Wisconsin needs to find a sustainable solution to highway funding.
LET’S OFFER PRAISE for majority Republican members of the Joint Committee on Finance for daring to challenge Gov. Scott Walker’s ineffective transportation budget plan.
It has been obvious for years — including before Walker took office — that Wisconsin’s transportation funding system is unsustainable. It simply does not raise enough money to maintain roads and make necessary safety upgrades, let alone provide for new projects that might spark economic development and bolster tourism.
Yet Walker sticks stubbornly to his campaign talking points about never raising taxes or fees. That may serve the governor well in future political runs, but it’s allowing roads and infrastructure to degrade across the state.
AGAIN THIS YEAR Walker’s budget called for borrowing big money and putting off projects in order to balance the transportation budget while raising no new revenue. Is that a coincidence with his plans to announce a bid for a third term as soon as the budget is adopted? You decide.
Meanwhile, here’s the good news: Last week JFC members indicated they were starting over in consideration of a transportation budget. Normally, the budget committee begins deliberations with the plan submitted by the governor. Not this time. The committee has set aside Walker’s proposal in order to start from scratch.
While no one can predict where the committee will wind up, this is a clear signal members are ready to get serious about fixing the transportation system’s broken financing model. Drivers are putting fewer miles on more fuel-efficient cars, contributing to the eroding financial system. Likewise, Wisconsin has not kept pace with other states in adjusting road-related taxes and fees. It’s even worth considering tolling on some highways, to capture a measure of revenue from out-of-state drivers to compensate for wear and tear.
EVEN THOUGH PRESIDENT TRUMP promised during his campaign to begin a massive infrastructure rebuilding program totalling $1 trillion or more, waiting around on that money and plan is a fool’s errand. Political Washington hasn’t even started a conversation on the topic yet. In fact, evidence so far suggests the usual partisan sniping already has tossed sawdust into the federal legislative gearbox threatening to derail or delay matters.
It’s up to legislative leadership to take the initiative if the governor won’t. Transportation infrastructure is not an expensive boondoggle; it’s an investment that facilitates economic growth. Borrowing hundreds of millions budget after budget just increases long-term costs. Putting off projects does the same thing.
JFC members have signaled their independence, and that’s a good thing.
A FINAL WORD: Joint Finance members also removed from Walker’s budget a proposal that would have taken away the obligation of government agencies to publish minutes and other public notices in local newspapers. This is a victory for transparency and another indication that pushback from the people makes a difference. When this effort to take away transparency began newspapers around Wisconsin alerted their readers. Legislators got an earful, and are responding in a positive way. For that we thank our readers, and newspaper readers all across Wisconsin. We also thank JFC members for doing the right thing.