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Legislators from both parties concerned about state transportation funding

Legislators on both sides of aisle concerned with proposed state budget

posted March 18, 2017 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Lauren French

Frustration with transportation funding included in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-19 state budget prompted concerns among both Republican and Democratic legislators Friday.

“It is a bipartisan problem,” state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, said during Eggs & Issues, a breakfast discussion series put on by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s good to see that this is something both sides completely and fully understand the importance of.”

Wachs and five other legislators convened Friday for the Eggs & Issues legislative panel. Legislators answered questions from the crowd emailed in advance on topics ranging from transportation to UW System and K-12 funding.

The first question prompted legislators to pick one element of the biennial budget they support and one they’d like to see changed. Many chose transportation, a hot-button topic in the proposed budget legislators will approve later this year, as their latter answer. 

Legislators attending the event included Wachs, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma; state Rep. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls; state Rep. Bob Kulp, R-Stratford; state Rep. Warren Petryk, R-Eleva; and state Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer.

“Here’s the cliff notes version of the budget,” Vinehout joked, holding up a thick binder with color-coded post-it notes sticking out from the sides. “Everything that’s purple is something I don’t quite understand, and everything that’s red is really bad. The hot pink is policy that’s really bad.”

Vinehout said support for small local roads is good, but she has many issues with the transportation budget at large. All panelists agreed something needs to be done to better fund state roads.

Walker’s transportation budget proposal includes no increases in revenues along with continued borrowing and delayed major projects. The governor has said he will veto any changes that add to overall taxpayer burden.

“It’s very clear that we’re spending more money than we have coming out,” Vinehout said. “By my math, at the end of this coming budget, we will be spending 28 percent of the entire transportation revenue on debt.”

She suggested charging $10 per car for traveling over state-owned railroads.

Bernier said she supports a 1 percent sales tax for four years to pay for road-related improvements. 

“Roads and bridges are capital projects,” she said. “We’ve let them go for so long that we’ve fallen behind. What we need to do is infuse a good number of dollars while we evaluate our transportation funding for maintenance and upkeep.”

Kulp noted that Wisconsin’s roads aren’t perfect in comparison to other states, but they aren’t terrible, either.

“There’s a dilemma there — the governor will veto anything that is a revenue enhancer,” he said. “It’s a fine line. The discussions will continue.”

Contact: 715-830-5828, lauren.french@ecpc.com, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter