Just Fix It Wisconsin

Beloit Daily News editorial: Find a way to sustain roads 11/9/2015

11/09/2015, Beloit Daily News – THE PROJECT TO WIDEN Interstate 39/90 from the Illinois state line to Madison will go forward, delayed one year instead of two thanks to a decision by the Joint Finance Committee in Madison.

The decision was a rare bird for Wisconsin — a bipartisan vote. Assembly Republican members teamed with Democrats to approve borrowing that was opposed by all Senate Republican members of the JFC.

As we frequently have stated, this project is crucial to economic development (and safety) in Rock County. Beyond that, the sorely-needed improvements will benefit commerce and tourism for the entire state. And it will erase the embarrassment of a good six-lane highway from Illinois bottlenecking at the state line into Wisconsin’s four lanes. The two states long ago agreed to partner on this work. When the bankrupt-in-all-but-name state of Illinois fulfills its role while Wisconsin threatened to renege … well, as we said, embarrassing.

WHILE IT IS A RELIEF that Wisconsin is moving forward with this work, more needs to be said.

For far too long Wisconsin has been putting such projects on the credit card. Revenues being raised for transportation purposes are grossly inadequate for meeting needs. The state’s highways and bridges are falling into dangerous disrepair.

Borrowing is a desperate answer. We urge readers to absorb columnist Steven Walters’ piece on today’s Opinion page. The longtime Capitol journalist lays out the full picture and it’s not pretty. Revenues are falling woefully short. As the difference is made up by heavy borrowing, the interest juice to service the debt eats further and further into what revenues remain. No household could sustain that kind of approach to meeting expenses. Neither can the state.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER twice asked for studies of the situation, headed by his own Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

Twice, the answer came back: Wisconsin must raise revenues — options include higher fuel taxes, higher registration fees, even tolling.

Twice, Walker tossed the recommendations in the trash before the ink was dry. Then, at budget time, he called for higher borrowing.

One can only wonder why Gottlieb — an experienced government hand with a long record of solid service — hasn’t handed the governor a letter of resignation, since his recommendations obviously are out of step with the administration’s adamant anti-tax stance.

Without a doubt, that stance needs to change where transportation is concerned. Roads and bridges deteriorate. It’s a fact, not a political argument. Maintaining them properly is government’s responsibility and it is not optional, both for safety reasons and to support commerce.

This round of borrowing was made unavoidable by the stubborn refusal to accept fact and listen to realistic options. Before the next budget cycle Wisconsin needs to build a sustainable model to meet transportation challenges. Dusting off Gottlieb’s studies might be a good place to start.

A FINAL WORD: The same criticisms apply to the federal government. Just last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a six-year transportation bill that’s stuck in the financial mud. The six-year bill provides only three years of funding, at current rates of spending. That won’t even come close to keeping up with maintenance needs. But, on the positive side, it at least lets states know what they can plan on for the next three years. There was a time when America was the envy of the world in its infrastructure build-out, but that was decades ago. Now, infrastructure is crumbling. And the political class has no answers and no plans.