Choices, Choices

I admit, I feel very little sympathy for their plight.

Madison— GOP lawmakers want to cut Gov. Scott Walker’s borrowing plan by $300 million, but the only way to do that may be to cut highway projects.

The GOP governor proposed borrowing a record $1.3 billion for transportation over the next two years, but Republicans who control the Legislature have groused at the plan, saying they want a long-term solution to how to fund roads.

This week, they floated the idea of raising vehicle registration fees to bring down bonding levels. Walker, who is preparing to launch his presidential campaign, all but ruled out that idea.

Here’s the thing… the transportation department wants a lot more spending than the taxpayers have available for transportation projects. That is the “problem.” There are only three ways to go about solving it.

First, they can increase revenue. That means a tax increase. Walker has ruled out an increase in the registration fee and the legislature has ruled out an increase in the gas tax. Also, there does not appear to be any appetite in the legislature for new taxes for transportation like a distance tax or toll roads. So it appears that an increase in revenue is no longer an option. This is a good thing because Wisconsin’s taxes are too high and we shouldn’t be looking for ways to make them higher.

Second, they can borrow. This is essentially what Walker has proposed but the legislature is balking at the amount. Ideally, they would not borrow anything, but the debate between Walker and the legislature seems to be about the amount of borrowing – not the prospect of it. Some borrowing will be part of the equation. This is unfortunate since Wisconsin should not be adding to our debt in a time of economic prosperity. While it is true that the economy could be better, we are not in a recession and should not be borrowing to pay our bills.

Third, they can decrease spending. This is, mathematically, the easiest solution, but the most politically difficult one. The legislature could cut projects, as the story suggests, but that means that individual legislators have to go home to their districts and explain why their districts’ projects are being cut and not someone else’s. Barring cutting the number of projects, the legislature must find ways to reduce the cost of each project so that they can accomplish the same projects for less money. One way they could do this is by repealing the prevailing wage laws, thus lowering the labor cost of each project, but then the politicians anger the road builders’ lobby. Thus far, the Republican leadership in the legislature has shown little interest in angering their political benefactors in the road builders’ lobby.

So here we are. Revenue increases are off the table (hopefully and thankfully). There isn’t the will to borrow to completely fill the gap. When it comes to ways to reduce the spending, the legislators are faced with a political choice. They can anger their constituents by cutting projects, or they can anger the road builders’ lobby by repealing prevailing wage. So far, it appears that the legislature is leaning toward angering their constituents. This tells us who is closest to their hearts.