Boots & Sabers

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Tag: Transportation

Digging Into Transportation Spending

The MacIver Institute does the math on Wisconsin’s transportation budget and it isn’t pretty. This comparison jumps out at me.


Much of the debate over the upcoming transportation budget is being framed with some basic assumptions that need to be challenged. The basic argument being used is, “the roads suck and we need more money, so should we borrow it or raise taxes?”

Before we even get to that question, lawmakers need much more visibility on how the DOT is spending money and what their priorities are. The data indicates that Wisconsin spends an metric crap-ton more on transportation than comparable states and has worse roads. Why? Why are we spending money on more expansion at the expense of maintaining the roads we have? How many times has the DOT’s traffic estimates which were used to justify expansion fallen short? (hint: many). What policies are unnecessarily driving up the cost of road work (bidding process, prevailing wage requirements, design requirements, etc.)?

We may get to the point that we need to seriously consider more transportation spending, but we are nowhere near that point yet. The evidence indicates that the DOT has been a poorly run agency that overspends on poor priorities for decades. Until that ship is put right, more money will only encourage more bad behavior.

DOT Halts Study of Highway Expansion

Good. We don’t have the money to do everything. Prioritize, people.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has stopped studying a potential expansion of interstate highways from Madison to Wisconsin Dells, a sign the department may be downsizing its road-building ambitions in the face of mounting budget pressure.

The move appears to foreclose any near-term efforts to expand a corridor that carries growing volumes of traffic, much of it tourism-based, from southern Wisconsin and Illinois to Wisconsin Dells and other points north and west.

In February the department said the corridor would experience “significant problems” from traffic congestion if it is not expanded.

Work on environmental studies of the corridor, which began in 2014, ended Friday, according to a statement from the DOT and federal highway officials. The announcement attributed the move “to recent and ongoing re-prioritization of major transportation projects.”

A Transportation Funding Anecdote

From the email:

“Fix Our House First”: A Transportation Funding Anecdote

Transportation funding has become a weighty budget discussion, especially over the past several years.  Elected officials have a duty to uphold the state and federal constitution while being good stewards of every dime deposited into the state’s coffers.  As such, elected leaders are obligated to root out inefficiencies and function as the singular voice for those we represent.   Last session, I had the honor of supporting a number of reform minded bills that would have eliminated or mandated a pause on excessive transportation spending. I supported giving local governments more control over the number of unnecessary roundabouts being built, preventing state taxpayer subsidization of Milwaukee’s streetcar operations, eliminated the costly and burdensome bike path mandate in road construction. I also supported pausing the installation of closed circuit cameras, overhead digital message boards and manually operated railroad crossing arms at interstate on-ramps.  Unfortunately, most of these recommendations didn’t even have the opportunity to receive a vote in the “people’s house”.  This isn’t the half of it.  During my research over the past few months, I have learned that the taxpayer owned Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been having a detrimental effect on our taxpayer funded transportation system.  Let me provide an anecdote: A round culvert system under a county highway has been flowing water efficiently for decades.  The culvert is deteriorating and must be replaced.  The typical replacement in this type of situation is a rectangular concrete box that allows more water flow than in the past.  This box culvert is lowered into the waterway, paved over the top, and is extremely cost effective.  This solution, though, is no longer good enough for Wisconsin rabbits, squirrels and waterways.  There are new terms, bankful width and ecopath, that have come into vogue.  These terms are exactly what you would expect.  DNR officials are measuring the bank of the waterway on either side of the original culvert and not only requiring a box culvert that extends from bank to bank of the actual waterway, but also including a path for our disenfranchised wildlife to walk through.  This absurdity has gone so far as to require county employees to shovel gravel onto the bottom of the concrete box to give the appearance of a more natural river bottom.  Benefit to the taxpayers?  Zero!  Burden to taxpayers?  Additional excavation and custom box culvert designs to the tune of thousands to tens of thousands of extra dollars per project.  Yes, we have issues with transportation funding in this state, but this example is barely a ripple in the stream.  The real solution does not begin with more revenue from your hard earned tax dollars, but with real leadership from your elected representatives and senators.



Rep. Jesse Kremer

Vos Accepts Reality of Gas Tax Increase

Good. He’s seeing the light.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday said it’s unlikely that lawmakers will increase the state’s gas tax to help erase a projected $1 billion deficit in funding road projects.

