Just Fix It Wisconsin
Senator warns I-94 east-west project could be in danger amid Wisconsin budget stalemate 7/24/2017
7/24/17, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – The state could lose federal approval for rebuilding the east-west section of I-94 in Milwaukee if lawmakers don’t invest in the project, a top state senator warned Monday.
State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), the co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said in an interview she is “very worried” about the Federal Highway Administration withdrawing its approval for rebuilding I-94 between the Zoo and Marquette interchanges. That could happen if lawmakers don’t sign off on beginning the project as part of the stalled state budget, she said.
Such a move by the Federal Highway Administration would put off the start date for that project, likely for years. Inflation would drive up the cost of the project, which is now estimated to cost $852 million.
Darling made her comments as a budget impasse stretches into its fourth week. She said deep divisions remain among Republicans who control the Legislature over taxes and how to fund roads.
To try to break the stalemate, GOP Gov. Scott Walker last week proposed dropping a planned tax cut and using $200 million in sales and income tax collections to pay for highways. Ordinarily, highways are funded using collections from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees.
The state initially would borrow no money for roads under his plan, though some borrowing would be allowed if the federal government awarded Wisconsin additional aid.
Assembly Republicans signed onto the proposal, but Senate Republicans have not embraced it.
Under Walker’s latest plan, work on the east-west section of I-94 would not be approved, Darling said. That has sparked her concerns that the federal government could pull its approval for the project, technically known as its record of decision.
Pat Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, said he has the same worry.
“I think the senator has a very legitimate concern and anyone who supports this project should share that concern,” Goss said.
Michael Davies, the administrator of the Wisconsin office of the Federal Highway Administration, referred questions to a spokesman, who could not be reached late Monday.
In addition, under Walker’s plan, work on the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee County and the north-south section of I-94 in Racine County would be slowed, Darling said. Those projects have already faced delays.
The debate over highway funding comes as Foxconn Technology Group considers building a massive plant in southeastern Wisconsin that would employ thousands. The company could announce its intentions as early as this week, according to reports.
The north-south section of I-94 would be a crucial route for that facility. But it’s unclear how soon that project needs to be completed if the state were to land Foxconn.
Darling and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the state may want to delay that freeway project so that Foxconn could build its factory without having road construction interfere with its work. Both said they haven’t gotten a clear answer yet on what the company and administration would want.
A new two-year budget was supposed to start July 1, but legislators missed that deadline. Funding continues at levels set in the last budget until a new one is passed.
Republicans are also split on whether to cut taxes as part of the state budget.
In his latest proposal, Walker dropped plans to cut income taxes by about $200 million to free up money for roads.
Senate Republicans wanted to scrap Walker’s income tax cuts and instead eliminate the personal property tax, which is paid by businesses for their equipment and furnishings. Their plan would cost about $240 million.
Darling said Senate Republicans are committed to eliminating or reducing the personal property tax cut.
“Our caucus still wants to make progress on the personal property tax cut,” she said. “We’re not willing to give it up.”
She said she believed Senate Republicans had effectively made a counteroffer to the governor and Assembly Republicans because they had publicly stated their differences with Walker over his latest plan.
But Assembly leaders said they had not yet seen a counter proposal from Senate Republicans. A spokesman for the governor did not respond to questions Monday.
Also Monday, Walker and Assembly leaders said they wanted to include $14.6 million in the budget to build and reinforce levees and flood walls to assist Arcadia, a western Wisconsin city that has been hit by floods.