Just Fix It Wisconsin

DOT Secretary: “Non-Backbone” Roads Will “Continue to Deteriorate” 6/2/2016

6/2/2016, Right Wisconsin – Farmers, businesses, and just plain folks have this consolation as they bump along on a deteriorated Wisconsin highway system: the roads they travel so often aren’t part of the “backbone” of the state’s highway network.

As reported earlier this week by the Wisconsin State Journal, Governor Scott Walker’s transportation secretary had this to say regarding the impact of not increasing the gas tax or vehicle registration fees:

 “That non-backbone system, which is about 90 percent of the state highway system, is going to continue to deteriorate in condition.”

Got that? Ninety percent of the state’s roads comprise the “non-backbone system.”

Give Secretary Mark Gottlieb credit for not mincing words in explaining the impact of Walker’s directive that Gottlieb not request higher taxes or fees in his 2017-19 budget request.

The reality of Wisconsin’s transportation finance in the last decade — under Governors Doyle and Walker — is a simple story of fiscal irresponsibility.

Year-in and year-out the state has committed to projects whose costs exceed ongoing revenue. It has filled the gap with borrowing. It’s fundamentally no different than a family with $75,000 in annual income that uses credit cards to live a $90,000 lifestyle. It’s an unsustainable course.

The Governor’s directive to Gottlieb presumably means that Walker intends to include no gas tax or vehicle fee increase in his budget. This would be one piece of a 2018 campaign strategy buttressed by reductions in property taxes and state general fund taxes.

Gottlieb’s public recognition that there are clear consequences to not increasing revenue is commendable. As I wrote here several weeks ago in advocating a gas tax hike, those who reject that idea need to be accountable for the result. In simple terms, they need to own a “deteriorating, non-backbone” system of roads.