Vos, R-Rochester, and Gov. Scott Walker have been at odds over how to pay for roads, including raising the state’s gas tax.

But at a forum Wednesday, when asked by an audience member if he would raise her gas tax so she could help pay for road fixes, Vos said, “Probably not.” That was a signal that Assembly Republicans would stop calling for Walker to consider the idea.

“If you are a card player, I have a pair of twos, the governor has a straight and I have to draw three of a kind to win. Now it’s not impossible, but I wouldn’t bet on me,” he told an audience at a luncheon hosted by

Shakeup in Walker Administration

This is telling.

Former Superior mayor David Ross has been named Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday announced that Ross will move to transportation on Jan. 7 from his current job as secretary of the state for the Department of Safety and Professional Services.

Mark Gottlieb, outgoing transportation secretary, offered his resignation to Walker taking effect Jan. 6.

It’s a big jump for Ross, 64. The transportation department is one of the largest state agencies, with 3,500 employees and an annual budget of more than $3.5 billion. The department supports state highways, local roads, railroads, public transit systems, airports, harbors and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. The department also serves 50,000 people each day through the Division of Motor Vehicles and includes the Division of State Patrol which enforces laws and aids motorists throughout the state.

“Dave Ross has been an outstanding leader for our administration at the DSPS since 2011,” Walker said in a prepared statement. “Dave has always looked to improve the way government operates, and I am confident he will bring the same innovative, taxpayer-first approach to the DOT.”

Walker has been firm in that he will not support a tax increase for transportation unless it’s offset by a decrease elsewhere. Gottlieb was apparently firmly in Speaker Vos’ court and was actively pushing for a tax increase and more spending. He was fighting against Walker instead of finding ways to achieve Walker’s goals for transportation. And now Gottlieb is gone and being IMMEDIATELY replaced by a loyal Walker conservative.

This is a positive development for those of us who think that the Department of Transportation still spends too much and that a tax increase should be off the table.

Speaker Vos Accuses Senators of Fear Mongering as He Fear Mongers

Is it “fear mongers” or “fears monger?” Mongers fear? Whatever. This is kind of funny:

Story #1:

“While it’s laudable that Senators Kapenga and Stroebel say they’re relying on their CPA and business experience to analyze what they describe as the transportation fund’s spending problem, they’re deliberately ignoring the other side of the balance sheet in favor of politics and fear mongering,” said Speaker Vos.

Story #2:

“Look at this! Holy cow! I can`t even imagine what it would be like to be sitting in there,” Vos said in the video.

The video released Monday, December 5th shows Vos bouncing along while lying down in a stretcher in the back of Burlington Rescue Squad ambulance. Vos said he rode in the back of the ambulance at the request of his cousin, an EMS worker in Burlington. He said bad roads impact patient care.

So talking about the gas tax increase that Vos wants is fear mongering but a hokey sensational video dramatizing a bumpy ambulance ride is just providing information, right?

Vos Accuses Walker of Being “Disingenuous”

As I mentioned a few days ago, Walker has successfully isolated Vos and the Assembly leadership on the issue of transportation funding, and Speaker Vos is reacting in a predictable fashion.

“We have had multiple caucus discussions on this topic,” Vos told reporters after a WisPolitics luncheon with Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. “The governor has the luxury of looking in the mirror and having a discussion with himself on any topic, because he doesn’t have to get consensus. He’s the governor. My job as the speaker is to generate consensus among 62 other people, and I think we’ve done that.”


Vos called that suggestion “disingenuous” on Thursday, arguing that the governor has the ability to direct the Department of Transportation to assemble a proposal that meets specific criteria, while a legislative leader like Vos lacks matching resources.

That’s a bit of a silly claim. If the legislature has the resources to create a budget with tax increases, it sure has the resources to create one without tax increases. At some point, the legislature is going to have to propose, debate, and pass a budget that includes transportation. Is Vos claiming that he lacks the resources for that?

Methinks Vos should take a bit of his own advise in this last quote:

“I think there’s enough blame to go around,” Vos countered. “It’s pretty hard to reach your hand out and say let’s work together while at the same time you’re saying how much you suck.”

Vos Isolated on Transportation Tax Increases


Assembly Republicans have floated the idea of raising revenues for transportation work to hold down borrowing and avoid project delays, but Fitzgerald noted Thursday that Walker has committed to using his extensive veto powers to block such a move.

