The purpose of state transportation spending is to meet the infrastructure needs of Wisconsin residents and industry. Given the constant drone of commercials lamenting our current transportation policy, you would think the point of transportation spending is to line the pockets of the special interests funding the advertising campaign.
Wisconsin’s transportation budget is working more efficiently and producing better results than ever before. Through reforms, careful prioritization and targeted spending increases, Republican lawmakers working in conjunction with Gov. Scott Walker and a reform-minded leader of the Department of Transportation are demonstrating that a 21st Century transportation agenda doesn’t require massive tax hikes.
Our current state budget spends just over $6 billion on transportation. That amounts to just over $1,000 in spending per person statewide. The state is spending more on general transportation aids (which go to local governments) in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 than ever before ($896.25 million). The Local Bridge Program, which funds repairs and expansions to local highway bridges, saw the largest funding increase in 20 years earlier this year. For the first time in decades now the program is fully funded, which means 183 local highway bridges are being repaired or rebuilt.
If it wasn’t for fed-swap reforms that I and other lawmakers advocated for, current road projects would be more costly for Wisconsin taxpayers. This reform gives the DOT the flexibility to substitute state dollars for federal dollars on certain projects in order to avoid the extra regulatory compliance costs attached to federal dollars. Federal funds are then consolidated on projects that already fall under the more costly regulations.
Other reforms that have generated savings include eliminating the state prevailing wage requirement and better DOT negotiations with transportation contractors. In fiscal year 2017, taxpayers saved $127.2 million because the DOT negotiated with contractors during the bidding stage of projects.
Gone are the days when Governor Jim Doyle could raid the transportation fund, diverting cash away from our roads in order to fund his preferred political priorities.
Former DOT secretary Mark Gottlieb has attacked both Governor Scott Walker and the reforms legislative Republicans and the DOT have championed. Gottlieb’s recent posturing is a dishonest attempt to cover for his own failures while secretary of the agency. A nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau review of DOT found that under Gottlieb’s leadership the cost of 16 major highway projects was underestimated by $3.1 billion, billions were spent on projects that only had a single bidder, and numerous organizational inefficiencies plagued the agency.
Wisconsin has a transportation budget that works for taxpayers, not special interests. Road builders and those seeking to profit at taxpayer expense may argue for gas tax hikes while screaming that the sky is falling, but they do so only while ignoring reality.
Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) represents Wisconsin’s 20th Senate district.