In setting up a new lobbying group to encourage lawmakers to adopt a long-term means of paying for transportation projects, organizers made it a point to note they were drawing support from the manufacturing, agriculture and tourism industries.
Conspicuously absent from a news release Wednesday announcing the formation of Devote Resources, Invest for a Vibrant Economy — an organization known as DRIVE for short — was any mention of road builders. That was true even though road-building contractors and their representatives have been among the prime advocates of raising additional revenue to pay for long-planned transportation projects.
Steve Baas, co-chairman of DRIVE and senior vice president at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said he and his fellow organizers have certainly invited road builders to lend a hand. And the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association is one of the groups officially backing DRIVE.
Still, the group is drawing most of its support from the manufacturing, agriculture and tourism industries, which rely heavily on the state’s transportation system as part of their everyday business.
DRIVE is just the latest formal organization set up to urge lawmakers to find a way to pay for long-term transportation plans without greatly adding to the state’s debt burden. Its comrades in arms include the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, which has used a campaign named “Just Fix It” for similar purposes.
Just Fix It, though, has a different mission. Its primary directive is to inform the public of the need for various long-term transportation projects and explain the danger of using debt to pay for them.
DRIVE, in contrast, will be mostly for advertising and lobbying.
Here are DRIVE’s members:
- Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
- Wisconsin Dells Visitors and Convention Bureau
- Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation
- Association of Wisconsin Tourism Attractions
- CARW—Commercial Association of Realtors
- Wisconsin Dairy Business Association
- Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association
- Greater Whitewater Committee
- NAIOP Wisconsin—Commercial Real Estate Development Association, Wisconsin Chapter Professional Insurance Agents of Wisconsin
- Tommy Bartlett Show
- Transportation Development Association
- Waukesha Business Alliance
- Wisconsin Bankers Association
- Wisconsin Corn Growers Association
- Wisconsin Pork Association
- Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association
- Wisconsin Realtors Association
- Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association
- Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association
“They’re complementary efforts,” Baas said.
Craig Thompson, executive director of TDA of Wisconsin, said the two groups no doubt have some of the same members.
“Just Fix It is really a broad-based education effort,” Thompson said.
The two campaigns now find themselves at odds with some of the top officials in state government.
Last month, Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation released a budget proposal that would avoid an increase in the state’s gas tax or vehicle-registration fees at the cost of delays to various long-planned highway projects.
Walker has repeatedly said he will not approve any tax increase that is not offset by a decrease elsewhere in the state budget.
In the news release Wednesday, DRIVE members called on state officials to remember how important the state’s transportation system is to the economy, public safety and residents’ quality of life. They said transportation money should be a top priority.
The members of DRIVE have agreed to subscribe to certain principles, according to the release. Among them are an opposition to increasing the state’s reliance on bonding to pay for transportation projects.
DRIVE will use lobbying to push for what it deemed a transportation plan aimed at strengthening the state’s economy over the long term.
“Without a modern, efficient transportation development and funding plan, all current and future economic development initiatives are in jeopardy,” said Jim Holte, DRIVE co-chair and president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
The organization is being led by Baas, Holte and Tom Diehl, an owner of Tommy Bartlett Inc. in the Wisconsin Dells.
The Just Fix It campaign, for its part, has seen more than 500 local governments adopt a resolution calling on state lawmakers to find a way to pay for transportation projects without greatly increasing the state’s reliance on borrowing.