Two Wisconsin lawmakers are pushing a bill to protect the stateâ€™s transportation money just weeks after two other lawmakers sparked an effort to protect all segregated money.
â€œI support the idea of protecting all segregated funds,â€ said state Rep. Mark Gottlieb, the Port Washington Republican in favor of safeguarding transportation cash. â€œThis is not an either-or thing.
â€œWe just thought it would be appropriate to discuss protecting the transportation fund, given that itâ€™s the most visible segregated fund and has had the most taken out of it by far â€” more than $1 billion in the last three budgets.â€
Gottlieb and state Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, are looking for co-sponsors for the bill, which Gottlieb said is slated for formal introduction next week.
Ryan Murray, Hopperâ€™s chief of staff, said the transportation-only bill might fare better than the push by state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, and state Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, to protect all segregated pools of money.
â€œThere could be concerns that because that bill is so broad and referendums can only deal with one question, that it could meet with some challenges,â€ Murray said.
Under Wisconsin law, either bill would have to pass two consecutive legislative sessions and then be approved by voters in a state referendum before taking effect.
â€œCertainly, transportation is the biggest portion of segregated money that gets raided, but there needs to be protections for everybody,â€ Tauchen said. â€œThere are about a dozen funds that have been raided â€¦ so, if youâ€™re talking about handling each one with individual legislation, that would just be tons of work.â€
Although the state committed to protecting transportation money in its recently passed state stimulus and deficit reduction bill, Gottlieb said those protections only go so far.
â€œIt still allows transfers from the transportation fund, just with three exceptions,â€ he said. â€œYou canâ€™t go after money for major highways, the southeast Wisconsin freeways or the highway rehab program.
â€œWeâ€™re saying you canâ€™t pick out individual programs. Every dollar that goes toward transportation should stay there.â€
But state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said he would be surprised if the bill remains limited to transportation.
â€œOther groups may try to tag on to it,â€ he said. â€œFirst you have transportation, then you have natural resources, then you have the doctors and then pharmacists. Where do you draw the line?â€
He also pointed out that as times change, needs change.
â€œIf you try to put in these laws that rigidly change the constitution, it doesnâ€™t help,â€ Risser said. â€œOne legislative session canâ€™t control another session. You need to retain as much flexibility as possible.â€
State Rep. Robert Ziegelbauer, the Manitowoc Democrat and chairman of the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means, is co-sponsoring Tauchen and Plaleâ€™s comprehensive bill.
He pointed out the Legislature also has the power to reject proposed money transfers when it reviews biennial budgets, regardless of whether or not either bill passes.
â€œPeople would do well to remember we donâ€™t need an amendment for raids not to happen,â€ he said. â€œAll the Legislature needs is a bit of acquiescence for it not to occur.â€