Just Fix It Wisconsin

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial: State roads can’t rely on a Trump rescue 1/19/2017

1/19/2017, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – No matter what Trump does — if he does anything — the state still needs a long-term strategic plan with sustainable revenue sources.

Gov. Scott Walker’s spokesman may be right: The Trump administration may step in to rescue Wisconsin from its transportation crisis and provide sufficient funding to maintain roads, finish current projects and start new ones. The incoming president has promised a massive program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

But there’s no guarantee that will happen, and no one knows right now how that rescue will shake out or if the money will be there long term. Wasn’t that Walker’s rationale for rejecting federal Medicaid funding?

In any case, the administration shouldn’t dismiss a letter from the feds telling Wisconsin officials they should hold off on plans for major new road projects and instead complete construction already underway — that’s construction they intend to delay further. It’s good advice given that the state doesn’t have enough money to do everything it wants to do, and has no long-term plan to provide sustainable revenue for roads and mass transit.

“There are so many projects under development, we do not believe all of them can advance on a reasonable schedule based on likely funding scenarios,” Michael Davies, the head of the Federal Highway Administration’s Wisconsin office wrote to state officials last month, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Walker’s plan is to delay completing projects and to borrow, all of which will cost more in the long run, instead of doing something sensible such as raising the gas tax or registration fees or finding an alternative revenue source. In other words, the no-new-taxes infection has clouded his thinking.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has a clearer view of what’s happening.

“Unfortunately, it confirms what we already know,” Vos said of the letter. “We all recognize we have a problem funding our roads and now we need to come up with solutions.”

Last month, Mark Gottlieb, who has since stepped down as transportation secretary, told legislators that under Walker’s plan, the share of Wisconsin highways in poor condition is on track to double over a decade, debt payments are set to rise for the next several years and state costs are poised to outpace new money for road and highway projects.

The current gas tax cannot keep up with the state’s transportation needs, especially as vehicles become more fuel efficient and hybrids become a more common sight on the state’s roads. The wear and tear from trucks and other commercial vehicles also needs to be accounted for, as does the desire of millenials for other forms of transportation, as do needs in rail and air transportation.

Walker’s plan? Nothing to see here. Everything will be just fine. Trust us.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson shrugged off Davies’ letter with these words: “We are confident that with the incoming administration there will be better efforts to partner with states on a variety of issues, this included. In the meantime, it is not surprising that the Obama administration is trying to force us to spend money taxpayers don’t have and trying to subject us to penalty if we don’t.”

When at a loss, blame Barack Obama.

Actually, the feds are saying finish what you started before spending more on new projects. That’s fiscally responsible. Looking at the roads crisis through rose-colored glasses is not.

No matter what Trump does — if he does anything — the state still needs a long-term strategic plan with sustainable revenue sources. It doesn’t have one now. Gottlieb knows that, as does Vos. So do groups such as the Transportation Development Association, which is running a “Just Fix It” campaign to bring attention to the crisis.

The Walker administration should join those efforts instead of relying on delay and borrowing. That road can only lead to fiscal disaster.