Amendment should protect state’s transportation fund

    Waukesha County voters will answer an advisory referendum Nov. 2, 2010, about raids from the state transportation fund. Approved unanimously by the Waukesha Board, the advisory referendum will read, “Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund?"

    Ultimately, a better referendum would be in the form of a statewide constitutional amendment. To get there, the proposed amendment must pass two consecutive sessions of the legislature and then be approved by voters statewide. Meanwhile, I support the Waukesha County ballot measure and encourage other counties to place similar questions before voters this November. Eight other counties, including Adams, Grant, St. Croix, Lincoln, Pepin, Marathon, Jackson, and Vilas, have also scheduled votes on the question this November. As a Waukesha County resident, I will be voting yes on the advisory referendum.

    Amending the state constitution to halt transportation fund raids has the support of the Transportation Development Association, the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association and the Wisconsin County Highways Association. Not surprisingly, WHBL Radio in Sheboygan reports Governor Jim Doyle opposes this strategy. The governor has become the king of raiding the transportation fund.

    During three consecutive biennial state budgets, Gov. Jim Doyle raided the state’s transportation fund. Here is the history, provided by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) in an informational paper published during January 2009:

    “The 2003-05 budget act used a combination of direct appropriations from the transportation fund for general fund programs (shared revenue and K-12 education aids) and a transfer of revenues from the transportation fund to the general fund, for a total of $675.0 million.”

    First raid = $675 million.
    Back to the LFB:
    “The 2005-07 biennial budget act made a transfer of $427.0 million from the transportation fund to the general fund, but did not make any direct appropriations from the transportation fund to general fund programs.”

    Second raid = $427 million.
    Again, from the LFB:
    “The 2007-09 budget act (Act 20) and the 2008-09 budget adjustment act (Act 226) together resulted in a transfer of $155 million from the transportation fund to the general fund.”

    Third raid = $155 million.
    The six-year total of transfers and appropriations from the transportation fund = $1.257 billion.

    The LFB reports the use of replacement bonds offset the transfers ($865.5 million), however the debt service paid from the transportation fund during the 2003-05 biennium ($43.9 million) adds to the loss.

    The LFB concludes, “Therefore, the total loss to the transportation fund over the six years equals $435.4 million.”
    That’s $435.4 million unavailable for the use it was intended: road projects statewide.

    Doyle makes it quite clear he continues to support raiding the transportation fund for non-transportation purposes. WHBL radio reports, “Doyle says the result of a ban could mean deep cuts for education in the state. He says ending budget transfers from the Transportation Department will tie future governors and legislatures and they’ll find themselves asking why they’re cutting schools ‘when transportation is going up 10-12-percent’?”

    There are flaws in Doyle’s position. Using the transportation fund to bail out the state’s dubious budget process amounts to accounting mischief that needs to stop. Cutting schools? The state has historically increased school funding. Why must Governor Doyle play the either-or game, rationalizing raids from the transportation fund as a necessary trade-off to support education?

    Taxpayers need to be confident that tax dollars targeted to transportation are, indeed, spent on transportation. Transportation funding should not be shuffled to prop up a special interest, thus putting planned transportation projects in jeopardy. The ongoing I-94 work from Milwaukee to the WI-Illinois state line and the rebuilding of the Zoo Interchange set to begin during 2016 are critical projects that must have a reliable funding source, secure from future budget tricks.

    "Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund?" Yes, Yes, Yes. Raids from all other funds, and there have been a lot the last few years, should be prohibited!


    State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents Wisconsin’s 28th Senate District.

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