Assembly Speaker Robin Vos rolled his eyes and shook his head — for good reason — when Gov. Scott Walker touted the administration’s transportation budget last week during the governor’s State of the State speech.
Seated directly behind the Republican governor during Walker’s annual address, Vos, R-Rochester, made it clear he’ll continue to fight for a responsible road budget. Assembly Republican leaders wisely say they’re open to the first increase in user fees on motorists in a decade, rather than continuing to borrow money to get by.
Assembly Republicans also should insist that ongoing road projects stay on schedule. That includes the reconstruction of Verona Road (Highway 151) southwest of Madison’s Beltline, which serves one of the fastest growing employers in the state in Epic Systems of Verona. The governor’s budget plan would slow completion of this vital project for a second time, making it harder for people and products to get where they need to go.
The governor claimed in his State of the State speech he has “restored a commitment to a strong transportation system.” In reality, he has spent and borrowed about the same as his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Gov. Walker committed $17 billion to transportation during his six years, compared to $16.3 billion during the final six years of Doyle, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. That’s not much of an increase, given inflation.
At the same time, Gov. Walker similarly has relied on borrowing for roads: $2.48 billion during his six years, compared to $2.6 billion during the last six years under Doyle.
Doyle did raid $1.4 billion from the transportation budget to pay for schools. To keep road building going he borrowed money to fill most of that hole. Walker reversed the move, cutting state aid to public schools while steering dollars back into roads.
But now Walker has paid back more money than was lost. So he shouldn’t use Doyle’s actions a decade ago as an excuse for aging roads and bridges today.
According to the governor’s own Department of Transportation, the share of state highways in poor condition will double — from 21 percent to 42 percent — during the next decade without new revenue. Yet Gov. Walker continues to resist a modest increase in the gas tax, despite flat revenue.
The state gas tax of 30.9 cents per gallon hasn’t been increased in a decade. So the average driver is actually paying less in gas tax because of more fuel-efficient cars. All the while, the cost of road work has gone up.
The result is a nearly $1 billion funding gap for roads.
So Speaker Vos’ skepticism is understandable. He rolled his eyes last week when the governor said “safety and maintenance of our existing system is a priority.” Vos also shook his head when the governor touted an increase in transportation aid to local governments. What the governor didn’t say is road aid to local governments was flat in his two previous budgets.
Vos applauded most of the governor’s speech. But he couldn’t resist some open defiance on this important issue. Assembly Republicans should stick to their fiscally responsible position.