“You’ve got to live within the parameters of what he’s already laid out,” Fitzgerald said of Walker, adding that it would be pointless to oppose his own party’s governor. “How’s that productive? You’re going to have to work with the governor.”

One way to resolve the dispute would be to cut other taxes so the gas tax could be increased, he said. But coming up with a way to cut other taxes could prove tricky when state finances are tight.

Vos and the Assembly leadership has been saying that tax increases might be necessary. The Governor has said “no” to any tax increase for roads that isn’t offset by a tax decrease elsewhere. Now the Senate Majority Leader is standing with the Governor. Given that Vos was going to have a very difficult time getting a tax increase passed through the conservative wing of his own caucus anyway, this pretty much kills it. A tax increase will never even make it through the Senate to get to Walker’s desk to veto.

I guess we will have to live within our means – even when it comes to transportation.

Assembly Republicans to Offer Alternative Transportation Plan


Vos responded in his letter that he and his Assembly GOP colleagues would oblige. Vos, R-Rochester, also criticized Walker’s plan as too reliant on borrowing and lacking a long-term solution for roads.

 Vos emphasized that large highway expansions in southeast Wisconsin, including of the Zoo Interchange and Interstate 94 in Racine and Kenosha counties, would face an uncertain future under Walker’s plan.

“Under your plan, the unfortunate reality is that these roads may not be done in our lifetime,” Vos wrote.

In Dane County, the Verona Road project would be delayed at least two years under Walker’s plan. The plan would keep on track expansions of I-39/90 in Rock and Dane counties and of Highway 10-441 in the Fox Valley.

Vos said Assembly Republicans will hold hearings to gather input from the public and experts before offering their transportation budget alternative. Lawmakers will begin debating transportation and other areas of the next budget in early 2017.

The timing is interesting. Vos is insistent that raising taxes must be on the table, which means that he intends to propose tax increases. BUT, he’s not going to offer his plan until after the new year – AFTER the elections. If Vos wants a tax increase, he should put it out there before the election so that the voters can weigh in. But, of course, Vos doesn’t want that because he knows that the voters don’t want it.

Walker makes first offer on transportation budget

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

Gov. Scott Walker released his transportation budget proposal last week and made his position perfectly clear when stating he is “not going to raise the gas tax or other associated fees without a corresponding reduction.” That is a welcome statement to this taxpayer.

The issue Wisconsin is facing in the next budget is the forecasted revenue for the transportation fund falls about a billion dollars short of paying for forecasted expenditures. Whether this happens to a family, business or government, there are only three things one can do when this happens: reprioritize and reduce the forecasted spending, borrow money, or find a way to increase revenue. Walker has taken the last option off the table and attacked the issue with a combination of the first two options.

Walker’s justification for refusing to increase revenue by increasing taxes or fees is simply that despite several years of tax cuts, Wisconsinites are still taxed too much. Walker would rather the government do the heavy lifting of prioritizing and cutting back instead of forcing families to do it to pay higher taxes. The governor is right.

Wisconsin’s gas tax is still among the highest in the nation. According to a fact sheet the governor released, at 32.9 cents per gallon, Wisconsin’s total taxes and fees collected at the pump ranks as the 11th highest in the nation. But that is only part of the story. The same Wisconsinites who pay the gas tax also pay all of the rest of Wisconsin’s tax burden, and it is a heavy burden. Wisconsin still ranks as the fifth highest taxed state according to CNN/Money. As State Sen. Duey Stroebel rightly said in a recent column, “With Wisconsin’s overall tax burden still in the top 10, this is no time to be campaigning for higher taxes.”

Meanwhile, it should be noted Wisconsin spends a ton of money on transportation — more than most states. Wisconsin spends about $3.8 billion per year on highways, which ranks 14th nationally. Total transportation spending, including state and local spending, is 33 percent higher than the national average according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In other words, despite cries of “poor” from some folks, there is plenty of money for transportation. Yes, the recipients of that spending always want more, but it is the job of the administration to prioritize the spending within the confines of Wisconsinites’ ability and willingness to pay.

That is exactly what Walker’s budget proposal does. Walker’s transportation budget proposal actually increases state funding for maintenance of existing roads and sends more money to local units of government for their transportation needs. He partially pays for those increases by halting, delaying, and slowing down some existing projects including the widening of Verona Road in Madison, expanding Interstate 94 in Racine and Kenosha, and part of the Zoo Interchange.

