An information fog obscures the state’s transportation debate. Claims and counter-claims “supported” with cherry-picked data are common. Separating fact from spin can be daunting.
Access to objective data apparently will be even harder to come by when the issue resurfaces in the next legislative session. Credit for that dubious development goes to Transportation Secretary Dave Ross. Email exchanges with his top deputy suggest that Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WIDOT) no longer will issue two valuable, long-standing reports on transportation revenue, debt, and spending.
One report, “Transportation Budget Trends,” provides a comprehensive historical overview of revenues and expenditures. A second document, “All Funds” and “State Funds”, is a two-page, line-item breakdown of the then-current biennial budget. Issuance of the reports dates at least to the late 1990s.
On February 27 I emailed Deputy Secretary Bob Seitz as follows: “Who should I contact to get a current copy of the attached reports?”
His March 1 response: “The ‘All Funds Report’ looks like it comes out of the biennial budget act. The latest version of that would be the budget act signed in September. The other document looks to be a budget-related piece. Those won’t be out until budget documents start coming out for the next budget process late in the year.”
This was unresponsive. The issuance of neither report is dependent on “the next budget process.”
On March 2 I asked: “Can you direct me to the person in WIDOT who will be preparing current versions of these reports?”
I followed up on March 15: “Re my question of March 2, can you direct me to the individual who will prepare current versions of the two referenced reports? I am trying to determine when they will be issued.”
On March 20 Seitz wrote: “I replied to you on the reports. They are not documents we keep up…” I concluded the exchange on March 21: “It is discouraging to hear that WIDOT won’t continue the series of informational data reports.”
Seitz began a recent interview with RightWisconsin Editor James Wigderson by stressing the importance of “transparency.” When it comes to making factual information available about the department’s complex, multi-billion dollar budget, actions speak louder than words.