In signing his first biennial budget on Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers tossed out a number of GOP-sponsored infrastructure provisions, including a bridge project in the district of a key Republican lawmaker and rules that would make it easier for gravel quarries to operate in Wisconsin.
Although Evers kept money in place for an expansion of I-43 north of Milwaukee and the completion of the Zoo Interchange, he scuttled several proposals that the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee had tacked onto the state’s transportation budget. Among the proposals that did not survive the governor’s pen was money to conduct a tolling study, a provision to rehab the
Veterans Memorial bridge in Kaukauna and money to begin planning for a new $300 million prison in Green Bay.
The budget, with the governor’s 78 vetoes, takes effect immediately. Republicans do not have the majority needed to override any of the vetoes.
TWO INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS OUT
Although a reconstruction of I-43 north of Milwaukee and money to finish the Zoo Interchange remain in the two-year spending plan, Evers tweaked an expansion of I-41 and cut a bridge-repair project entirely.
Evers struck down a provision, written into the budget by the Joint Finance Committee, that would have directed the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to build an interchange for an expansion of I-41 between Brown and Outagamie counties. The measure would have aside $6 million for an environmental review of the project, and was a priority of state Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere. Evers, however, cut provisions that would have directed WisDOT to build an interchange for the roadway near Brown County, saying the department should have control of the project’s design.
The budget also won’t include a directive to repair the Veterans Memorial Bridge in the city of Kaukauna — the home district of Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, a Republican.
“I object to the placement of the project in the budget, particularly given the lack of additional funding provided to ensure that this earmark does not result in a delay for other needed repairs,” Evers said.
NO TOLLING STUDY
Evers also dumped Republican provisions that would have allowed the Department of Transportation to spend as much as $2.5 million on a study on tolling and mileage-based fees.
Some Republican lawmakers have favored tolling as an alternative to Evers’ proposal to raise the state’s gas tax to pay for long-planned road projects. The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee tossed out the governor’s proposal to increase the gas tax by nearly 10 cents a gallon in favor of a hike on title fees and other charges.
“I object to the financing of another study that will show, yet again, that the motor fuel tax is the most effective way to approximate a user fee of roadway use and the most cost-effective way to collect revenue,” Evers wrote.
The governor scratched a plan to spend $5 million to start bidding procedures and acquire property for a new prison to replace the Green Bay Correctional Institution. Evers wrote that he objects to building a new maximum-security prison without giving the public more time to comment.
DESIGN-BUILD STAYS IN
Evers also largely retained a series of provisions allowing the design-build delivery method on road projects, although he vetoed limits that would have constrained WisDOT’s use of the system to just a few projects. Wisconsin is one of the few states that only allows the design-bid-build system on road projects. Proponents of design-build argue it could keep costs lower by allowing contractors to catch design flaws early on in construction projects.
The proposal, however, has drawn criticism from some prominent construction-industry interests, which argue that design-build would favor large contractors with in-house design teams.
Evers eliminated provisions that would have set a standard $100 truck-registration fee. The change keeps the state’s current weight-based tiered registration fees in place. Owners of trucks under 6,000 pounds now pay a uniform $100 fee, owners of trucks between 6,000 and 8,000 pounds pay $106 and owners of trucks between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds pay $155. The governor wrote he objects to forcing owners of lighter vehicles to pay the same as those who drive the sorts of heavy trucks that do most damage to the roads.
CUT TO ROAD AID
Evers partially vetoed a provision that would have provided $90 million in general-fund revenue for local-road aid. The change reduced the figure to $75 million, and directed the Department of Administration not to allocate that money. Evers said using general-fund revenue for that purpose would have forestalled the “sustainable investment” that the state’s transportation budget needs.
He also cut parts of the provision that would have placed limits on how the general fund money is used.
Also out of the budget is a provision that would have limited local governments’s ability to regulate quarries that supply materials for transportaiton projects. A lack of quarries and restrictive local rules are often blamed for driving up the cost of road work. Former Gov. Scott Walker also cut similar rules from the budget in 2017.
Evers said he struck the provision because it was put forward without public discussion.
“I recognize the upward cost pressures on road building caused by trucking aggregate long distances and the cost savings that could be realized, but these concerns must be weighed against the need for local control of land use,” he wrote.
Erin Longmire, executive director of the Aggregate Producers of Wisconsin, an industry group, criticized the governor’s veto in a statement, saying that by vetoing it, the governor was giving pu an opportunity to hold down the costs of road-building materials.
“Increased transportation costs of material equal increased taxpayer dollars spent on road projects,” Longmire said. “These reforms would have reduced trucking costs, which would have reduced the costs of road construction projects. Unfortunately, that will not happen with the budget signed by Gov. Evers.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this articleFollow @natebeck9