By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee took a detour on Thursday from Gov. Scott Walker’s road-funding plan, directing more money toward local road projects amid criticism from Democrats who argued against spending anything more on a stretch of Interstate 94 running near the massive Foxconn Technology Group project.
The state learned last week that it was being awarded $67 million more for roads than it had expected from the federal government. But before the money could be spent, the Legislature’s budget committee had to meet and decide what to do with it.
Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the budget committee, said completing the decade-old Interstate 94 project near the planned Foxconn project should take priority over other projects because of the large numbers of vehicles that take that stretch of interstate between Milwaukee and Illinois.
“The roads in Illinois are much better than I-94 going in and out of Wisconsin,” Darling said.
Her statement is certain to be cited often during the fall campaign season by Democrats, who see the condition of Wisconsin roads as a cudgel they can use on Republicans. Walker and his fellow Republicans have been in complete control of state government since 2011 and have yet to come up with a long-term funding plan for transportation.
The road-funding debate is now tied to the Foxconn project because of the proximity of the company’s planned manufacturing campus to the I-94 project.
Democrats, though, argue that pothole-ridden local roads and highways should be repaired before yet more money is put toward I-94.
“Our roads are falling apart,” said state Rep. Chris Taylor, a Democrat from Madison.
In a move to blunt Democratic criticism, Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee voted to increase spending on local bridge projects, taking it up to $38 million from the $30 million Walker had first proposed. The panel also approved spending $6.7 million on other state road projects.
Democrats countered by calling for the full $67 million to be spent on roads and bridges, and none of it on I-94.
Walker announced that the $38 million approved Thursday for local projects will pay for repairs to an additional 70 bridge projects throughout the state.
“We are making sure our infrastructure is safely and efficiently connecting people and commerce in every corner of our state,” Walker said in a statement. “With $38.6 million in additional funding, we are helping improve 70 more bridges on top of the 113 we are already funding. This is part of the largest increase in local road and bridge aid in 20 years.”
As for I-94, the state’s Joint Finance Committee on Thursday approved spending $22 million — $15 million less than what Walker had proposed — on completing the long-delayed expansion project, on which work began in 2009.
The committee approved the plan in a 10-5 vote. All Republicans on the committee were in support except Sen. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, who is a top target for Democrats in the November election. Marklein joined all four Democrats in voting against the plan, saying he wanted more money to go toward local roads.
The reconstruction of I-94 began under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and was originally scheduled to be completed in 2016. But Walker’s administration delayed the work in 2012, moving the completion date to 2021. Under the state budget approved in 2015, the Milwaukee Zoo Interchange project was given priority, pushing the completion date for I-94 back to the end of 2022.
The most recent budget, though, included $250 million to speed up work on I-94 because of the Foxconn project, which will increase traffic along the interstate. That additional money moved the completion date up to 2021.
Foxconn says it could employ as many 13,000 people to make liquid-crystal-display panels at the factory, which would be its first outside Asia.
– Nate Beck of The Daily Reporter contributed to this article