Just Fix It Wisconsin

Plain Talk: While Walker panders, our roads continue to deteriorate 7/6/2016

7/6/2016, Cap Times by Editor Emeritus Dave Zweifel – If you ever need an example of why Wisconsin’s economy continues to lag the rest of the country, look no further than Gov. Scott Walker’s actions of last week.

The governor once again made it clear he has no intention of fixing the state’s broken transportation budget, ordering his Department of Transportation secretary, Mark Gottlieb, to submit his budget request early and with no tax or fee increases.

The only way Walker will look at a possible gas tax or license fee hike is if a tax decrease of equal or greater value is enacted elsewhere in the budget. In other words, if you want to fix the streets and highways problem, take the money from the UW or the schools or some other already-struggling state entity.

In other times, Walker’s refusal to consider raising more revenue for transportation would be a good thing. He has said, for instance, that maybe we ought to consider spending less on large road projects and using the money for local maintenance. That’s what we should have been doing for quite some time, but we’ve neglected maintenance on our existing roads and bridges for so long now that there aren’t enough transportation dollars to get a good start on fixing even them.

You don’t have to travel far in Wisconsin these days to get an understanding of just how awful our roads have become. Indeed, the national Road Information Program classifies 42 percent of our major roads as mediocre to poor. Some 14 percent of our bridges are in need of immediate repair.

And while Scott Walker panders to voters, saying that he’s steadfastly holding the line against increasing any and all taxes, the sorry state of our streets and highways is actually costing Wisconsin motorists much more than a few pennies’ hike in the gax tax or some increase in registration and license fees ever would.

According to the so-called TRIP report, roads in the Milwaukee urban area are so bad that it’s costing local motorists $753 a year in additional maintence and fuel for their automobiles. There are worse places, the report says, but Wisconsin ranks near the top, not only in Milwaukee but in other areas around the state, including Madison. Deficient roads cost the state’s 4.2 million licensed drivers around $6 billion per year, it adds.

Unless the governor is counting on auto mechanics and tire dealers to boost the state’s economy, he’s taking a big chance at harming the state’s tourism industry, not to mention the impediment bad roads are to attracting businesses that need to get their goods shipped.

But this has been the problem with this governor.

He continues to believe that over-the-top austerity — slashing wages of educators and public employees, cutting positions in the DNR that deal with polluters, forcing local governments to shoulder state costs — will somehow energize the state’s economy.

While Walker kicks the state’s transportation crisis can further down the road, more construction workers may be without jobs, motorists may be saddled with higher repair bills — but voila! we’ll all be spared paying a nickel more per gallon of gas.

And then we wonder why Wisconsin’s economy continues to bring up the rear.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital