MADISON, Wis. (AP) — State borrowing for road building would continue to rise under Gov. Scott Walker’s latest budget proposal, a trend that has industry leaders wondering if some transportation projects will be scrapped in order to hold down debt.
Nearly 20 cents of every state dollar in Wisconsin’s road fund will be used to pay off highway loans this year, the Journal Sentinel reported. That number would climb even higher if Walker’s $1.3 billion in proposed transportation borrowing is approved. Only 7 cents of every dollar in the fund was used to repay infrastructure debt in 1999.
“Compared to past history, this is a really big number,” said Dale Knapp, research director of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. “Unless you address the underlying problem, this is something that feeds on itself.”
Federal money for highways isn’t likely to dig Wisconsin out of the road fund debt and the revenue from gas taxes has remained stagnant in recent years.
Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association executive director Pat Goss said his group believes it’s unacceptable to keep issuing highway bonds without a stream of money to repay them.
“If it is the will of the Legislature to not provide more funding, then our preference would be to cut,” Goss said. “It is a dangerous proposition (for our members) but it’s the responsible thing and it’s the right thing.”
Overall, Walker campaigned on cutting state debt and has slowed its growth. Since Walker took office in 2011, the state has made progress in slowing decades of growth in its debt of $13.8 billion. State debt peaked in 2012 and has since dipped slightly to a level that is modestly higher than when Walker took office.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the newspaper that new borrowing would help the state get by for two years, but leave the financial challenge even harder to solve in the long run.
“Seven hundred and thirty days from now we’re going to have the same problem,” Vos said.