Walker’s budget proposal also seeks to borrow $500 million, which, according to the governor, is the lowest level of borrowing since the 2001-03 budget. That is still a lot of borrowing, but using debt to fund major projects used for 30 years by future taxpayers, too. The key is to manage debt sensibly.

Walker is taking the correct approach to managing the state’s transportation needs through prioritization and forcing efficiencies instead of turning to the taxpayers for more money. He is also right to shift more spending to maintaining the roads the state has and away from more expansions. Is it perfect? No. It still spends and borrows too much, but it is a very good start.

Wisconsin must make the hard decisions

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

You have probably read the headlines by now — “State transportation budget faces $1 billion shortfall!” they scream. It is part of the well-financed, orchestrated campaign by the road builders and their supporters to squeeze more taxes out of Wisconsin’s taxpayers in the next budget.

The root of the breathless headlines is a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau that shows the state would fall $939 million short (the headlines round up) if we spend as much in the next budget as we do in the current one. The LFB is a number-crunching body that simply answers the questions posed to it by members of the Legislature. In this case, the question came from Rep. John Nygren, the Republican Assembly co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee, and he asked the LFB to include two key assumptions.

First, the LFB assumes the state will not use any debt whatsoever. That accounts for more than $855 million of the projected shortfall. The second assumption is that the level of spending matches only the second year of the current budget spending. Wisconsin has a biennial budget and the current transportation budget actually spent a bit more in the first year than the second. That assumption accounts for the remaining $83.3 million of the shortfall. More accurately stated, the LFB memo states the state would fall more than $855 million short if it tried to match transportation spending in the next budget without taking on any debt.

The road builders and their allies, like Nygren, are using this projected shortfall to begin advocating for a tax increase on Wisconsinites. The only way to fill the budget pothole, they contend, is to raise taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The first assumption that needs to be addressed is the one of debt. While paying for things as we go without any debt is admirable for some pieces of the budget, it makes little sense for large capital projects. A good deal of the spending in the transportation budget is slated for massive infrastructure projects, like rebuilding the Zoo Interchange, which will be used for decades. It makes perfect fiscal sense to spread the spending for those projects over those same decades. We will certainly need to debate the appropriate level of overall debt and be prudent in managing the state’s debt service, but some debt is both necessary and sensible.

The second assumption that needs to be torn down is that the state cannot address the alleged shortfall through some policy changes instead of resorting to tax increases. For example, Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws inflate the cost of construction by mandating the state pay inflated wages for labor instead of being able to pay the local market wage for the same labor. State legislators took the step to repeal the prevailing wage law for local governments last year, but kept them in place for the state. While the actual amount of savings is difficult to estimate, studies show the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars in each budget by simply paying normal market wages for construction projects.

Another example of ways to fill the shortfall without raising taxes rests in the everyday decisions made in designing and planning transportation projects. Gov. Scott Walker cited the example in his letter to Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb that the state saved $580 million on the Zoo Interchange through some changes to the design. Imagine if similar design changes were considered on every project.

The final assumption the tax increasers always ignore is that Wisconsin must spend as much or more than it always has. It does not. The fact Wisconsin is a state with high government spending and high taxes is the result of millions of decisions made by Wisconsin politicians for decades. It is a choice. It is also a choice to tax and spend less, like most other states do.

Wisconsin should make the choice to spend less on transportation. The state could make the choice to spend within our means. Would there be consequences? Of course. Some of those consequences may be of no consequence at all. For example, a report from a consortium of environmental groups highlights the fact the $836 million project to expand I-90 between Madison and Illinois was based on 2008 traffic estimates that said the number of cars would increase by 29 percent by 2010 and double by 2013, as compared to a baseline of 2000. In 2012, the number of cars had increased by only 1 percent since 2000, yet the expansion continues apace despite the fact the traffic estimated used to justify it was woefully wrong. This is happening with projects all over Wisconsin. Suspending this one project would save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Repealing the prevailing wage laws for the state, implementing design changes and reconsidering projects that were based on faulty projections would save hundreds of millions of dollars each. That projected shortfall disappears pretty quickly by only plucking the low-hanging fruit highlighted here. Imagine if the smart people in the Legislature actually rolled up their sleeves and put some effort into saving the taxpayers’ money.

Taxing and spending is easy. Discipline and math is hard. Be hard, Wisconsin. Be hard.

