President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to spend big on America’s infrastructure injects a new variable into Wisconsin’s already thorny debate on how to pay for roads, bridges and transit.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump pledged to spend $1 trillion to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure.
An infusion of federal infrastructure funds, should it come soon to Wisconsin, would arrive at an opportune time. A debate raged here well before the November election about how to address a mounting funding imbalance in the state’s transportation network.
Now that Trump is bound for the White House, some in Wisconsin say state lawmakers should pause that debate until it’s clear what, if anything, will come from Washington, D.C. — even if that means waiting months.
Mike Mikalsen, spokesman for state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said Nass “has been very cautious just to say, ‘we may have a major change coming.’?”
“Before we say ‘Cut everything under the sun,’ before we start raising all these fees, let’s see what the new administration is going to put out there,” Mikalsen said.
Others — particularly those who say the state needs more transportation revenue — fear Trump’s plan could quell momentum for such an increase, which likely would come from increasing taxes or fees.
After years of inaction on transportation, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says, Wisconsin can’t afford to wait further — even to see what will be done by his fellow Republicans in the federal government.
“We would be foolish to wait for an answer from Washington,” said Vos, R-Rochester.
“There’s the potential that they’ll be a partner. But I, at the same time, don’t know that. And I don’t want to wait around and then they don’t do it — and then we’re in the same boat, or even worse.”
Vos and other Assembly Republicans have maintained that increasing the gas tax or vehicle registration fee, the two main revenue sources for the state transportation fund, should be considered to bring state road funding into balance.
Craig Thompson, director of Wisconsin’s Transportation Development Association, views the issue of federal help for roads similarly.
“For people thinking it’s going to bail us out, I think it’s wishful thinking,” Thompson said.
As road construction costs soared and transportation-fund revenues stagnated in recent years, the state increasingly delayed road projects or relied on borrowing to fund them.
Recent U.S. Department of Transportation data say the condition of Wisconsin’s roads lags other states.