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Doyle commits to state road projects

Bill directs $300 million in stimulus money to transportation
Paul Snyder
paul.snyder@dailyreporter.com

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec suscipit. Vivamus sit amet magna tincidunt sapien ornare aliquam. Aenean massa justo, cursus porta, mattis non, malesuada et, lacus. Aenean convallis. Photo by Paul Snyder

Wisconsin plans to immediately commit $300 million in federal stimulus spending to state road projects as soon as the federal cash arrives.

Joined by state Senate and Assembly majority leadership, Gov. Jim Doyle on Wednesday announced a bill to expedite economic recovery in the state. The bill is expected to be introduced in the state Legislature this week.

Along with cutting $125 million in state spending and creating new tax credits, Doyle’s bill, designed to help close the state’s $675 million budget gap, preapproves $300 million in federal stimulus spending to put workers on transportation projects as soon as possible.

The list includes 63 road projects in 30 counties. Those projects range from a $40.17 million Interstate 94 expansion in Dane County to about $75,000 in safety upgrades to state Highway 64 between New Richmond and Connorsville.

“Obviously this is the first of a number of steps we have to take,” Doyle said. “We have very, very tough times ahead of us.”

But Assembly Speaker Michael Sheridan, D-Janesville, said putting people to work on the projects could ease the rash of unemployment the state experienced in recent months.

“It’s about the opportunity to work,” he said. “What might be nice is that people (who lost jobs in the) auto industry might be able to help build bridges or put some of these roads together.”

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said he wants the bill on the Senate floor for debate next week, and the Senate and Assembly will work to pass it by Feb. 20.

Although the bill includes several cuts to state spending, it prohibits reductions to highway construction and invests $3.6 million in worker training, including training in green-building techniques.

“We can’t rely on the federal government all the time, and they’ve had their problems with the stimulus bill in Washington,” Decker said. “The job-training component of this bill is important because it’s going to get Wisconsin workers building airports, harbors and public buildings.”

The Joint Committee on Finance immediately will begin reviewing the bill’s spending provisions.
Committee co-chairman Mark Miller said the review will be done as quickly as possible.

Although touted as a bipartisan bill early in the press conference, there was little GOP support for the package presented Wednesday, Decker and Sheridan said.

Following the announcement, several Republican lawmakers issued statements decrying the bill for tax increases and a lack of bipartisan collaboration.

“At a time when both parties should be working together on the most important issue of the day, Democrats choose to meet behind closed doors to craft a retread of unpopular ideas to raise taxes or create new ones,” according to information attributed to state Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, in a press release.

Nevertheless, Decker said he is confident the bill will pass by Feb. 20, and the state can fix its remaining budget hole for the fiscal year by June 30.

Doyle said the existing biennial budget’s shortfall and the projected $5.7 billion hole to be filled in the 2009-11 budget are not separate matters.

“This is one big problem that will extend out over the next few years,” he said. “Wisconsin is not immune to the economic downturn the nation is seeing. Nearly every state is forecasting a large budget deficit for this year and over the next two years.”

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