Walker Wants Transportation Budget Early

Good. Let’s have time for the debate before the election and well before the next budget.

Gov. Scott Walker has redoubled his resistance to increasing gas taxes or vehicle fees to fund Wisconsin roads, saying near-term spending on large highway expansions instead must be curtailed.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, Walker also instructed him to submit his agency’s budget request by Sept. 15 instead of Nov. 15 to “allow for a full public discussion.”

The $100k Flagger

Heh. This is a story where the reporter is trying very hard to make a distinction that doesn’t make any difference.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel recently cited an eye-popping figure to support his call to scrap Wisconsin’s prevailing wage, telling Wisconsin Public Radio that the typical flagger on a state road project makes $100,000 a year.

That overstates the earnings potential of a highway worker by a wide margin, according to publicly available wage rates and unions that represent road workers.

A typical flagger on such projects would make about $32,760 a year in salary, according to information from those sources.

The number rises to about $53,000 if benefits are included. Overtime hours could push the figure higher, but still far shy of Stroebel’s six-figure estimate.

That’s how it starts. Makes sense so far?  Then we see how they arrived at their figures:

But in wintry Wisconsin, road workers aren’t on the job year-round, said Kent Miller, a spokesman for Wisconsin Laborers District Council. He said a typical work year for flaggers and other road workers would be about 1,200 hours, compared to the 2,080 hours-per-year benchmark for people working full-time, year-round. That’s roughly seven and a half months of the year.

The $32,760 salary estimate cited above is based on a 1,200-hour work year and a prevailing wage rate of $27.30 for a highway flagger in Dane County.

So what’s the difference? The $100k figure is an annualized figure. But Stroebel was making the point that we are paying way too much for our transportation needs and used the compensation for a flagger as an example. Stroebel’s point remains intact. Is paying someone $27.30 per hour a reasonable rate to hold a flag? Or, at the reporter’s own $53k number, is $44.17 per hour, including benefits, a reasonable rate? Could the taxpayers get the same level of competent work for $22 an hour? $15 an hour? $12 an hour?

The answer you’re looking for is, “yes.”

Stroebel Resists Push for Tax Increase for Roads

Good points.

But state Sen. Duey Stroebel said all the talk of the declining condition of the state’s roads needs to be debunked.

The Saukville Republican said in an interview broadcast Sunday on “UpFront with Mike Gousha” that people should consider the source and motivation of those who publicize road grades.

“We hear about these studies that say how bad our roads are,” Stroebel said. “Well, you look at who pays for those studies? It’s people who make money building roads. The road builders are paying for those studies.”

Stroebel opposes tax or fee increases to help pay for what some claim is a crumbling state transportation system. He said other studies show a different picture for Wisconsin’s roads.

A report by the conservative Reason Foundation showed Wisconsin’s highway ranking improving from 31st in 2009 to 15th in 2012.

Stroebel said that in the Reason Foundation report, the four states ranked as having the worst roads have prevailing wage laws and no right to work law. The 10 states with the best roads, he said, do not have prevailing wage and have instituted right to work.

As with anything…. follow the money. There is a reason that we have a coordinated push for more transportation spending.

Stroebel brings up a good point about prevailing wage. Although Wisconsin has gotten rid of the prevailing wage requirements for some projects, we have not fully repealed prevailing wage requirements. Let’s fully enact these policy prescriptions before thinking about tax increases.

Fixing state budget potholes

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

There is a battle brewing over transportation funding in Wisconsin causing fissures between some prominent Republicans. Specifically, Speaker Robin Vos and Gov. Scott Walker are at odds, but both of them are wrong.

Virtually everyone in Wisconsin agrees that maintaining a quality transportation infrastructure is vital to the state. Our economy flows across our roads, rails, waterways and skyways. Constructing and maintaining our transportation infrastructure is a defined responsibility of our government. It is the scope and means of fulfilling that responsibility upon which disagreements arise.

With an election looming and the next state budget debate coming in less than seven months, people are already maneuvering for position. The problem with the state transportation budget, as defined by some, is that the funding cannot keep up with the necessary spending.

The money for state transportation spending comes from a variety of sources. Chief among these sources are the fuel tax and registration fees, which account for 56 percent of all state transportation revenue. Twenty-four percent comes from federal funds, 7 percent comes from general purpose revenue and other funds, and in the most recent budget, 13 percent came from borrowing.

