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View from around the state: Walker and Fitzgerald ignoring the realities of transportation budget

Gov. Scott Walker speaks about his proposed transportation budget Thursday, May 25, 2017, at the Wis 441 Tri-County Project construction site in the Village of Fox Crossing, Wis. (Danny Damiani/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin/The Post-Crescent via AP)

Gov. Scott Walker speaks about his proposed transportation budget on May 25 at the Wis 441 Tri-County Project construction site in the Village of Fox Crossing, Wis. (Danny Damiani/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin/The Post-Crescent via AP)

“We’ll all have egg on our face. Republicans will look like we don’t know what we’re doing if we are somehow through July to August and we don’t have a state budget.”

That’s Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) on the current impasse in Madison on the state budget.

And he’s right.

His party controls the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature, and it still can’t reach agreement on how to spend taxpayers’ money. Maybe Republicans don’t know what they’re doing.

The biggest impasse appears to be over transportation funding (although education also is a thorny issue). Fitzgerald and Gov. Scott Walker are arguing for more borrowing and delay, and the Assembly, led by Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is arguing for more revenue streams.

On that, Vos is right, and he and the Assembly should stick to their guns.

Walker and Fitzgerald are probably hoping for one of two things: a federal bailout in the form of infrastructure aid from the Trump administration or that future generations won’t mind paying more for roads. The first could happen but is a short-term remedy. Good luck on the second.

In a feeble attempt at compromise, Walker said Thursday he was willing to reduce the amount of debt because there’s more money in transportation coffers than expected — but he still wants to borrow $300 million. Fitzgerald, who wants to borrow $750 million over the next two years, argues that there’s waste in the Department of Transportation and that “it was pointless to discuss raising taxes when Walker has committed to vetoing any tax increase,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

Both are ignoring the essential challenge of transportation funding: an aging and deteriorating road system that standard revenue streams can no longer adequately repair and expand, coupled with growing demand for roads and transit.

Vos, who to his credit and somewhat out of character, is waging a very public fight on this, issued a news release recently with some facts that are worth noting:

“US DOT says Wisconsin roads rank 47th in the nation, and estimates that 71 percent of our roadways are in mediocre condition.

“Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance have given our highways a grade of ‘D.’

“Wisconsin’s transportation fund deficit currently exceeds $1 billion.

“Our debt service levels on transportation bonds exceed 20 cents per dollar — a number that will grow to an even more unsustainable level if more borrowing occurs without additional revenue sources to support the debt

“Revenues are declining. Motor fuel consumption has decreased in 5 of the last 10 years and the average annual growth over the last 10 years has been one half of 1 percent for fuel consumption, eight-tenths of 1 percent for auto registrations, three-tenths of 1 percent for light truck registrations and 1.8 percent for heavy truck registrations.”

What’s needed is an approach that could include toll roads, fees for heavy trucks, modest hikes in the registration fee and gas tax, and perhaps a vehicle-miles-traveled system. But the current system is failing, and borrow-and-delay is no answer. The state needs new sources of revenue.

Until Walker and Fitzgerald deal seriously with that, there’ll be a lot of egg on a lot of faces.

— Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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