Walker suggests state could spend less on roadwork

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Gov. Scott Walker suggested in a recent interview the state could simply spend less on roadwork in his next budget, considering his pledge to not raise taxes or fees without an offset and the reluctance of lawmakers to continue bonding.

After a difficult transportation budget last year, budget watchers have suggested the state could hope for an influx of general purpose revenue to pay for a tax cut that would meet Walker’s pledge or to continue transfers to the transportation fund. But barring a surprise uptick in the economy, that appears unlikely.

Continuing to bond is also an option, though lawmakers rejected Walker’s request last year to borrow $1.3 billion for roads. Instead, they approved $500 million, with another $350 million in contingency borrowing the Joint Finance Committee has already approved releasing.

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Walker said there is another option.

“Or you adjust what you spend it on, just like everything else in life,” he said during an interview with WisPolitics.com.
Walker noted his 2017-’19 budget is still more than a year out, and revenues could pick up by then. But he said his bottom line on transportation is he won’t support a gas tax or registration fee increase unless there is a tax cut elsewhere, vowing to stick to a pledge he made during his 2014 re-election campaign.

“When you do it under that context, one of the options is – if people don’t want to borrow and they’re not willing to raise the gas tax – is to adjust the plans in terms of how much money is spent on projects going forward,” Walker said.

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Walker’s suggestion irritated at least two members of the Joint Finance Committee.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said he regularly hears complaints from constituents that roads are crumbling.

“Spending less is not an answer,” said Olsen, who has said he would support raising the gas tax.

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Olsen said he expects bonding to be a component of the transportation budget next cycle, but he would not support a “total reliance” on borrowing.

Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma, also has expressed an openness to raising revenues. She sighed when asked if she would accept more borrowing in the next transportation budget, though she said the guv’s no tax increase pledge has backed lawmakers into a corner.

Wispolitics.com is a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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