those slated for future work.

"The budget is worse shape than the federal budget and the deficit in the transportation fund is way too high and we are not able to pay for the projects that are necessary by continuing to bond because that just makes a bad situation worse," Vos said after a meeting he had with Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

What that means is that there would have to be a cut in spending in the neighborhood of $500 million for highway projects. And we have a good idea about which projects would be affected, since the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has already given us an indication from their budget papers on the DOT (outlined as Solvency Scenario 1 and Alt. A2 in this paper).

Delays of Wis hwy projects with no extra funding
US 10-Hwy 441 (Appleton)- Delayed from 2020 to 2022
US 18/151-Verona Rd (Madison)- Delayed from 2019 to 2020
Hwy 15 (New London)- Delayed from 2021 to 2022
I-39/90 from Madison to Ill Border- Delayed from 2021 to 2024

The LFB adds that a similar scenario would exist in Southeastern Wisconsin, as the Zoo Interchange and I-94 North-South projects work would be slowed past 2030 if the Governor’s cutbacks on those projects were to hold (and they would have to under a “no-tax, no-fee, no-borrowing” scenario).
Given the remaining, $878.2 million in estimated costs associated with these existing projects, if the Governor's recommended biennial funding of $121.9 million is maintained over time, both projects could be completed in slightly more than 14 years ($878.2 million / $121.9 million per biennium). This calculation includes no adjustment for the inflationary costs that would occur beyond the current schedule of 2022-23. Further completion delays would occur if the Governor's 2018-19 funding level, the base year funding ($50.7 million annually) for the next biennium, is provided on an ongoing basis. In addition, if maintained over time, former Secretary Gottlieb indicated that an ongoing biennial funding level of $121.9 million would mean that the reconstruction of all planned southeast Wisconsin freeway megaprojects could be completed over a 70-year schedule ($4.3 billion in estimated costs / $121.9 million per biennium). Similarly, this completion schedule would not include the effects of inflation.
Good luck selling “even more potholes and years of orange barrels!” to voters in 16 months, WisGOP.

Because that outcome is unlikely to be accepted by GOPs looking to be re-elected, that means it is extremely likely that our budget isn’t going to be signed in this month. Heck, this comment from Wee Wobbin’ indicates that Joint Finance might not even meet until the last week July, and it also seems to give a hint about how the power dynamics really work inside the WisGOP Legislature.

Vos isn’t on the Joint Finance Committee, but Darling is. So why would Vos be a decider when that Committee meets or does not meet, and what kind of arm-twisting and/or campaign donations is Vos holding over these guys? It seems to go along with Vos asking several right-wing groups last week for advice on how to pay for the roads instead of talking to the people or (gasp!) legislative Democrats.

The last couple of days of floods and storms can’t be helping this massive mess of a DOT budget, with numerous roads closed and/or washed out after several inches of rain hit southern Wisconsin. Some of the worst damage hit Vos’s hometown of Burlington, which is now under a state of emergency along with other parts of Racine County.

And as the budget mess reiterates, a Wisconsin Republican Party which eschewed governing for 6 years in favor of using state government as a means to enrich their allies and punish their enemies now can’t work together because they don’t know how to actually stand for anything other than hating on Democrats.

Actually, I take that back- they do like to throw talking points around about “lower taxes”, except now they cannot find the money to pay for the roads that they need to fix in their communities.

At the very least, Robbin’ Vos’s threat to impose further cuts and delays on highway spending is a great illustration of the high cost of this low tax mentality (of course, Robbin’ also wants to give school vouchers to families making $73,000+ on top of their private school tuition tax cut, so let’s not dub him “Mr. Fiscal Responsibility” quite yet). Just like in DC, Republicans in Madison are finding that dealing with reality doesn’t work so well when you can’t distract the rubes by blaming all of their problems on Obama.

Maybe the two GOP seats in the Oklahoma State Legislature that just flipped to the Democrats in special elections this week are a harbinger that people are starting to be finished with this ALEC, trickle-down crap as it screws up the finances of GOP-run states. 2018 is coming, whether Wisconsin has a budget by then or not.

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