Wisconsin General Assembly Co-Chair Rep. John Nygren recently reported the state needs to recover $939 million to maintain transportation projects approved in the last budget, calling out Gov. Scott Walker’s “unsustainably high amount of transportation bonding” to fund the projects.
Nygren reports in a written statement that details from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau show the state’s transportation “finding mechanism” cannot be sustained and isn’t effective.
“If we don’t address this funding problem, future generations will be forced to pay for high levels of bonding without a substantial benefit,” Nygren says. He adds the $939 million figure doesn’t include debt service payments and that $3.5 billion of the current $4.3 billion in bonding principal repayment the state has is owed by the transportation fund. “Moreover, some of the transportation bonds that were approved last budget have yet to be issued, which means Wisconsin’s debt service will only continue to rise,” he explains.
“We have kicked the can down the road long enough. In the upcoming budget, we need to bring in new revenue that will help buy down our transportation debt and structure a sustainable plan for Wisconsin’s infrastructure. It’s imperative to look for reform and program savings as we continue discussing revenue options for the benefit of our state. Moving forward, I implore the governor to consider additional avenues of funding as well,” Nygren says.
Walker fired back at Nygren in a statement, saying that raising taxes and fees isn’t the solution.
“Under our administration, we will keep it a priority to live within the means of the hardworking people of Wisconsin,” he says. “That is a commitment I will honor. Leadership will require us to identify cost savings and prioritize our needs, as I have directed my Department of Transportation secretary to do, especially when it comes to safety and maintenance. I am confident we can do better than placing new taxes on Wisconsin citizens.”
Walker’s office provided the following details on the Wisconsin’s transportation system:
- Since Walker took office, more than $18 billion in transportation investments have been made, $2 billion more compared to the six years before his administration.
- Wisconsin ranks as one of the highest states on per capita state highway spending compared to neighboring states, citing data from the Federal Highway Administration.
- The state’s gas tax has been among the highest in the nation for decades.
- More than 300 projects set to be completed this year.
- More than 90 percent of the state’s most heavily traveled highways are rated in fair or better condition, with these roadways carrying half of all state traffic and 70 percent of the freight.
- The last state budget included the lowest levels of new borrowing in at least 20 years.
- Wisconsin is ranked fourth in the nation for the lowest levels of total long-term financial obligations, according to a recent study by Pew Charitable Trusts.
- The Transportation Fund condition is running better than projected in Act 55. Lower debt service and higher than projected revenues are resulting in a nearly $100 million better fund condition at the close of the biennium.