Sen. Stroebel Talks Transportation

The Department of Transportation submitted its 2017-19 budget request last week to the Department of Administration. (A full summary of the budget request was sent on Friday as Report #3 – DOT). WisDOT requested $1.7 billion for State Highway Rehabilitation. WisDOT also requested an increase of $65M in total funding for local aids including: $46M increase in General Transportation Aid, $14M increase in Local Roads Improvement Program, and $5M increase in Local Bridge Improvement Program. WisDOT requested a 13% increase over 2015-17 funding in maintenance and safety to be used for pavement preservation funds, safety improvements and Routine Maintenance Agreement work. WisDOT requested a total of $500M in bonding for DOT programs. WisDOT requested $562M for the Major Program to continue work on I-39/90 and WIS 10/441. WisDOT requested $122M for the South East Megas program to fund completion of the Zoo Interchange Core and enumerate funding for preliminary work on the I-94EW corridor project.

Assembly Republicans announced their 20/20 Forward Agenda on September 7, including proposals on transportation. As part of their agenda, Assembly GOP said they want to enact cost saving reforms to cut waste, and are waiting for the WisDOT audit which is expected in December. Assembly GOP said it will:
• Examine options such as improving incentives and penalties during the construction process to help more projects finish on time and on budget.
• Will explore new revenue generating opportunities for the Department of Transportation, such as naming rights, drones for inspection of projects, tollways, and advertising and sponsorship opportunities.
• Will consider giving options to local governments, with limits and restraints to protect local taxpayers.
In an interview with The Wheeler Report, Sen. Duey Stroebel said, “According to the Tax Foundation, there are 43 other states that have a better tax environment than the State of Wisconsin. We have made some improvements in the past years, but we are still a high tax state and if there is one impediment that is detrimental to the economic growth of our state it’s our tax environment. We deal with other states on a competitive basis every day, and that’s what we need to do something about in Wisconsin. I certainly didn’t go to Madison to increase that burden on the residents of Wisconsin.” Stroebel introduced a transportation swap bill (2015 SB-411) during the 2015-16 session which allows for swapping out federal transportation dollars with state transportation dollars. Stroebel said, “When you’re able to take out federal dollars and replace them with state dollars, your delivery costs on those jobs are 25% more efficient. You can get 25% more road just because you do not have federal funds involved in that particular project. And that’s not even dealing with do you have Davis-Bacon or do you have prevailing wage at that point in time. So there are great things to be had. All it takes is $2000 of federal funding and suddenly there is a whole new threshold of things involved. We need to be a lot smarter in Wisconsin on how we distribute that federal money. Instead of sprinkling it around in small amounts on several jobs, we need to focus it on a few big projects. Then we will see a great benefit to these smaller jobs that do not have federal money and the requirements that come with them.” Stroebel highlighted that other states are already doing this. Stroebel gave an example of one project, “For example, in Waukesha, Janesville Road, same length of road: one section that had federal dollars took $8 million to build, the other section that did not have federal dollars took approximately $6 million to build. That’s an apples-to-apples comparison of a project that had part in federal dollars and part without federal dollars. It used the same construction company.”

Stroebel also emphasized that he wants to do a full repeal of the state prevailing wage saying, “We certainly need to look at the repeal of the state prevailing wage. It will benefit us. We have already repealed prevailing wage for local work. We won’t even see the benefits of that until January 1, 2017. Then we need to look at repealing it for state work as well. Those are more ways that we can save. Going back to the prevailing wage debate of last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is on average 44% savings. There is a good amount of savings that we will be able to see.” Stroebel was critical of proponents of transportation tax increases, “I do find it interesting that some in the Assembly, that are now advocating for a tax increase, were the people who were the biggest road blocks for getting some of these reforms done last session. These bills were out there last session. The repeal of prevailing wage fight; we didn’t get full state repeal. In addition, we weren’t able to pass fed-swap. Now some of the people advocating that we will do those things are the very same people who didn’t want to do them last session. The only difference is now they are also advocating for a tax increase. To me that doesn’t make sense.”

One discussion being had in the capitol is to have the transportation budget done separately from the rest of the 2017-19 state budget. When asked, Stroebel said, “I see no reason for doing that. It is all taxpayer dollars and it is all part of what our expenditures are. When do you stop? What do we decide to separate out next, and next, and next? To me it’s not how it’s been done, and I don’t see any benefit in changing and doing it that way.”