Wisconsin lawmakers approve $350 million in bonds for needed road work

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/7/2015

Wisconsin lawmakers are again relying on borrowing to get some needed road work done around the state. They acted earlier this year to approve $500 million in borrowing for roads.

The Republican-led Joint Committee on Finance recently voted 10-6 to approve a plan to borrow another $350 million over the next two years to limit delays on road work. The panel is made up of lawmakers from both parties and both chambers.

Assembly Republicans and all Democrats endorsed Gov. Scott Walker’s plan while Senate Republicans rejected it.

Democrats, however, criticized the Republican governor’s decision to tap bonds to get the road work done. Instead, critics such as Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha say a long-term plan is necessary to adequately address the state’s estimated $6 billion shortfall to cover road and bridge needs over the next decade.

“Instead of making tough choices and exemplifying true leadership, Republicans are once again kicking a bigger can down a longer road,” Barca said in prepared remarks.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, is a member of the budget-writing panel. She said the release of bonds as part of the 2015-2017 state budget will allow the Interstate 39/90 expansion from the Illinois line to Madison and other critical infrastructure projects to move forward.

“This bonding will help us bridge the gap between revenues and expenses, but is not a long-term solution,” Loudenbeck stated. “I am hopeful that we continue the conversation on what a long-term solution might look like.”

Other projects that will avoid further delays include expansion and reconstruction U.S. 10/441 in the Fox Valley and expansion and reconstruction of the U.S. 151/Verona Road interchange in Madison.

State lawmakers are expected to step forward in the upcoming weeks to offer proposals that would help eat into the transportation funding shortfall.

One proposal at the statehouse would restore fuel tax indexing starting May 1, 2017. The rate would reflect the U.S. consumer price index.

If approved, an increase to 33.3 cents per gallon for gas is estimated by 2019. The change would add $61 million for roads and bridges in fiscal year 2019.

The state Legislature voted in 2005 to end fuel tax indexing.

Rep. Robb Kahl, D-Monona, said tapping the state’s fuel tax to raise additional revenue is a better option than relying heavily on bonding to get needed projects done.

Restoring the state’s fuel tax indexing was one recommendation made two years ago by a study commission to address the state’s transportation funding shortfall over the next 10 years.

Other recommendations include increasing the state’s fuel tax rate by 5 cents and raising other transportation fees.

The governor has refused to raise taxes without equal tax cuts elsewhere.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Wisconsin, click here.

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