Getting results on transportation funding will require breaking ranks.
IT TOOK AWHILE — about six years — but the predictable outcome finally arrived for Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.
In addition to his political background, Gottlieb was a civil engineer — credible credentials for the person in charge of state transportation issues. Perhaps, too credible.
As transportation point man Gottlieb made a habit of getting crossways with Gov. Scott Walker. There hasn’t been enough money coming in — fewer miles driven, more efficient automobiles — to meet the state’s needs, but Walker was on record opposing any increased taxes. Twice, he asked Gottlieb to come up with a plan to fund transportation. Twice, Gottlieb came back with the truth — the only way to bring the books closer in balance was to find new revenue, such as higher gas taxes and higher vehicle registration fees. Without even a debate, Walker tossed Gottlieb’s responses in the round file and instead relied on borrowed money and delayed projects.
THE ISSUE APPEARS to be coming to a head. Republican legislators, particularly Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, are not following the governor’s lead anymore. Instead, there’s a strong movement to find sustainable funding mechanisms so Wisconsin roads and bridges can be properly maintained and projects can be completed on schedule. And legislators seem unwilling to spend 25 cents of every transportation dollar to service rising debt.
Just days ago Gottlieb faced questions from a legislative committee. Pressed for answers Gottlieb acknowledged that Wisconsin roads will continue to crumble and deteriorate under the governor’s plan.
And now he’s out. No doubt, in the customary parlance of such moments, to spend more time with his family.
IN HIS PLACE is Dave Ross, currently serving as safety and professional services secretary under Walker. So, what does that department do that might qualify an individual for leadership in transportation? It grants such things as licenses for beauticians, and boxers, dentists and doctors along with keeping an eye on folks like electricians and plumbers.
As for Ross, he was self-employed in the upholstery business for 20 years and served two terms as mayor of Superior. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from UW-Superior. He’s a past director of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities and served on the Superior Chamber of Commerce board.
Not exactly a civil engineer.
He hasn’t found ways to embarrass the boss, though, like Gottlieb did by committing a cardinal sin of politics — telling it straight.
LET’S REPEAT WHAT we’ve said before. Legislators must take the lead on transportation issues. There’s no other way because the governor — likely with an eye toward higher office — will not countenance a pragmatic decision on sustainable funding.
Certainly at first glance, it appears Gottlieb’s exit signals no room for compromise within the administration.
Legislative leaders like Vos should take that at face value, and react accordingly by proceeding to craft and pass their own plan.