According to the state Department of Transportation, all state transportation revenue, 56 percent of all funds, has only risen by 3.4 percent in constant 2013 dollars since 2006. Over the same period, state transportation appropriations rose by 5.1 percent in constant 2013 dollars. The biggest problem is that the revenue from the fuel tax has been essentially flat for years. The concept of taxing fuel was a good one as it served as a proxy for usage with people who use the transportation system more having to pay more for it. But in an age of fuel-efficient vehicles, electric cars, etc. the fuel tax is a poor proxy for usage. A new taxing mechanism is needed, but there are more fundamental issues that need resolving before determining the optimum funding methodology.

Essentially, the cost of transportation is increasing faster than the revenue that is used to fund it. The state has been patching the problem in the past few budgets by borrowing to fill in the gap. This is where the rub between Walker and Vos comes in.

Vos believes it is poor public stewardship to continue borrowing money to fill in the transportation budget. Such borrowing merely forces future taxpayers to pay for today’s transportation needs with interest. Vos wants to fix transportation funding for good so borrowing is not necessary. Vos’ goal is laudable.

Walker has said that he does not support any additional funding for transportation needs unless an equal amount of money is taken out of the budget elsewhere. He recognizes that despite years of improvement, Wisconsin is still a tax hell. The state still ranks as one of the worst in terms of state and local tax burden (second worst by WalletHub, fourth worst by CNN Money). Walker is insisting the overall budget remain flat and wants the Legislature to prioritize taxing and spending while not increasing the overall tax burden on the taxpayer. Walker’s goal is also laudable.

They are both missing the point. The problem with Wisconsin’s transportation budget is not that there is not enough money. The problem is the state is spending too much.

I wrote about this fact last May when this issue flared up again and it has not changed. A look at the Reason Foundation’s most recent 21st annual highway report shows Wisconsin is spending way more than comparable states.

For example, Wisconsin and Minnesota have almost the same number of highway miles at 11,766 and 11,833, respectively. They also have almost the same number of lane miles. They are both cold-weather states with a major metropolitan area. In terms of total spending on roads, Minnesota spends just over $132,000 per state-controlled mile. Wisconsin spends 72 percent more for a total of almost $227,000 per mile.

Breaking down the numbers is even more interesting. Wisconsin spends 25 percent more on administrative costs, but actually spends 38 percent less on maintenance. The big difference comes with construction. Wisconsin is spending 75 percent more than Minnesota for every new mile of road. In summary, Wisconsin spends a lot more money on administration and construction, but less on maintenance than Minnesota. That is a difference in priorities.

To think of it another way, if Wisconsin just lowered its spending to the same amount per mile as Minnesota and prioritized maintenance over construction, it would save Wisconsin $1.1 billion per year and solve the transportation budget problem overnight while leaving a surplus to return to the taxpayers.

Wisconsin does not have a funding or taxing problem — it has a spending problem. Vos and Walker should look for common ground on reducing spending before locking horns on how to pay for the spending.

Vos Pushing for Higher Taxes

The Speaker of the Assembly seems hell bent on pumping more tax dollars into the pockets of the transportation lobby.

During the interview, Vos said he “fundamentally disagrees” with Gov. Scott Walker’s view on transportation spending. The governor has said repeatedly that he won’t increase roads spending unless equivalent cuts are made elsewhere in the state budget.

Vos said “all options should be on the table” when it comes to the funding.

I stand with Walker.

Fixing Wisconsin’s Transportation Infrastructure

Brian Fraley doesn’t offer any solutions yet, but he makes a compelling case for why conservatives need to lead the way on finding the solutions.

If we just continue to hold tight under the misguided notion of what is conservative and therefore don’t invest in resolving the current crisis, over the next decade there will be 250 fewer new road projects, 800 fewer miles of roads will be rehabilitated or improved (thus increasing the miles of poor roads by 81 percent). This means 26 percent of all highways in Wisconsin will be in poor condition by 2027.

Let’s be clear. These numbers are not some hype from the special interests, these numbers are the sober, honest analysis of Governor Walker’s Department of Transportation.

If Interstate projects are pushed back this far and our two lane highways in Wisconsin gradually succumb to being gravel roads, you can take all the ballyhooed economic development plans Wisconsin has for the next 25 years and kiss them goodbye. Wisconsin would be open for business, but getting your customers or your goods to and from here–well???

The fact is, our agricultural, manufacturing and tourism economies rely upon our roads. Their condition is a key component to Wisconsin’s overall economy.

