Gov. Tony Evers led off his 2023-25 executive budget speech on Wednesday with infrastructure and transportation, which included combined hundreds of millions of dollars for local roads, bridges and paying for debt from the state’s transportation revenue bond program.
The governor on Wednesday said Wisconsin had its best fiscal year in its statehood and revealed his plans to cut taxes and improve school funding. However, Republicans in the Legislature said at a news conference they will throw out most his $104 billion budget. The state is looking at a surplus of more than $7 billion as of January, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported.
In his proposed budget, Evers proposed using $380 million of the surplus to pay debts from the transportation revenue bond program. Using the surplus to pay debts will allow more funds to be available to improve state roads and save the state money on future interest payments, the governor’s office said.
The governor also pitched an investment of a combined $175.4 million in bonds and funds for highway and bridge repairs, and more for local roads, traffic calming measures and electric car infrastructure. Transferring a portion of state sales tax for electric cars, car parts and repairs would turn into $190 million more for the general transportation fund over the biennium.
Evers said he wanted to use $47.2 million in bonding to reconstruct the John A. Blatnik Bridge between Superior and Duluth, and another $50 million in bonding to support the South Bridge Connector Project in the Green Bay area. Another $1.2 million in money will go to repair the Ray Nitschke Memorial Bridge in Green Bay and another $77 million will go to the State Highway Rehabilitation Program, the governor’s office said.
The budget will increase general transportation aids by 4% in both 2024 and 2025 for counties and municipalities, the governor said. A total of $50 million in yearly segregated funds will funnel into the Local Road Improvement Program and funding for the current program will increase by 4% each year of the biennium, officials added. The governor also pitched another 4% increase for mass transit aids in 2024 and 2025.
A total of $1.2 million in segregated funds will match current Transportation Alternatives Programs in small communities and another $8 million will support local governments administering federal funding opportunities for local roads, the governor’s office said.
Cities, villages and towns would have their ability to use eminent domain to build bike paths and pedestrian walks restored under the governor’s budget proposal. Local governments will also be able to establish their own regional transit authorities when necessary, the governor’s office added.
The governor also proposed a program to use federal funds to expand the state’s electric car infrastructure, which includes $17.1 million in fiscal year 2023-24 and $17.4 million in 2024-25. A total of $16 million will go to the Harbor Assistance Program and $20 million will go to the Freight Rail Preservation program.
Lead pipe replacement and workforce proposals make a splash for unions
Evers’ budget offers for workforce development included lead pipe and drinking water remediation, affordable housing and child care programs. The governor’s proposals gathered praise from state labor unions like the Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council.
In the proposed budget, the governor wants $150 million to fund cities and towns to develop and maintain affordable workforce housing through an Affordable Workforce Housing Grant program. A Municipal Home Rehabilitation Program to restore blighted residences and create more affordable housing would be kickstarted with an investment of $100 million.
Lead pipe remediation and home repairs were the highlights of a $100 million proposal to beef up the Workforce Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, the governor’s office said. The program would provide low-interest and forgivable loans to low- and moderate-income homes to repair their current home.
The program to put $200 million to lead service line replacement will provide clean drinking water, reduce lead poisoning and create good-paying jobs for union members, LIUNA President and Business Manager Kent Miller said in a statement. “Clean water should be a right for all people, and Evers’ proposed investments, coupled with additional money from the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Biden, will help communities throughout Wisconsin gain access to clean and safe drinking water.”