Standing before an audience of construction officials on Friday, Gov. Tony Evers and his pick for transportation secretary heralded how they would repair Wisconsin’s sagging infrastructure, if only Republicans in the state Legislature would let them.
Evers and Craig Thompson, the governor’s appointee for secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, spoke to a crowd gathered at Monona Terrace in Madison for a “Building Business” event organized by The Daily Reporter. Evers and Thompson came in part to promote their two-year infrastructure budget and capital spending plans, which have already run into intense opposition from the Republicans who control both houses of the state Legislature.
In mid-March, Republican members of the state Building Commission rejected every single spending proposal Evers had placed in his $2.5 billion capital budget. That plan called for spending more than twice what’s authorized the last capital budget approved under Evers’ predecessor, Scott Walker.
In most budget years, the state building commission will approve the governor’s capital-budget recommendations. So GOP lawmakers’ decision to reject all of his plans this year was nothing short of “breathtaking,” Evers said.
“Beyond our transportation infrastructure, we’re also making historic investments in our state and University of Wisconsin System infrastructure after eight years of neglect,” Evers said. “Unfortunately, just recently, Republicans on the state building commission voted against the capital budget projects, discarding a decades-old institutional tradition of recommending the governor’s capital budget to the legislative joint finance committee.”
Evers on Friday also championed his transportation budget, which would use a gas tax increase to add $608 million to the state’s infrastructure budget. The governor has previously said his budget would riase the state’s gas tax by eight cents. But an analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that a provision in the budget that would have the tax once again indexed to inflation would, by the end of the state’s next budget, drive the fee up by 1.6 cents over the 8-cent increase Evers is seeking.
Evers’ transportation budget would increase spending on highway rehabilitation by 15.5 percent. At the same time, though, it would slightly decrease funding for major highway projects throughout the state and slash spending on major projects in southeast Wisconsin by 38 percent.
The transportation budget includes money to finish the north leg of the Zoo Interchange — which wasn’t funded in the state’s current budget — and to overhaul Interstate 43 between Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties. The budget, however, has no money for rebuilding the east-west stretch of Interstate 94 between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges.
The budget’s priority on rehabilitation rather than major highway projects drew questions from the audience at the Daily Reporter’s event. Asked how the state would plan for new highway work, Thompson said he’d like to reconvene the Transportation Projects Commission, a 15-member board that plans major highway work.
The commission hasn’t met since 2014. As a result, the state’s to-do list of major highway jobs is shrinking.
“I think there needs to be more communication with the Legislature,” Thompson said. “I think we need to get together twice a year. I think it forces people to look at where were at and what is the cost of not moving projects forward.”Follow @natebeck9