Fraley is right that our transportation infrastructure is critical to the state’s economy and quality of life. He is also right that building and maintaining a quality transportation infrastructure is a primary function of government.

Here’s the problem… as defined, the problem is that the cost of our transportation needs are being outpaced by the money we have to pay for it. Any solutions to such a problem will have to include some combination of a reduction in the cost and an increase in the money (read: higher taxes). But even as the problem is framed, the idea is entertained that the cost may be too high, but then immediately dismissed, thus leading the audience to the inevitable solution: we need higher taxes.

The other problem is that I simply don’t trust the data. The road builders are a powerful interest group in Wisconsin. They own the Department of Transportation and have long held sway in both parties. Our last elected Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, was legendary in his willingness to spend money on roads. Doyle was just as bad, but preferred to tilt more toward public transportation. And Walker is proving to be every bit the spender in this regard as his predecessors. All of the data we see regarding the extent of the “crisis” and costs needed to resolve it come from the same people who have been screwing Wisconsin taxpayers for a generation or more.

As I wrote last year:

According to Reason’s Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems, which measures how much bang each state gets for their transportation buck, Wisconsin has jumped 10 spots to 15th place in the country since 2011, but it ranks 36th in spending per state-controlled mile. Wisconsin spends a whopping $226,901 per mile — way more than every other Midwestern state except Illinois. Iowa and Minnesota manage to spend less than $134,000 per mile.

Consider that if Wisconsin could reduce its spending per mile to just the same level as our neighboring states, there would be a surplus of transportation funding.

When considering that Iowa and Minnesota have very similar weather and stresses on the pavement, why does Wisconsin need to spend so much more per mile on roads? Until that conundrum is solved, I am not willing to consider more revenue for transportation. The solutions to this crisis can be found in the bloated costs that other states seem to be able to control.

Walker Suggests Cutting Road Spending

I think he meant this as a threat to Republican legislators, but I say huzzah, huzzah!

Gov. Scott Walker suggested in an interview Thursday the state could simply spend less on roadwork in his next budget considering his pledge to not raise taxes or fees without an offset and the reluctance of lawmakers to continue bonding.

After a difficult transportation budget earlier this year, budget watchers have suggested the state could hope for an influx of general purpose revenue to pay for a tax cut that would meet Walker’s pledge or to continue transfers to the transportation fund. But barring a surprise uptick in the economy, that appears unlikely.

Continuing to bond is also an option, though lawmakers rejected Walker’s request this year to borrow $1.3 billion for roads. Instead, they approved $500 million with another $350 million in contingency borrowing the Joint Finance Committee has already approved releasing.

Walker said there is another option.

“Or you adjust what you spend it on, just like everything else in life,” he said during an interview with at the executive residence.

Walker noted his 2017-19 budget is still more than a year out, and revenues could pick up by then. But he said his bottom line on transportation is he won’t support a gas tax or registration fee increase unless there is a tax cut elsewhere, vowing to stick to a pledge he made during his 2014 re-election campaign.

JFC Approves More Road Borrowing

Argh… more money stolen from our kids being spent with virtually no effort at controlling spending. The road builders have politicians from both parties by the short hairs.

All four Democrats on the Legislature’s budget committee joined six Assembly Republicans on Wednesday to approve borrowing $350 million for big-ticket road projects — including the Verona Road/Beltline Highway project and widening Interstate 39/90.

Six Senate Republicans voted against the plan.

At the same time, Democrats slammed Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican majority for not developing a long-term plan sooner to pay for major road projects, including raising the state’s gas tax.

Walker Urges More Borrowing for Transportation

Ummmm… no.

Gov. Scott Walker urged Republican lawmakers Tuesday to authorize an additional $350 million in borrowing to help pay for road projects that are delayed for lack of funding.

I think it’s comical how this is stated as a bad thing.

Democrats have called for a special session to address transportation funding issues. Rep. Robb Kahl, D-Monona, announced Tuesday a proposal to reinstate indexing the gas tax to inflation, which the state discontinued in 2006. He said if indexing hadn’t been eliminated, the gas tax would be 6 cents per gallon higher today.

I remember how hard that was to get passed. If it weren’t for the repeal of gas tax indexing, every Wisconsinite would be paying an extra 6 cents per gallon. It’s a good thing that gas tax indexing was repealed – not a bad thing.




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