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Walker promises to keep road borrowing low in next budget (UPDATE)

As the Wisconsin Department of Transportation prepares to formally submit its 2017-19 budget request to state officials on Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker says he’ll keep borrowing for road projects low while also increasing the amount of money going toward local governments.

The state faces a $940 million shortfall to pay for road projects that are already approved. Walker has directed his Department of Transportation to deliver a budget that identifies cost savings, prioritizes needs and doesn’t raise taxes and fees. That last directive promises to delay expansion work and upkeep on all but the state’s most-traveled roads.

In a news release Tuesday, Walker also pledged to keep transportation borrowing low in the next budget. He did not elaborate.

Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion for roads in the 2015-17 budget. Legislators walked that back to $850 million.

In his news release, Walker pointed out that the state’s borrowing for transportation projects has varied widely since 2003. It hit a high of $1.3 billion in the state’s 2009-2011 budget and fell to a low of $590.9 million in the 2007-09 budget.

The release also stated that general transportation aids for counties, towns, villages and cities increased by 4 percent in 2015, from $403.5 million to $419.6 million

Walker has previously said the state’s next transportation budget will place an emphasis on maintaining local roads and bridges rather than on undertaking massive expansion projects in southeast Wisconsin. At the same time, he sent a letter to federal officials indicating that he expects an expansion of an east-west running section of Interstate 94 in Milwaukee County to be included in the state’s formal plans.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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