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WisDOT budget analysis

Gov. Jim Doyle’s proposed 2003-2005 budget recommendations were of concern   to those interested in maintaining Wisconsin’s commercial infrastructure. Doyle   was recommending that the state transfer more than $500 million dollars of transportation   monies to the general fund to be used to finance other areas of the budget.   Doyle proposed to fill the $500 million dollar shortfall and Department of Transportation   funding with bonding. Of course, all of these monies would have to be repaid   on a later date.

 

Recently, new developments in the Joint Finance Committee may help remedy this   potential problem. The following illustrates just some of the different areas   whereby the Joint Finance Committee is recommending alterations to Doyle’s proposed   2003-2005 budget recommendations in the area of transportation:

 

     
  • Reduce transportation revenue bonding by $480 million as compared to Doyle’s   budget recommendation. While bonding is an essential element of WisDOT’s budget,   increased reliance on bonding increases the pressure to raise gas taxes and   registration fees. Furthermore, such bonding can eventually lead to a scenario   where by current bonding is used to pay off old debt.
     
     
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  • Expand WisDOT’s revenue base. Wisconsin is unique in that beyond federal   revenues, WisDOT is funded solely through registration fees and gas taxes.   The Joint Finance Committee plan added a portion (20 percent) of the sales   tax revenues generated from new vehicle sales to the transportation fund in   the next biennium. By doing so, you not only add to the revenue base, but   you take pressure off the need to increase gas taxes or registration fees.
     
     
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  • Replenishing the transportation fund. Doyle’s budget transferred $530 million   from the transportation fund to the general fund to close the state’s $3.2   billion budget shortfall. The Joint Finance Committee plan replenished the   transportation fund with $377 million in general obligation bonds. These bonds   will be used to prevent the delay of nearly 100 road projects around the Wisconsin   and make sure the Marquette Interchange project is completed on time.
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These needed alterations to Doyle’s proposed 2003-2005 WisDOT recommendations   should be welcomed by all those who view Wisconsin’s roads as the primary means   by which goods (and people) are transported in the state. However, we should   not forget the importance of keeping segregated fees, which are earmarked for   specific projects, separate and distinct from general-purpose revenue. Once   monies are lost for important infrastructure projects, it is very difficult   to get that money back from the quagmire of state government spending.

 

Reince R. Priebus can be reached at Michael Best & Friedrich LLP at   262-956-6560 or by email.

 

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