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Lawmakers drive to protect transportation cash

Paul Snyder
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Two Wisconsin lawmakers are pushing a bill to protect the state’s transportation money just weeks after two other lawmakers sparked an effort to protect all segregated money.

“I support the idea of protecting all segregated funds,” said state Rep. Mark Gottlieb, the Port Washington Republican in favor of safeguarding transportation cash. “This is not an either-or thing.

“We just thought it would be appropriate to discuss protecting the transportation fund, given that it’s the most visible segregated fund and has had the most taken out of it by far — more than $1 billion in the last three budgets.”

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, Hopper’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.

“There 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,” 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.

“Certainly, transportation is the biggest portion of segregated money that gets raided, but there needs to be protections for everybody,” Tauchen said. “There are about a dozen funds that have been raided … so, if you’re talking about handling each one with individual legislation, that would just be tons of work.”

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.

“It still allows transfers from the transportation fund, just with three exceptions,” he said. “You can’t go after money for major highways, the southeast Wisconsin freeways or the highway rehab program.

“We’re saying you can’t pick out individual programs. Every dollar that goes toward transportation should stay there.”

But state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said he would be surprised if the bill remains limited to transportation.

“Other groups may try to tag on to it,” he said. “First you have transportation, then you have natural resources, then you have the doctors and then pharmacists. Where do you draw the line?”

He also pointed out that as times change, needs change.

“If you try to put in these laws that rigidly change the constitution, it doesn’t help,” Risser said. “One legislative session can’t control another session. You need to retain as much flexibility as possible.”

State Rep. Robert Ziegelbauer, the Manitowoc Democrat and chairman of the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means, is co-sponsoring Tauchen and Plale’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.

“People would do well to remember we don’t need an amendment for raids not to happen,” he said. “All the Legislature needs is a bit of acquiescence for it not to occur.”

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