We agree that state legislators and the governor should not raid the state’s transportation fund to pay for non-transportation programs. And we think that general rule of thumb should apply to all state budgeting.
But we’re not convinced that a constitutional amendment is needed to protect the transportation fund. Such an amendment, which voters will get to vote on in 2014 thanks to state Senate action last week, could be too restrictive, tying legislators’ hands and judgment in an emergency.
We also wonder if it is fair to constitutionally protect highway funding from raids — which benefits from sources other than the transportation fund — and not other money.
What makes the transportation fund special? Well, there are 5.2 million reasons.
According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, interests related to road-building contributed $5.2 million to past and current legislators between 2010 and mid-2012.
Other than that, we’re not sure why road funds should get such ironclad protection.
Yes, Democrats and Republicans have too often played shell games with funding and conducted too many raids on money meant for other purposes, especially in the case of highway funding. That’s a problem. But a constitutional amendment that outright bans such raids for one industry is an awfully big tool to fix this problem.
There are other ways to limit raids — perhaps procedural rules that would make it more difficult, such as requiring a bigger majority vote — while still allowing lawmakers some discretion. Or maybe — as difficult as it might be on both sides of the aisle — legislators could exercise some restraint.
There’s an idea.
— Milwaukee Journal Sentinel