Just Fix It Wisconsin

Janesville Gazette Editorial: State GOP out of step with rest of nation on infrastructure 5/2/2017

5/1/2017, Janesville Gazette – Guess the color—red or blue—of the state that voted recently to increase its gas tax by 10 cents a gallon and create a new $15 vehicle registration fee to raise $1.2 billion annually for its roadways.

If you guessed blue, you’d be mistaken.

The deep red state of Indiana, with more than 70 percent of its legislative seats filled by Republicans, approved the tax and fee hikes last month. Meanwhile, the debate among Indiana lawmakers focused on whether the hikes went far enough to address the state’s infrastructure problems.

Across the nation, improving road infrastructure has emerged as a Republican initiative, which might shock readers given what they know about refusals to raise gas taxes and registration fees from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators.

Starving infrastructure of investment isn’t a “conservative thing,” despite the myth perpetuated by Walker and his GOP allies. Multiple business leaders and groups are scratching their heads over Walker’s stubborn opposition to raising revenues and approving much-needed Interstate projects.

Walker’s defenders claim groups clamoring for new roadway investment are exaggerating the poor condition of roadways, but multiple studies indicate Wisconsin ranks near the bottom for roadway infrastructure.

— The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Wisconsin a “D+” in a 2017 report card, noting 27 percent of the state’s roads are in poor condition, the highest rate in the Midwest.

— The percentage of roads considered in good condition according to the State Department of Transportation pavement index has declined from 53.5 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2015.

— U.S. News & World Report ranked Wisconsin No. 49 in road quality—that’s right, almost dead last—and No. 41 in transportation overall.

What other evidence does Walker and other Republicans need to recognize that Wisconsin can no longer ignore its infrastructure problem?

The good news is some Republican lawmakers, including Rep. John Nygren from Marinette, are starting to wise up to Walker in time for the start of budget discussions. We encourage them to insist on finding new revenues for roads, whether that money comes from traditional sources or new ones, preferably a combination.

Some lawmakers, including Sen. Steve Nass from Whitewater, are sticking by Walker. Nass took aim at Nygren via a news release last month regarding Nygren’s willingness to consider ending a tuition freeze on UW schools and raising the gas tax.

“If the Legislature raises the gas tax and allows the UW System to restart their rampage of unjustified tuition increases, it would make the 2017-19 biennial budget one of the worst for the middle class in recent memory. Mostly, because it will be done by the party that pledged to reduce the burden of government on them,” Nass said.

Nygren shot back that Nass was issuing “meaningless press releases” and “bloviating.” Nygren is right on both counts.

But to be fair, Nass is not alone. On the question of whether to raise revenues for roads, the bloviating is widespread at the Capitol right now.