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View from around the state: More borrowing for roads isn’t the answer

Gov. Scott Walker wants lawmakers to authorize the state to borrow $150 million this year because — surprise, surprise — there’s not enough money to pay for all the road projects and maintenance needed in Wisconsin. So borrowing is OK but it’s not OK to raise more money from taxpayers or find more sustainable revenue sources for transportation. And this is fiscally responsible how?

The Department of Transportation has said it is delaying work on dozens of road projects over the next six years, including five major projects that are important to the state’s infrastructure and economy, as Craig Thompson of the Transportation Development Association noted in a recent op-ed in The Daily Reporter. Thompson also warned that, “What is somewhat misleading about that is the two-year delay is a best-case scenario. If the next budget follows the precedence of recent state budgets, those delays will be indefinite. In other words, it will take additional funding in the next budget just to limit those delays to two years.”

The reason the state doesn’t have that money is because of funding cuts that Walker and GOP lawmakers made this summer, Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb told legislators in a letter last week.

Some of the 225 projects outlined by the department are segments of larger projects, the Journal Sentinel reported last week. For instance, widening I-39/90 from the Illinois state line to Madison is listed as 32 separate projects. Nonetheless, the new DOT list means dozens of projects will be delayed in the coming years.

And Walker’s solution? Borrowing.

With all the good work and the studies being done around the country on finding other ways of paying for roads, Walker’s best solution is to borrow more. But that’s just a short-term stopgap that doesn’t address the real and long-term problem, that GOP lawmakers in Madison and Washington seem unable or unwilling to grasp.

As we, Thompson and many others have said time and again, traditional sources of funding aren’t providing the necessary revenue. As vehicles have become more fuel-efficient and as some people decide to drive less, there is less in gas tax revenue. At the same time, many of the nation’s — and the state’s — roads are reaching the end of their serviceable life.

Other options are needed. Transit needs to be looked at much more seriously, as do other revenue options, such as vehicle miles traveled and registration fees based on vehicle size and even toll roads, as state Rep. Robin Vos (who does seem to understand the problem), has suggested.

Walker proposed a significant amount of borrowing for roads in his initial budget, which the Legislature wisely rejected. Charging the future for today’s needs is not always the best route to take, as the GOP is notoriously fond of telling Democrats in Washington.

The infrastructure is crumbling and the current model simply is no longer able to pay for new projects or the maintenance to keep commerce and families moving. Legislators and the governor need to put aside their blinders and come up with some real solutions.

— From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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